Thirty-four-year-old Lacey Kagwiria has been married for the past five years. She has two children, both girls aged four and three years. Most people who know her say she is living the proverbial fairy tale marriage. But what they do not know is that she has been putting on a facade of happiness and a brave face in public. Behind closed doors, Lacey says she is broken. “I have lost my individuality. I don’t even know myself anymore,” says Lacey, who is a stay-at-home wife.
Nonetheless, she remembers her dating days with nostalgia. “Oh, those were the happy times! I had a good job as a senior credit officer at a local bank and was planning to pursue a Master’s degree,” she says. The icing on the cake was her boyfriend, James, who is now her husband.
She says James was the perfect gentleman. He was doing very well in the real estate sector, and just like Lacey, he loved the fast life. Every Saturday evening, Lacey and James would hop from one fancy club to the other in Nairobi. They would also schedule their leave days to coincide so that they could go on partying and on shopping holidays. “Our lifestyles were compatible,” she says.
One fine June 2014 morning, the two lovebirds walked down the aisle in a fabulous garden wedding in Nairobi. Their lives changed. “Things began to change the moment I said ‘I do’,” says Lacey.
At one point during the wedding, she says James had leaned over and whispered, ‘You’re now a wife!’ with a brief smile. She thought he was saying it from the thrill of the occasion, but weeks later, the reality of what he actually meant began to sink in.
James changed radically. He refused to continue going out over the weekends and forced her to stop too. He replaced the alcohol with fruit juices. Since then, Lacey says that she has lost count of the times she has been told: ‘You are now a wife! You can’t do that!’
Lacey has also been forced to drop her friends, her job, and her pursuit of a Master’s degree. Apparently, James says that she no longer needs the job or the Master’s degree since he caters for all the family needs.
She has also been compelled to join the church. “On Sundays, I must put on maxi dresses and a headscarf.
I can no longer wear a short skirt, not show cleavage. “Unless I wanted to attract other men,” he threatens.
In the bedroom too, he is against exploring. It’s the missionary style, which he perceives as ‘godly,’ or nothing.
I love him and want my family to stay intact, but I am going crazy inside,” Lacey says.
Women look for a partner who loves them exactly the way they are, but unfortunately, many end up finding the exact opposite. Being with a guy who tries to change you can be emotionally draining and really damage your self-esteem.
Ken Munyua, a psychologist based in Nairobi, says women will want their men to step away from bachelor behaviours and move upwards to head the family, men will be driven by the need to control and exert power on their women.
And while subtle changes are inevitable in coupledom, Dr David Ludden, a professor of psychology and the author of The Psychology of Language, says during dating and in the first years of marriage, people do not want changes forced down their throats.
“A couple tends to adopt changes that restrict their social networks compared to when they were single.”
Of course, not every case ends this badly. Most times the women find themselves a complete opposite of what they are. And they often grumpily wonder how they got here. Well this is because, a man who is hell-bent on changing your very core, is most often an extreme charmer and is a master at manipulating you into thinking you need to be changed.
In fact, it’s argued that incessant charm is often a confusing guise for controlling, manipulative behaviour. And we all know that does not end well.
Forced changes within relationships stir up conflicts, introduce toxicity and sometimes violence. Grace Kariuki, a family therapist based in Nairobi says it can also cause the relationship or marriage to be a co-dependent where the woman will give in to demands made on her to maintain peace.
If a man tries to exert pressure on you to change, find out his motive. Most men will hide their true colours during dating to keep their appeal. “He might have seemed comfortable with your partying and drinking, but secretly knew that once he walks you down the aisle and ties you in marriage, he’ll put an end to it and prefer that you adopt what he sees as wifely behaviours,” says Munyua.
Change should not cost you your individuality. “Changes that do not inspire happiness out of you are unhealthy. “If you have been married, have children, and a strict household budget, asking you to stop binge drinking is the right thing to do,” says Munyua.
“There are men who will go out of their way to inspire, push and challenge their women to pursue further education, get higher paying jobs, or start businesses. He is adding value to you,” says Kariuki.Adopt a compromising approach and put both your perceptions and interests on the table. “Talk about your fears. A forced change will mean your input is not required, and your opinion no longer counts. Guard your physical, emotional, and mental well-being,” he says.
When a man begins to diminish your individuality, interferes with you friends, gets fond of one-way conflicts, attacks your appearance, and constantly feels you are never good enough for him, then he is trying to change you.
What should you do? Relationships are a give and take. Before you turn down a suggestion to change, evaluate if it will be for the benefit of the relationship or not. “There are issues you can compromise on and others that you cannot. Your opinion should matter just as much as your sense of individuality. Consider running for the hills if violence, domination and extreme, control are some of the tactics deployed to force you to change. Do not sit back and condone vicious acts of violence. Walk out if there’s danger to yourself or your children.