How to Stay Married

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In a world rife with divorce and marital unhappiness, a recent conference involving religious leaders, University of Marriage, has tried to demystify the calculus of human coupling, writes Solomon Elusoji

It is a problem as old as human history: how does one stay committed to a relationship designed to last a lifetime?
About 2,000 years ago, some Pharisees came to test Jesus of Nazareth by asking him “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

Apparently noting the intentions of their heart, Jesus replied: “Haven’t you read, that at the beginning the Creator ‘made the male and female’. For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Dissatisfied, the Pharisees probed further: “Why then did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

Jesus replied: “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

Later, Jesus’ disciples said to him: “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” But that remarkable insight has not stopped billions of humans across history from attempting to make a success of the institution called marriage.

To put the marriage conundrum in proper context, divorce rates across the world are increasing. As at 2014, in the United States it is estimated that 53 per cent of marriages end in a breakup, while in Spain, Portugal, Luxembourg, the Czech Republic and Hungary, the numbers are higher than 60 per cent. Belgium has the highest rate at 70 per cent.
In Nigeria, divorce rates are difficult to quantify since most marriages are conducted and dissolved through informal processes rather than court proceedings. This has not stopped the National Bureau of Statistics from positing that the rate is quite low at about 0.3 per cent. But the validity of such data pales in the face of ubiquitous reports in newspapers of marital discontent. In 2016, London-based newspaper, The Economist, wrote that “one woman filed for divorce having found her husband to be rather too well endowed. And a trader complained that his wife was not as buxom as he had thought. ‘I detest those small-size boobs,’ he said after a disappointing three months. ‘It is better to end the marriage.’”

This September, at the Eagles Club in Surulere, Lagos, the Rose of Sharon Glorious Ministry International (RoSGMI) held the second edition of its University of Marriage conference which was themed ‘Unlocking Deadlocks in Marriage’. Headlined by Africa’s richest woman, Folorunso Alakija, the conference played host to notable guest speakers such as the Convener of Mothers’ Summit, Funke Felix-Adejumo, Co-founder and Pastor at Daystar Christian Centre, Nike Adeyemi and the Founding and Senior Pastors of Grace Family International Churches, Rev. Yinka and Deola Ojo. The former Governor of Ondo State and wife, Olusegun and Olukemi Mimiko and the former First Lady of Lagos State, Mrs. Abimbola Fashola, General Overseer of the Trinity House Ministries International, Pastor Ituah Ighodalo, were also in attendance.

The hall was packed with people from all walks of life, young and old, singles and married, and was kicked off with a worship and praise session that was led by the RoSGMI choir. A comedian with the stage name ATM was Master of Ceremonies and he produced scintillating jokes that sent the audience reeling with wild laughter. Before long, however, it was time for the speakers to delve into the business of the day: unlocking the mysteries of marriage.
Each of the speakers, Alakija included, tried to demystify marriage from different perspectives, but all ideas that were bounded by the principles of love, understanding, creativity and spiritual awareness.

Alakija, the first speaker to grace the podium, started her talk by showing a short clip, Breaking Point, of a couple at the edge of divorce, which was characterised by heated conversations, accusations and counter-accusations. “If disagreements are not properly handled in a home, it will lead to disharmony,” she said.

The American Psychological Association (APA) lends credence to this point when it noted that researchers have found that communication style is more important than commitment levels, personality traits or stressful life events in predicting whether happily married couples will go on to divorce. In particular, negative communication patterns such as anger and contempt are linked to an increased likelihood of splitting up. Disagreements are part of any partnership, but some fighting styles are particularly damaging. Couples that use destructive behaviour during arguments — such as yelling, resorting to personal criticisms or withdrawing from the discussion — are more likely to break up than are couples that fight constructively. Examples of constructive strategies for resolving disagreements include attempting to find out exactly what your partner is feeling, listening to his or her point of view and trying to make him or her laugh.

Alakija, who, according to Forbes, is worth more than $1.5 billion, also noted that being smart with finances helps a marriage stay afloat. “Don’t get caught up in the aso-ebi syndrome,” she said, “for some people, it is like a bondage – they don’t know how to stop. Avoid wastage and greed, maximise your resources and invest wisely. Be a good manager of resources.”

On her part, Mrs. Felix-Adejumo, while repeatedly describing marriage as ‘hard work’, said to succeed in marriage, couples will have to graduate from the spirit of patience to endurance and long suffering. “Marriage is about building, blending and bonding,” she said. Felix-Adejumo, who has authored over 50 books, also advised women to be submissive to their husbands while men must love, defend and provide for their wives. “A wise man will not waste his wife’s submission,” she said.

Adeyemi, the founder of the Real Woman Foundation in Lagos, harped on the place of forgiveness (“The key of forgiveness will work wonders for you”), prayer (“you’ve got to understand the spiritual dimension of marriage”) and love (“It is what will heal the world”) in the success of any marriage.

Rev. Yinka and Deola Ojo, who took to the podium together, stressed the need for couples to invest in their sexual experience. For decades, psychologists have noted that a healthy sex life is key in keeping couples happy in a marriage. “Sex is not a big deal. It’s a huge deal,” Divorce Expert, Susan Pease wrote in a 2015 article. This is an assertion that has been confirmed by dozens of research work. So maybe what your marriage needs is simply some action under the sheets.

RoSGMI, which organises the University of Marriage conference, started as a small fellowship in 2004 in the home of Mrs. Alakija and her husband. It began as an offshoot of the Cathedral Church of Christ in Marina, Lagos and has steadily grown from a home fellowship with one evening service a week to a full-fledged interdenominational ministry. In 2014, the ministry moved to its own premises and run services that include Bible Study, Praise and Worship, Thanksgiving, Communion, Anointing and Healing Services and Prayers for the fruit of the womb.

However, building healthy marriages is one of the ministry’s core missions and it is best exemplified by the home of the founder, Mrs. Alakija who has been married to Mr. Modupe Alakija for over four decades, in a union that has produced four sons and numerous grandchildren. One of the secrets to how she has stayed married, which she talked about at the University of Marriage conference, is effective communication. They met in December 1972 at a party and since then not a day has gone by without them speaking to each other.

At the end of the conference, former Ondo state Governor, Mimiko, was given a chance to share some goodwill messages. “I resisted coming for this conference but my wife employed all sorts of tricks to get me here,” he said. “But, despite being married for 27 years, I can say that I feel blessed for being part of this conference.” To Mrs. Alakija, he said: “For using your means to promote the right values in our society, I have no doubt that the Good Lord will continue to bless you.”