James T. Gire writes:
Tonye David-West has raised an important issue that needs to be seriously addressed from a number of dimensions. I am not suggesting that these are the only variables in this problem, but they account for what, I believe, to be a sizeable proportion of the variance in explaining the problem at hand.
An important component has to deal with the adjustments that need to be made by both husbands and wives in living in a culture that operates on very different values. As Africans, and for the most part a huge chunk of the Third World, males are socialized into being the bread-winners of the family. The man is at the pinnacle of this structure and this means not only that he has the primary say, but needs to justify this by solving most of the problems that face the family. Even when the wife earns a sizeable income, the man is still expected to take care of the major items because his role is to "take care of his family." As the first sad case shows, when the wife begins to earn considerably more than her husband, the preceding proposition no longer holds. The man thus begins to feel inadequate. Unable to significantly raise his earning power to play his traditional role, the result is frustration with all the attendant problems that it produces. There thus needs to be a reevaluation of the dynamics of the husband-wife relationship. Rather than stick to a rigid structure where one person must play a designated role (no matter what), the husband and wife need to view their relationship as a partnership whose main goal is the enhancement of the well-being of the family. Incidentally, some of these issues can be successfully resolved through appropriate counseling by qualified personnel. Unfortunately, many of us sometimes view the whole notion of seeking professional intervention as a weakness, or believe that such remedies are not for Africans. A friend remarked, proudly, many years ago during our undergraduate days that he didn't need the services of psychologists, proclaiming that he is his own psychologist. This kind of know-it-all arrogance is often not helpful.
Another aspect of the problem relates to the absence of an adequate social support network. One reason for the enduring marital relationships among Africans lies in the fact that the husband and wife operate within an intricately woven social network. Both parties know that their actions can impact numerous people far removed from their immediate abode. The wife knows that she can raise the problems she is experiencing with her husband with members of the husband's own family, who at times would call him to order. The same situation applies when it is the husband who has issues with the wife. Having resided in the U.S. for extended periods, especially if opportunities for visits with the extended network are few and far between, these ties weaken over time, eroding vital strings that help to keep the relationship intact.
Then there is the problem of faulty expectations, derived from the Western or American culture, borne out of the often mistaken notion that a good marriage is one devoid of problems. Such Utopian expectations are unreasonable. There is no relationship, marital or otherwise, especially one lasting for many years, that would not experience problems at one time or another. However, the prevailing culture here seems to be: "I was getting married to be happy and have all these good things come my way. However, I have encountered a few problems, therefore my expectations are not being met. I've got to get out of here." All successful relationships are those in which the partners involved are committed to doing their part to work through problems. Of course this involves both parties, and there needs to be a demonstration by each party that concerted efforts are being made. However, once one party shows this inclination, the other party ought to provide the type of support needed to get through these problems. The unfortunate thing is that people decide of going separate ways often without reflecting on the level of investments (material, emotional, social, etc.) that have been made in the relationship. An interesting example of how one member of the relationship can show patience and understanding is that of Senator Clinton. During the infamous and unfortunate Lewinsky affair, I noticed, with interest, that many females (a good number of whom were fierce opponents of the senator's) were mad at her for not kicking the _____ out! In one of the interviews she gave, I found one particular statement she made to be very revealing. She stated that most people expect her to make a knee-jerk reaction about their marriage, and then went on to say that these people forget that I have been married to this guy for more than half of my life, and that we have been through both good and bad together! That is the kind of thinking by a partner willing to put in more than a token effort to maintain a relationship. I am not suggesting that partners should tolerate any and all indiscretions at all costs; the point is that if we were to leave our partners anytime time they did something unacceptable, we would not have any enduring marriages.
Another issue has to do with the abuse of what was otherwise a well-intended policy of reducing the hardship that many women faced when marriages were terminated. Pius Adesanmi touches on this issue, and he is right with respect to the results of the policy or more appropriately, the abuses of the system, without providing the historical context that gave rise to these laws. It was often the case that a man would get married, in most cases to a younger woman who would then raise the family, and at times even support the man through his career-building phases, often sacrificing her personal development. After several years, the man would wake up to discover that his wife was not as educated as his status warranted or was not as attractive as he wanted. He would, in many cases, divorce his wife without as much as a minimal compensation for her role in his now elevated position. To some extent, this is happening in African countries such as Nigeria, although the variation here is that rather than outright dismissal, the man might add another wife or wives. The laws that were enacted in response to such a treatment were intended to remedy the unfair deal that some of these women were handed. Unfortunately, what was intended as a remedy for one set of wrongdoing has now been pushed too far the other way, and as with most human processes, has been exploited to the hilt by some women. The new twist to this (and for those of us who think the solution lies in going to bring a woman from the continent that we sometimes hardly know, beware!) is that some of our sisters from the continent get married to brothers from here whom they could care less about with the sole intent of divorcing them after a little while and getting their hands on their resources. A friend of mine is a victim of this last example and is currently trying to recover from this ordeal.
Like I said at the outset, this is a multifaceted problem. I have mentioned but a few of issues involved. What we need to do is engage in a very honest discussion about this. The smaller groups that meet regularly need to bring this issue up in face-to-face discussions. We already have enormous obstacles as a people. Adding broken marriages to the mix is certainly not going to help.