Can a Marriage Fail or it Only Terminates? – Ibraheem A. Waziri

What distinguishes marital union from a non-marital union is the marriage vow, before its consummation. What also distinguishes between whether a marriage can fail or terminate is the content of that vow.

Most of us come into the discussion about marriage being an achievement or not; with the conception that it can also fail. However there is another conception that got little attention throughout the discourse. It is also prevalent in our society even if subconsciously. It assumes it only terminates but not fails. This concept needs some highlighting. Perchance at the end we may have a clearer view of what an achievement in a marriage is. What, it is not, if there is not any of it, in a marriage!

What distinguishes marital union from a non-marital union is the marriage vow, before its consummation. What also distinguishes between whether a marriage can fail or terminate is the content of that vow.

In the ancient to modern Christianity, the traditional vow contains a clause, “until death do us part”, before witnesses. Meaning that on consummation of the marriage, then only death of either or both of the parties can nullify it. Among Muslims, it is just a pronouncement or declaration with a set of conditions, before witnesses. Just like simple contractual agreement that can be terminated or invalidated by certain types of utterances or actions.

For the Christians vows, a marriage that ends in a divorce is a failure. Also the whole marital engagement will be a journey not a destination, which can ultimately break and reverse all its gains by experiencing a divorce. For the Muslim vow, a marriage that ends in a divorce only terminates a contractual agreement, giving room for a thorough and comprehensive stocktaking of gains or losses. But then some of us do not believe there can be losses in a stock of a marriage after divorce. I will come back to this point along the line.

The Christian West in the very beginning did not ever conceive a divorce as a legitimate step in a marriage, religiously and culturally! Then came a time in their societal evolution, when it was legalised! But the ghost of tradition did not forsake their institutions of marriage, as the whole machinery of discussion it, did not stop labelling divorce as a failure in marriage.

On the part of some of us who are not Christians or Westerners, I suppose, the influence resulting from our interactions with them and delving into the discourse about the issues in their societies and what guides public policies there, led to the representation of marriage in our context with the contours and colours of some of their original cultural and religious notions of it. That is why, I suppose, most participants in the past week discourses, would use the logic of marriage failure in their responses. “If a marriage fails, then how can we have measurable indices of its achievement?” they would ask!

But certainly looking at marriage in the cultural tradition of Northern Nigerians, as well Islam, one cannot help thinking that it is socially and culturally a sort of a companionship between a sane man and a sane woman sanctioned and rendered socially sacred, by the content of its well spelt out public vow that precedes its consummation.

This was why in my last detailed posting about the matter I conclusively defined marriage in the following lines: “sex as Carnegie once put it, ‘is the most important subject in life’. Marriage is also that companionship that follows after sex. To live together for a period with the consciousness of bounded destiny beyond the intimate knowledge of only two of you to the society as a witness. This enough is priceless. Beyond joke! Marriage is the highest social achievement a human being can aspire.”

Therefore if a marriage terminates a day after its consummation, accompanied by preceding rituals, it remains an achievement. It gets a space in curriculum vitae; determines whether or not one can be considered for a certain job; a membership of a certain social category; given access to an otherwise restricted social club. If also one fails to mention it in any effort in future to seek an association that could lead to marriage, it becomes a problem, if the other party were to discover later, before or after the sealing of the contract.

The conception of a marriage as a contract that can terminate at any time, also understands causes of termination to possibly be informed by natural reasons such as the demise of either of the party to the contract or both; illnesses or certain spiritual or physical maladjustment that can be discovered much later or just, simply, loss of interest!

Whatever leads to a divorce is good enough a reason for a termination and does not leave the parties involved with any form of a social stigma. After all, the eternal maxim presupposes that “good people can create bad relationship even though they dearly want the relationship to be good”. Just as good parents can make bad children, even if they dearly want the children to be good. This makes room for the argument that male and female parents being together in a marital union does not automatically guarantee their raising good and decent children.

Also Robert Anderson once puts it, “In every marriage more than a week old, there are grounds for divorce. The trick is to find and continue to find grounds for marriage.” So also the stocks of gains or achievements in a marriage are evaluated at a close of each day of the marriage. Then the vow renews itself in a new day to come, if it survives termination, as a hopeful society and normal individuals, who seek to achieve social stability and concentrate on other meaningful endeavours, wish.

