Thursday January 30 2014

How effective are marriage fellowships?

When Isaiah Kabuye married Imelda Naluyima, a long and labouring search for a spouse had finally come to an end. Now that his friend-turned wife was close by his side, his interaction with other people did not feel so important. Imelda was all he needed, at least he thought.
However, one day in 2010, his friend Raymond Baguma invited him and his wife to a one-hour meeting with other couples from their church. It was a marriage cell. Baguma and his wife Mary were members. Baguma explained that a marriage cell was a meeting for a small number of couples – five to 10, with God as their unifying factor. They meet usually once a month in a designated place or one of the couples’ homes to discuss issues such as sex, communication, parenting, work and ministry. The aim is to improve marriages.
Kabuye reluctantly accepted Baguma’s invitation, but since that day, the Kabuyes have become members of the Namasuba-based cell.
It is increasingly becoming common to find married couples attending marriage cells or fellowships. In some churches, ministers openly advocate for them.

Do they work?
“My wife and I are bankers in different banks. The first thing we got in the cell was friends. Yes, Imelda and I were friends but we realised we needed other friends. When we register success, we celebrate together and when we are suffering, we cry together. We discuss key issues in marriage, for example communication, and in one meeting, we had to invite a speaker, Stephen Langa, to talk to us about communication.
“Sometimes you go to a cell overwhelmed, for example before my wife got a job, she was losing hope because no one was getting back to her. We went for the cell meeting downcast because I had also been threatened with a sacking at my place of work. However, when we got to the cell meeting, one of the members read us an encouraging scripture. My soul was lifted, so was my wife’s,” Kabuye says.
Naluyima says: “There is also a time my husband and I were leading a cell meeting. The message was about ‘Focusing on the little things’. We realised the message was directed at us because we had been fighting over small issues such as waiting for me in the evening after work so we go home together. Today when we come back home together, our journey is exciting. By the time we arrive home, we are jolly.”

Feeling at home
The Kabuyes say because meetings are held in people’s homes on a rotational basis, it allows members to interact at family level, which enhances peace and reconciliation.
“Can you genuinely host a cell in your home when you’re cross with your spouse? You are somehow forced to settle your differences to create a good atmosphere,” Kabuye says.
The couple says parenting is also a major issue they discuss. Kabuye says when their first born came, he did not know about parenting but the older couples were there to help. Cell meetings are a blessing to them.

It didn’t work for us
Unlike the Kabuyes whose experience in marriage cells has been worthwhile, Sarah and Moses Malwadde have a different story.
“I am an administrator and my wife is a saleswoman. We didn’t find the cell beneficial. We were a young couple in our 20s and the people we found there were old couples. We didn’t feel we belonged there. We didn’t think they could understand our issues neither would we understand them.

There were many differences amongst us, for instance, there was an income gap. Unlike us (Sarah had no job), most of the other couples seemed to be financially stable. They often sought expensive places for outings. We could not afford and I believe other couples like us couldn’t. It was demotivating. We attended some meetings but along the way, we found no motivation to continue going.

“There was also the issue of non-rotation of duties. It was always the same people leading the cell, and you know people get tired of having one individual lead everything all the time.”
“The cell meeting time was also a disincentive. People were not keen on keeping time. They always started and ended meetings late yet we had home duties – cooking and preparing our boy for school the following day. I believe this was not only a concern for me alone but other women as well, especially working mothers,” Malwadde says

How cells can work
To avoid situations like that of the Malwaddes, Paul Matembe says a lot of planning has to be done.
“I am a social worker and businessman in Kampala. My wife manages one of our shops in the city. Leading a marriage cell is a voluntary and team activity. We encourage people by explaining to them why they need to be part,” Matembe says.

He says their focus is building relationships. “We interact with each member, including visiting them. Of course there are couples who may think that there is nothing more to learn, especially those who have spent relatively more years in marriage but we encourage them to attend so we can remind them that learning never stops. Besides, if you can’t receive, you can give.”

“Couples have various needs and challenges, issues that affect marriages such as communication and love languages. Sometimes we have special meetings for men and women separately because of the unique challenges they have. We also understand that what may affect a young couple, for example, may not be an issue to the older couples. So how you respond to these needs and challenges is important. Some issues can’t be handled openly.”

I appreciate fellowships for the satisfaction they bring - listening to people with troubles worse than yours, opening up on things you wouldn’t have easily discussed with your partner, relating to the discussions, finding solutions and advice. These fellowships have worked for many people, though some people feel it is a waste of time. But like they say, one man’s meat...! We had couples share their cell experiences. Read on.

‘The fellowships are about sharing, counselling and advising one another. After sharing and hearing other people’s problems, you feel lighter because you become aware that you are not alone.’
Hope Musanyufu, school director

‘Marriage experiences are shared in the fellowships and besides receiving advice from others, we also come up with developmental projects that at times create jobs.’
Rogers Byamukama, Businessman

‘At times the men are separated from the women and are asked what they like and dislike about the opposite sex. It is during such fellowships that most women learn that their husbands’ utmost need is sex. People speak out their minds.’
Lydia Mwesigwa, Director steel company

‘We do not go for marrieds’ fellowships because the women in the group are way older than us. Although we do not go there, I think we would be bored by their topics.’
Elizabeth, businesswoman

‘There are certain things I am not comfortable discussing with my wife in public. And there are things I would like to keep between the two of us which come up during the fellowship. Therefore we choose to stay away from them.’
Daniel, accountant