Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Three words to describe my marriage

I got an email with the following question: ‘If you were to describe your (former) marriage in three words, what would they be?’

I couldn’t narrow it down to just three.

So I replied with five, off the top of my head.

Five first:

And then (much later), I thought of three more:


‘But that was in the final years,’ I explained, suddenly realizing it myself. ‘I could write a very different list to represent the first 3 years or so.’

I got a reply: ‘I would love to hear about the first 3 years.’

I didn’t write back because I really had to think about it in order to come up with three words that I really felt captured the essence of the marriage from my perspective in the first 3 years. I had to wade through too much stuff in the basement of my mind.

The words didn’t come to me until very recently.

Three words.


There’s some ‘good’ and there’s some ‘bad’ in every marriage.

Our bad simply outweighed our good.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Second time around

I’ve always heard alarming statistics about the chances of success for second marriages (based in the U.S. where these kinds of issues have been investigated). There are arguments about the accuracy of these statistics, but the general public has pretty much come to accept that about 50% of first marriages end in divorce, compared to about 70% of second marriages and over 70% of third marriages.

While I don’t want to discount the statistics about the chances for marital success second (or third, or fourth) time around, I’ve always been a bit suspicious of these stats because I’ve never read any of the original research reports to gain a full understanding of how the stats were generated. Rather, I tend to stumble on these stats in magazines which tend to gloss over such details.

I came across an article which offers a number of theories that might explain these dismal rates, though. I’ve paraphrased them below.

1.      People are often on the rebound when they enter into their next marriage; thus, they remarry for the wrong reasons and repeat past mistakes.
2.      After surviving one divorce, the idea of a second one just seems more ‘manageable,’ less tragic, and is therefore more likely to occur.

3.      Once bitten, twice shy: When you’ve been divorced once, vulnerability tends to be ‘out’ and emotional and financial self-preservation tend to rule. This mind-set can have a negative effect on subsequent marriages.
4.      Having children in common (i.e., being biological parents of the same children) can serve as ‘glue’ to hold the marriage together. Second-time marrieds often don’t have this privilege, and so weathering storms ‘for the sake of the children’ isn’t a strong enough rationale. At the same time, the presence of any children at all within second (third, fourth, etc.) marriages can add another layer of complexity, and result in the marriage’s demise as well.

I agree completely with all the points above – not out of experience, but because I can see how any of the issues can play out should one want to try marriage out again after a divorce. I have a theory of my own, as well. I suppose it ties in mostly with Number 2 above.

I had a discussion once with my academic supervisor in school about an intensive, draining project I was working on at the time. When the project was finally over, she said to me, ‘Don’t worry – you’ll never have to be this detailed again.’ She was right, actually. To me, divorce is similar to one of those ‘projects’ that you agonize over and that suck the very life out of you because of the zillion and one decisions that feed into a final divorce decision: Am I going to regret this? How is this going to affect my children? What about what people will say? What if people begin to ostracize me and my children, or treat us differently? What if I lose my friends? What if I run out of money and have nowhere to go for help? What if I end up alone for the rest of my life? What if I lose all respect and credibility? What if my life goes downhill from here? What if I can’t handle being a single parent? Etc., etc., etc.

Getting a divorce in the first place typically requires such an intricate thought process that maybe it (i.e., the thought process) can only possibly happen once. I imagine that one will never have to think things through quite so painstakingly ever again. And so (I’m guessing), while yet another divorce probably isn’t any easier to go through than an initial one, getting to that decision involves a much shorter trip if you’ve been there before. You already know your way around. You know that you can overcome the fears that would ordinarily arise. You already know the answers to the zillion and one questions above because you’ve lived them.

In a way, that’s a scary thing.

At the same time, it’s an intriguing thing. It reminds of me something Ekene Onu once wrote (I’m sure I’ve used the quote on the rmj blog before, but can’t seem to find it now) – something about how knowing that you can leave a marriage can actually position you to be a better spouse. It can free you to be the best spouse you can be, because you’re not in the relationship out of a sense of compulsion. And so you are highly-motivated to give the relationship your best.

Now, that’s really empowering to me, just listening to it. It’s scary, too, though!

It’s scary to know that you can leave, it’s scary to know that you can’t, and it’s scary to try again once you’ve left.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Say something

I don’t remember now what topic it was in Sunday School last year. I just remember really enjoying the lesson as I was preparing for it. I came away from that lesson with an ‘Aha! moment’ which I couldn’t wait to share with others: One of the most spiritual things you can do is to get to know yourself.

‘Well, how do you get to know yourself?’ a young, married mother asked seriously.

She also wanted to know if I thought it was odd that she would ask this question, given that she was in her thirties, a wife, a working mother, and a student.

Actually, I didn’t think it was odd at all. We spend a lot of time trying to learn about everything else, focusing on our families, researching opportunities for our children, doing a lot of reading, attending seminars, trying to get ahead in our professions, investing in spiritual things … (Now that’s a biggie for any Christian – investing in spiritual things.)

‘What sorts of things do you actually like to do, for instance?’ I asked.

She thought about it for a minute, but came up blank. ‘I’m not really sure,’ she said.

‘I bet if I asked you some Bible trivia questions, you’d be rattling off Bible verses for me by heart right now,’ I replied. She laughed in agreement.

I could totally relate and I don’t mean to minimize the importance of Bible knowledge for any professing Christian. But what I learned while preparing for the lesson was that it’s important for me to get to know myself really well, too. After all, the Bible is meant to be applied to my life – to me. How do you do one without knowing the other? My quest for spirituality will not make up for my ignorance about my own self.

Anyway, this long introduction was simply meant to build up to the fact that I’ve learned something new about myself. I got a phone call from my sister this morning and she brought up the subject of communication in relationships. I told her that I only recently realized just how important it would be for me (if I were in a relationship) to be in one with a person who actually likes to communicate. As I’m sure one of my sisters would jokingly retort: This kind cometh not but by fasting and prayer (lol!).

By liking to communicate, I just mean someone for whom communication is not burdensome, but comes easily and naturally. And I’m referring to anything from emails to in-person conversations. A person who actually enjoys receiving and replying my lengthy emails and text messages. I’ve noticed that my son is the sort of person who leaves texts and emails unanswered. This really bugs me, but I realize he’s just easily distracted. I keep emphasizing that the polite thing to do is to at least send a quick response acknowledging receipt. I hope he ‘gets’ it before he leaves for college, Lord!

The fact that this sort of communication is actually important to me is really a revelation, simple as it sounds. I never would have thought it was that critical before. (I used to think that the only important thing was to share the same faith.) And it’s not just about enjoying this sort of communication – it’s also about communicating well (which is a point I made to my sister, too). It’s just nice to read things that are well-written and to listen to good diction. I don’t mean one has to be an essayist or best-selling author (lol), or anything like that. But the ability to communicate with finesse is extremely appealing.

It’s amazing that I didn’t realize this about myself before.

There’s this time I was typing away on my laptop with the TV on in the background. All of the sudden, what I now know to be a song by Christina Aguilera (and some other people) came on. My ears pricked up as soon as I heard the words, ‘Say something – I’m giving up on you …’

My fingers paused over the keyboard and I didn’t hear anything else because I was so absorbed by those two phrases. I immediately understood very deeply what the entire song was about even though I didn’t listen to any more of it. I’ve been there, Lord knows, I’ve been there.

There are different ways of processing things, and even of communicating. Some people are just more comfortable with non-verbal communication. Others somehow drift through life barely communicating at all. I’m just one of those that really gravitate toward verbal and written communication. Before there was email, I used to write tons of letters. With email, mine tend to be lengthy unless I’m busy at the time. And friends of mine have pointed out that when I reply emails, I reply to every single sentence/paragraph – lol. (I thought that’s how you were supposed to reply.) And I’ve been told I’m a poor texter because I don’t use abbreviations in my texts. Anyway, you get the picture.

I’m just glad that I know this one thing about myself for sure. I’m feeling very accomplished (J).

