Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Michael Abrahams | Marriage – not for everyone

Published:Monday | February 20, 2017 | 2:01 AM

One morning, a few weeks ago, I went to my office and planned to catch up with the overwhelming load of paperwork on my desk and not make any appointments. However, three patients of mine contacted me, asking to be seen, and I obliged.

It turned out that all three women were married, unhappy, and had divorce on their minds. The first was already separated from a controlling and verbally and emotionally abusive husband, and had absolutely no intention of going back.

The second, after being married for 30 years, claimed that she had had enough of her husband’s philandering, including two children outside the marriage, and needed to get out.

The third, married for about five years, expressed similar sentiments, and was planning an exit strategy.

Of course, there is always more than one side to a story, and the husbands may have their own tales from the marital crypt. But the important point here is that there was significant dissatisfaction in the relationships that were initially intended to be permanent.

According to American comedian, the late Groucho Marx, “Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to live in an institution?” It sounds funny, but marriage is often hailed as a desirable and honourable place to be ensconced in.

Many aspire to be married and see it as a great achievement, while others are pressured into it by family, friends, the Church and society. There are also perks that come with being married. You can have sex with your partner and not be frowned on by your church, or in some cases, your place of employment or landlord, and having signed a contract entitles you to certain privileges.

Conversely, in some instances, there is significant bias against persons who are not married, especially those who entertain pregnancy out of wedlock. Right now, I have a patient who was sent on administrative leave and summoned to a disciplinary meeting for breaking the ‘moral code’ of her institution by engaging in fornication and being pregnant and unwed.

But, is everyone cut out for marriage? It is seen by many to be the ideal situation in which to cohabit, engage in sexual relations, and raise children. If this is really the case, we must ask ourselves why so many avoid it, and why so many who do enter it are unhappy, or end up separated or divorced.

Marriage is not for everyone. It requires maturity, flexibility, openness and the ability to forgive, admit when you are wrong and engage in intimacy. Many associate marriage with love, but respect and communication are also vital ingredients, necessary for its success.

It is important to have realistic expectations, and acknowledge not just the flaws that are inevitably present in your spouse, but also in yourself. When I was much younger, I would watch the Cosby Show and think how nice it was that any issue or conflict arising in the show would be resolved before the end of the episode. Then I would recall my experience growing up in a house with my parents, who were married, but whose relationship was turbulent. As I grew older, I realised that many of my friends, whose parents I thought were living in bliss, were dealing with turmoil and instability as well.

Being raised as a Christian, I was taught that you should abstain from sex before marriage, and that when you get married you should stay faithfully with your husband or wife until one of you dies. But how many couples do you know who entered marriage as virgins, remained faithful during the marriage, stayed together until death separated them, and, most important, were genuinely happy. I guarantee that the list would be rather short, if you can compile a list at all. If this is the case, is marriage really a natural state?

A friend of mine who has no intention of ever getting married told me that her mindset was influenced by her observations growing up in a home where her parents were married, but also miserable. She told me that the majority of relatives and family friends who were married were involved in very dysfunctional unions. There was one uncle and aunt, however, whose marriage she admired and respected - until her uncle died and her aunt began to relate some horror stories.

I believe that marriage is indeed a wonderful institution, but that people ought not to be pressured into it. I firmly believe that some are just not cut out for it.

For some of us, it can be a breeze; for others, a challenge; and for some a task that will lead to frustration and acrimony.

Even when there is initial bliss, a couple can be blindsided by a variety of issues such as debilitating illness, job loss, financial woes, mental illness, infidelity and interference from in-laws. The presence, or absence, of certain personality traits, combined with these issues, can either help a couple weather these storms or spell certain death.

So, the next time someone tells you that they do not wish to get married, instead of trying to coerce them, it is probably best to respect their wishes and move on.

- Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and poet. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams