The whole idea of marriage is that it is supposed to last forever, ‘in sickness and in health…till death do us part’. Marriage vows do not give room for divorce, it does not consider the fact that the couple may be making a wrong decision by choosing to marry each other, therefore in a few years time, or in many years time, they’ll will really need to go their separate ways, because the marriage simply isn’t working.
When older people pray for young people, they say ‘you will marry a good wife’, ‘Oko e ni o ma fe’ (it is your husband you’ll will marry). Because they know it is possible to marry the wrong person, however they will rather not talk about the possibility of marrying the wrong person, simply because we are Nigerians. We will rather be hopelessly optimistic, than to be realistic. We will rather not talk about the possibilities of unfavorable events happening and planning towards it, because we believe making such plans means you’re wishing yourself bad.
So, divorce is seen as something that should not be spoken of, especially because the woman is expected to ‘keep’ the marriage, no matter what. She’s given all sorts of advice on how to tolerate her husband even when he unleashes hell upon her. This explains why divorced women in our society are stigmatized; because they have failed as wives (an important role and title for women). When the society sees people who are on the verge of getting a divorce from their spouses, especially the women, they are told ‘stay because of the kids’. We have somehow decided within ourselves, without any concrete proof, that children whose parents separate cannot be raised right, we have told ourselves that once parents are no longer together, then the children are no longer normal simply because that means they will be raised by one parent. Even though there are families where the father only comes around once in a while, ones where one parent is late or families where one partner is not an active parent, and none of the children from these type of families are stigmatized for having one active parent. Due to this absurd conclusion, we do not only stigmatize divorced women, we also stigmatize children whose parents are divorced.
Now, talking about the children; the reason why women are told to stay in bad marriages, I have been around kids who watched one of their parents being emotionally or physically abused by the other parent, and I have found that most of them will rather have their parents divorce, than watch them suffer. Apart from the daily torment of watching their beloved mother/father being abused, they are sometimes affected by this, some of them hating the idea of marriage or not being able to commit to their partners in future, because they cannot afford to trust someone to treat them well. Or simply because they think the reality of their parents toxic marriage is applicable to every other marriage out there.
I’ve also been fortunate to be around people whose parents separated. Most of whom were glad to have their parents divorce, because they were tired of seeing their parents being toxic to one another. Clearly, the only problem with having your parents separate is the stigma attached to it. The fact that people automatically assume that your parents no longer love you, or that you’re not living a normal life. Despite the fact that a couple can be separate and still be very active in the lives of their kids, and that both parents staying together does not necessarily mean that they are both active in the lives of their children.
Marriage is simply an institution that is considered very important , even more important than the happiness of the couple involved. Which is why the society tries to silence people to stay in bad marriages by shaming them when they don’t. There are various reasons why marriages fail, ranging from emotional and physical abuse to less toxic ones such as simply not being compatible with each other. Whichever reason it is, people are entitled to choose to stay or not stay with their partners without being stigmatized for it. It is not a woman’s job to keep a marriage. Marriage is also not to be endured. Women should not be guilt tripped into staying with abusive partners, neither should their kids be referred to as ‘children from broken home’. The idea of being married and staying married should not be worth more than the sanity and happiness of women.