Qur’an spoke about the relationship between the opposite sexes more than any other thing in the realms of social relations. Qur’an suggests that oiling the engine wheels of a marriage, renewing its vows daily, “grounds for marriage” instead of divorce, is in kindness from each of the parties to one and other. Qur’an doesn’t apportion duties in marriage. But it emphasizes on kindness as another means of keeping marriage or ensuring no trails of bitterness after the termination of the marital contract. From morning to evening, any act of kindness, is considered desired or even necessary for the sustenance of the marriage or termination that does not leave a bitter trail.

This can also help us see the wisdom of our grandparents in Northern Nigeria who place on the woman the daily acts of preparing the three square meals. This is expected for the man to appreciate, as one in the series of her acts of daily kindness; not duty prescribed on her by either religion or culture. It is also why men are always encouraged to take extra steps in providing for the needs and other extras as their forms of being kind to their spouses. I must say that most of the problems of marriages in the North – when all other things are equal – result from lack of appreciation of the little acts of kindness rendered by spouses between them, within individual capacity. We somehow see them more as duties and responsibilities – or in the worst cases, entitlements – rather than what the truly are, voluntary acts of daily kindness in order to sustain the marriage!

One other effort of the Northern cultural industry, to increase the lifespan of a newly consummated marriage, is in the invention of the now highly criticised, Kayan Lefe (Bridegroom’s gift), which is normally provided by the bridegroom in a large quantity or material value, before marital vows. It typically gives a husband reason or ground for the extension of his contract beyond Anderson’s one week especially if the memory of the potential losses due to them keeps lingering in his mind.

There is also the restraining effect of Kayan Gara(Bridal souvenir) – which comes in a form of furnishing of the apartment of the bridegroom where he is meant to stay together with the bride and by the bride’s family. The thought that one’s flat will look empty if he sends her packing for some time, does some magic.

In any case, abolishing any of them, as many are advocating now, lifts the burden of patience on newlyweds, too early, in their marital life and hasten the opening up of marriage termination grounds.

Conception and perception are necessary for any form of social survival. Conception come down to what value and meaning one attaches to any item that forms part of their, especially, social reality coming from inside out. Perception is about how one interprets their social reality coming from outside in. Those students, who end their lives on failing exams, do so for what their schooling and passing the exams or failure mean to them.

Clearly there is a good correlation between the promotion of the conception of divorce as a failure of a marriage, and the frustration about the entire institution of marriages, or cross gender relationships, exhibited by many in our society. And it is becoming a sort of a chronic social problem, fuelling all forms of socially induced gender rebellion expressive in extreme feminism, lesbianism or to some extent homosexuality.

Both men and women are subjected or subject themselves to unbearable stress in order to stay in a marriage that invariably hurts them. They are told that if it fails, it would mean they have failed a significant portion of their lifelong endeavours. For those who have to continue to live a life after divorce, are then subjected to a life prone to depressive bouts because of their inability to contend as socially experimented disables or failures. They often turn haters of their former partners as the main culprits who initiated them into their predicaments.

On the other hand, conceiving only a prospect of termination not failure in a marriage, helps the good natured among us to live with their partners, with a sense of accomplishment and fulfilment at the close of each passing day of the union. Any streak of kindness extended to a partner is done with the intention on making them happy today in the union, or leaving them with the positive taste of sweetness and good memories, tomorrow, if eventually they found themselves outside the union. Of course trying hard to cage an adult to belong to one person or place is what hurts most; both to the one making the effort and the other the effort is directed at.

Every woman gets her whole physiology expanded and new forms of illnesses manifest months after marriage. One of the least good thing a good man can do to help balance her new reality and be kind and just to her, is to be providing her, daily, with enough good food, excellent healthcare; while developing her potentials for undependability and self-reliance. Doing so will help one easily come to terms with their conscience, tomorrow, when they find her living away from their care and in the name of marriage termination. This might be what Qur’an (2:226) means when it says, “Then keep her in an acceptable manner (in the marriage) or release her (in a divorce) with kindness.” Thus sealing the argument that marriage, no matter how it turns out to be, in the long or short end of it, is an unquantifiable social achievement harbouring no chance of failure!