Oko Elechi and Alaba Oludare
One of the best kept secrets in our community is the state of our marriages, according to one popular Pentecostal Church pastor in Houston Texas. The obstacles facing African marriages in the United States is legion according to this pastor who I believe is in a position to know. He has the unenviable responsibility of counseling many couples and arbitrates on several marital conflicts in a given year. The marriage institution is perhaps the most important institution in the society and this is even more so for Africans that are communal. Again, Africans are by nature notoriously religious. Our religious beliefs do not encourage divorce and even frown at people who choose to live their lives single. Having children out of wedlock attracts a big stigma. And yet no one is talking about this problem and the couples are left to their own devices in dealing with the additional challenges marriages face in America for African immigrants with disastrous consequences. I believe the time has come for us to address this matter and have this long over-due conversation about the state of our marriages. Modern marriages, it is important to observe are fraught with challenges. Marriages among African immigrants in the United States have even bigger hurdles to cross as it may seem. If anecdotal accounts is anything to go by, more than fifty percent of African marriages in America have issues. Many are dysfunctional, some end in divorce eventually, and there have been few cases of the marital conflicts leading to fatality.
Some of my sources tell me money is a major source of marital conflict among African immigrants in America. The root of this financial pressure derives from gender roles in African culture. African males were typically the bread winners and were able to decide how the family money was spent. In America, the women are also working and making money. And yet some of the men insist in controlling the money and in determining how the money will be spent. Added to this challenge is the expectations of families back home in Africa. Some of them expect that when their children – including the women are in America that they should be repatriating some of their earnings to support family upkeep and projects. If the money matter is not handled well, it can cause a big problem for the couple.
Another source of marital conflict is time, which is also tied to the monetary palaver. Some of the African immigrants have more than one jobs that keep them so busy that they hardly have time for one another. What this means is that couples are too busy for one another and are often too tired at the end of the day to show affection for one another. The resulting consequences is the lack of affection and distrust. Busyness is one reason some people stray. It is also why some question their partners love and commitment to them. There is no doubt we need a reorientation on how to balance work and family. Investing more quality time into our relationships is important and can improve communication and understanding which is essential for a happy marriage.
Our penchant for materialism – big houses and cars both here and back home in Africa remains a big problem that undermines our marriages and family interests. We strive always to own bigger and better things than our compatriots often at the expense of our well-being and that of our families. Many even invest so much in a house that they may not likely live in or their children stand any chance of inheriting them. A friend of mine once describe the big houses we build back home, that we do not plan to live in or pass over to our children as “funeral homes”. This is because, the more realistic case for some is that they will be buried in the houses if the pas on. This is not wise and definitely takes from us things that are more important. We need to focus more on what matters most such as our health and emotional well-being. That will also improve the quality of our marriages. What is the point of owning a big car and big house if the additional cost is our well-being and happiness.
Marital infidelity remains a big problem in our community. Some even wrongly equate our polygamous culture with infidelity. It is true that some African cultures do allow and even encourage polygamous marriages. However, I do not know of any African culture that condones sex outside of marriages. Infidelity is a big problem that threatens the foundations of marriages. Unfortunately, there do not seem to be an easy answer to this problem. Self-discipline, maturity and focusing on things that have more value and family interest, no doubt well help.
Infertility, despite our living in a scientific society is also an issue that threatens our marriages. Rather than seek medical help from the appropriate quarters, some African couples will start pointing fingers at one another. Where there is love, maturity and sensitivity, answers to infertility in marriages can easily be addressed with satisfying results in my humble opinion.
There is also no denying the fact that some of us are stuck in our ways and often resisting any attempt to adjust the way we view the world. For example, some of us hold strongly to our understanding of what the gender roles are. This is unfortunate, especially given the fact that both the husband and wife in most cases work outside the homes and sometimes even for long hours. To expect that the woman will return from work and have your favorite food ready most of the time might seem unrealistic. The same can also be said of the wife who expects the husband to foot all the bills in the house while she uses her own money for something else that does not advance the welfare of the family can also constitute part of the marital problem.
finally, we can also learn some of the values of our host community. They make time to celebrate their marriage and love. They also in addition to showing love to their better halves, also verbally express their love often to their spouses. I do not know who does not like to hear you look good today. You smell nice. I love you and all the niceties that bring excitement to the heart. Please note that in delving into this sensitive topic, the goal was not to prescribe solutions because I do not think there are easy answers. Rather, my intention is to bring awareness and provoke conversation of the state of marriages in our community.