Monday, 9 June 2014


I bought a book today. Actually, I bought several books. I might not have, had I not talked to my daughter a couple of nights ago to ask how her day went and kiss her good night over the phone. She asked if I could get her another Nancy Drew book. I bought her first Nancy Drew book at an airport a couple of weeks ago.

Today at the same airport, I gravitated toward the bookshop again as I waited for my flight back home. As is my custom at airports, I spent an inordinate amount of time at the bookshop just looking around. I finally settled on 3 books – one for me, and one for each of my kids.

I’ve always scribbled my name on the books I buy, along with the date I bought them and the city I bought them in. Some time after the separation, I wrote my maiden name in a book I had bought and stared at it for a long time. It was the first time I had written it that way in a very long time. I’ve done so ever since then. I try to write it with flourish each time. I have the world’s worst hand-writing, but when I write my name in a book, my writing looks half-way decent.

As I sat in the airport lobby that day with my new book, I opened it up and wrote out my maiden name on the first page, along with the date and city I was in. I was suddenly filled with a feeling of deep satisfaction, seeing it on the page.

Writing out my name this way just does something for me. It makes me feel like ‘me.’ My father’s daughter. Who I was before life got messy. Who I am now that I’ve tidied it up again (mostly). Who I am. Who I want to be.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Between revelation and reason

So they asked him, ‘Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us?’

---- Jonah 1:8, NIV

As a Nigerian, I often feel like I’m expected to ask this question about any catastrophes in my life. Who is responsible? It’s got to be someone … or something. Not asking this sort of question and not uncovering the answers to it can seem almost irresponsible if you are culturally programmed to believe that everything has a cause or an answer, and that whatever the answer is, you are meant to know it. The flip side of this approach is the mentality that everything in life happens by sheer chance. Nothing is ever externally orchestrated and so trying to dig beneath the surface of catastrophic issues is a waste of precious time – is ‘arrogant,’ even, as it suggests that we are more superior than we really are. It, in a way, suggests that we think of ourselves more highly than we ought to. How dare we presume that we are supposed to possess all knowledge of good and evil?

If I had to locate myself, I would say that I am caught somewhere in between these two approaches to life. I see danger in affiliating myself too strongly with either school of thought – and danger in being completely dismissive of any. In fact, I find that my entire life is one big struggle to achieve balance.

I think it is critical to have revelation knowledge. Without more of it, we’re really in trouble because this life is full of complexities. I think some ways of getting there are suspect, though. It is also a delicate balancing act to try and couple revelation with reason (as contradictory as that may sound).

Here’s what I mean:

Would I like to know why my father had to die the way he did? (For sure.)
Would I like to know why I married who I married out of all the people I easily could’ve married? (Sure.)
Would I like to know why the least likely person to get a divorce in my family (my ‘humble’ self) got divorced? (Yes.)
Etc., etc.

The problem, though, is that I sort of ‘know’ the answers to most of my ‘unanswered’ questions already. I could’ve made a different choice in marriage (and about divorce) for instance – neither status was forced upon me. So to try and now look for a deep, dark reason why I chose whom I chose (when it’s not as if I didn’t have several choices), and why I’m divorced (as if I didn’t file for the divorce myself), is just not ‘me.’ As much as I crave revelation knowledge, I don’t necessarily need a magical explanation for everything under the sun. Life happens – even to the best of us. Those on the far end of the ‘revelation’ side of the spectrum have challenges in their marriages, too (if they’re truthful).

Do I wish I walked in revelation knowledge more regularly? Yes. But if I really mean business and do more of what I know I should be doing (rather than just think about it), I’m sure I can get there.

I loathe being clueless (which I often am), but I loathe being suspicious of everything and everybody more.

So …

Lord, give me revelation knowledge in this my small, non-prayer warrior-like, struggling walk with You.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

In remission

We all need someone to talk to sometimes. I really don’t think he intended to talk to me at all, though. He was five minutes late for a recurring meeting. I didn’t think much of it as I was engrossed in what I was supposed to be doing when he arrived. He apologized profusely, while I waved his apology away. No big deal – seriously.

I went back to work. I could sense him pacing back and forth behind me at the other end of the room. Then he approached me and apologized again, saying he’d been going through a really difficult time lately. I looked up. Was it problems at work? No.

