The DNA craze, culture and the sociology of marriage failure
By Anthony Opara
Call this another perspective in the ongoing debate on why marriages are failing and you will not be wrong. The marriage issue is a yet trending subject on social media. Recently, it was the sub-issue of the propriety of carrying out DNA tests on children by men who feel their wives have not been entirely faithful in the relationship.
The story was that a man had requested from a Facebook friend where he could procure DNA testing on his children as he suspected that he may not be the biological father of some of their children. The matter generated hot debate between advocates of DNA testing as final proof and those opposed to it for a variety of reasons. One lady who claimed to be the wife of the man who had requested on where he can procure the testing sent a warning to the one to whom the request was made threatening fire and brimstone if anything happened to her marriage on account of what she called the foolish advice that he had spewed on Facebook. As would be expected some people especially ladies largely ignorant of what DNA testing entails said it was such an expensive procedure that may not even be procured in Nigeria. Such ignorance was however not allowed as another commentator literally asked them to shut up as DNA testing costs only ninety thousand naira and could be obtained at the Petcare Centre and anybody who so wishes should go there and carry out the testing. On a lighter note some people were asked to be sure of their own status; that is, that they are the offspring of their fathers before carrying out DNA testing on their children!
One common thread in the argument was that the relationship between a man and his wife would suffer great damage once a request for DNA testing is on the table. In relatively advanced societies it would be no big deal for any of the partners were to ask for DNA testing but in Nigeria its such a sensitive matter as it puts a question mark on the fidelity of the woman. Most African societies are polygynous with the effect that while a man can marry as many wives as he can afford or at least four in the case of Muslims, women are not expected to so do. When a man loses his wife he is encouraged to remarry almost immediately but if it’s the woman that loses her husband she is expected to remain a widow especially if had children for her late husband. Some people especially the relations of the man consider it as disloyalty to her husband if she remarries, and moreso if this is outside the family of her deceased husband. In traditional Igbo societies such a widow is expected to marry any of her late husband’s relations especially if the man died early in life.
Before the DNA trending discussion ends let me educate all that marriage is defined as a union between a man and a woman where children born by the woman belong to the couple. Any child born by a woman belongs to the man who had performed all the rites of marriage on her. Anything short of this makes a man a common sperm donor. Igbos have a saying that children are not born within any relationship outside the marriage institution and that is why in Igboland if a lady dies in the house of a boyfriend the so called boyfriend will carry out marital rites before she can be married. In order words, the man would bring his people to marry her officially before she is buried so that if they had any child the man can claim the child otherwise the family of the woman will take over the child.
I have been married for nearly fifteen years, observed marriages of relations, friends and have also maintained some sociological interest in the matter for some years before coming out with my perspectives. I have also attended several wedding ceremonies, both social and religious, to also feel the pulse of the society on this ‘institution’ which everybody agrees is one that one enters into but never graduates from! And truth be told, I always doff my hat for couples who celebrate their silver and golden jubilees.
There is no gainsaying the fact that society, culture and tradition play a huge role in marriages and the majority of respondents agree that the rate of failure now was not so some fifty years ago as if there is something in society that makes this failures possible. Societal pressure is not what it used to be. In agrarian societies, men went to their farms and provided the needs of the family from there but these days there are several issues confronting men and women to the extent that the pressure of living in a modern world mounts its own challenges. Men and women are drawn in several directions. Taking care of families that are relatively smaller now in size has become more complicated than when families were larger or when one man could readily marry up to four wives. This piece is not intended to delve into the complex sociological underpinings of marriage but to look at the failure from a perspective which I feel had been ignored in the discussions.
The big issue in marriages which is leading to the rise in the numbers of failures is what I term the agenda for marriage. Without realizing it people enter into marriage for different reasons or agendas and it is this agenda that determine the character of the marriage. There are men who marry to find outlet for their sexual urge. These men believe that once they marry they have permanently paid for sex rather than keeping girl friends with all the expenses and other implications. These are the men that are more concerned with the shape of a woman rather than her soul or character. In such homes once the woman starts child bearing and loses the shape of a single lady their husbands may resent what they have become and where the men are not matured the marriage is headed for problems.
There are couples who marry to change their titles from single to married. Among this group are mainly women who see marriage as a title that must be obtained. The larger African society has also not helped matters. Once a lady is matured it would be sung into her ears that unless she is married all her achievements are not important in the scheme of things. Mothers are mainly responsible for this as they are they remind their matured daughters of the need to hook up and leave the house and they remind the ladies how young they were when they were themselves married! The consequence is that the ladies may not fully check out the men coming into their lives before tying the knot with such men. Women have married criminals like that because they didn’t , as it were, case the joint properly.
Differences in agenda have led to some of the strange deaths we have seen involving couples recently. A man who is single at heart will have issues with a wife who is a home maker. Some men regret their actions feeling that they married rather early, perhaps they allowed their mothers talk them into marriage to produce the proverbial grandchildren.
In our view, men and women who want to marry should discuss and find out if they have the same agenda otherwise the marriage is headed for the rocks. Abuse is inevitable when purpose is not known so said Bishop Hartford Iloputaife, paraphrasing Myles Munroe. And when you relate it to marriage you will realise that in any marriage where there is divergence of opinion between the couple on why they married, this almost always spell doom. I have counselled people who tell me that they married to get their mother off their backs or because their friends were getting married or they felt they were aging and need to get it over with before they are left on the shelf. It’s even worse for the men as many cannot explain why they married the women they married or because they want to hide the main purpose which may be economic – maybe the lady comes from a rich home – and not that they were in love. Some do not have an agenda for their marriage and this is where the issue lies. A marriage that has no agenda will not survive and it may be late when the couple realize that they are working at cross purposes.