Divorce is now normal. We have couples seeking legal help with the intention of divorce just weeks into their marriages. Things must have taken a sharp turn somewhere along the way because 50 or 60 years ago, the situation was different.
Couples stayed married. Families were bigger then and one would imagine that this made marriage harder but somehow, people managed to stick together till death tore them apart.
Those past relationships which had staying power are best exemplified by *Nancy Muthumbi, a mother of six, who has been married for an enviable 38 years.
During their time, she says, out-of-wedlock births and cohabitation were unheard of. She thinks that the reason the above situations are now commonplace is that people no longer take marriage seriously, and that the men and women of the good old days are in short supply.
There is also concern that today’s generation is vain. Nancy agrees that the statistics and news reports are alarming but she is of the opinion that little of it has to do with morals or lack thereof. When you speak with her, you realise that relationships of the past generation were not as rosy as we imagine. Marriages lasted longer but they were just as, if not more bumpy. Couples just dealt with issues differently.
“Back then, there was a tradition of duty but today’s tradition is one of self-fulfillment. Marriage was much more than a relationship between you and your spouse. You kind of had a duty to stay in it,” she explains.
Not that she did not think about leaving, she did. Many times. Having been married in church, she had this strong belief that God had put them together, so splitting would have been akin to going against God’s will.
Like Nancy, *Rhoda Kananu has had a not-so rosy-marriage, riddled with heavy drinking and emotional abuse. It has been 33 years since she said “I do.” She reckons that the youth today have higher expectations of marriage than she and her peers had back then.
“I realised this when three of four years ago, my older children suggested that I get a divorce. The older ones have seen it all, so when they got stable jobs, they wanted me to get away,” she says.
If it was that bad, how come she never considered divorce?
“I have been a shopkeeper all my life. Going through a divorce seemed like a complicated process, I would not have known how to go about it. I did not know anyone who had done it. Today’s woman is able to stand on her two feet and can thus take the easy way out.”
Also, the society today accepts it. The one time that Rhoda attempted to go back home with the aim of starting life over, she was ordered right back to her husband. Knowing that you have nothing to fall back on should your plan of starting over fail, definitely magnifies the fear of the unknown. Divorce ceases to look like an option.
Those that have experienced it will tell you that it takes a lot of work to move on from infidelity. One wonders how a woman could take decades of it and still manage to be a present mother. How do you manage to stay in a relationship even after the glue that is supposed to hold it together has been wiped clean? How do you continue to look him in the face every morning after he has broken your heart knowing that he is going to do it again?
“You compartmentalise your emotions,” shares Terry who is a little younger than the two women. Terry, a retired teacher has been married for 26 years. She shares that had she been born at a time like now, she would get divorced. It is too late for her now, she says with resignation.
She explains how she did it, “You stop treating marriage like a source of happiness. It becomes like a rite of passage. Like initiation or baptism. Take the good you can from it and shut out the rest.”
Marriages, it seems, have not changed much, but goalposts have. While success of those of the past was measured by how long the marriage lasted, success in marriage today is measured by individual happiness.
*The real names of those interviewed have been withheld
This article was initially published in the Daily Nation