I don’t know him well at all, so I was stumped. From the little I do know, I would describe him as a light-hearted, happy-go-lucky sort of personality. A perennial joke-cracker who never fails to crack up at his own jokes. I would describe him as a Nigerian movie addict. Ever since he found out I was Nigerian, he has never failed to try and regale me with quotes from some of his favorite Nigerian actors. Depending on my mood and the activity I’m engaged in at the time, I might just smile politely and get on with things, or laugh. Sometimes, I just need to really focus,  though, and during these times, he tends to fade obligingly into the background.

Apart from his work, I couldn’t think of anything else to probe on, so I decided to let him spill the beans if and when he was ready. I was wary of learning to much, too, I have to admit, as I’m learning that I can’t possibly be the world’s problem-solver.

He finally explained (after struggling for several moments to get the words out) that he was having relationship troubles. Now, why hadn’t I thought of that?? I had to admit that he wasn’t himself at all. He was all somber and fidgety.

He’d been separated for the last five years, he explained. His wife was apparently having affairs and he relocated from one country to another to try and leave the whole ordeal behind. He felt like he was really handling things well, but each time she got in touch with him for something, he would sink into a depressed state.

Of course I could relate. It was still strange for me to hear this, though – him being a member of the opposite sex and all. I was used to hearing this sort of thing from women, but never had from a guy before now.

He apologized again, saying he just wouldn’t be able to work that day. I waved his apology away again.

‘It’s really, really tough,’ he said.

‘It is,’ I agreed. ‘It’s like being on a roller-coaster.’

‘Yes! You’re up, then you’re down. And sometimes, you feel like you’re going mad.’

‘That, too,’ I said. ‘There are good days and bad days. But one day, you wake up and you find that things are suddenly better. You’ll be fine.’

He whipped out his phone, toyed with it for a second, and then showed me a picture. ‘That’s my daughter.’

Aww. Cute, chubby little thing.

He showed me another picture. ‘This is my wife.’

Ohhh … pretty lady. Why does this happen? Too bad.

And poor, poor guy! To still refer to her so readily and easily as his wife, and to still have her picture just a click away after five good years …

He still loves her, I thought to myself. He may not want to admit it, or he may not even realize it, but he does.

I wondered if there was any hope for them. I hoped so.

He didn’t get any work done that day. I remembered when I didn’t get any work done for months, and assured him that it was perfectly okay.

A couple of days later, the same recurring meeting. He bounded into the room energetically and got to work. No one would have believed that just two days earlier, he was pretty much a broken man. I secretly marveled. He cracked his corny jokes again. He described a scene from the latest Nigerian movie he’d watched, laughing out loud. I smiled.

‘Today’s a good day, I can see,’ I said. ‘Good for you.’

‘Yeah,’ he replied wryly. ‘I’m in remission.’

We both laughed.

I got back to work, thinking: How apt! ‘In remission.’

Reading up on the phrase just now, someone described being in remission as follows:

 “… the absence of disease activity … It implies that there is a potential chance for recurrence (relapse), but doesn’t tell anything about the chances of this occurring. … Depending on the disease process, in some cases when the patient has been ‘in remission’ long enough, then we would start to talk about ‘cure.’ This is a difficult term to use when speaking of cancer [or of a broken heart/the hurt that marital betrayal leaves behind (my insertion!)], however, because of our inability to very accurately predict if cancer will come back or not in any given individual. So … it doesn’t strictly mean that [the individual] doesn’t have the cancer anymore, it may just mean that it is so little that we can’t detect it, or it is not ‘active.’”

Hmm! Couldn’t have said it better myself.

I can confidently say that I, personally, am ‘cured.’ I use the term as cautiously as it is used in the above quote, though. The 'cancer' is no longer active, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t probably lurking around somewhere, and that it’s impossible for it to one day throw me for a loop. I can confidently say that it’s gotten down to undetectable levels, but that's not quite the same as a 'real' cure.

When you know you have a chronic illness, you don’t take health for granted, no matter how healthy you feel. I would say that divorce is a lot like a chronic illness: It has to be managed.