I was raised to be faithful to my husband. The rules were one man, one woman. One husband, who you must leave only through death. Faithfulness was ingrained into me from before birth. It was the ultimate good a woman could do her family, her household, her husband. It was what brought honour, undisputed honour. So much that even if the husband strayed, he would always be brought back because of the fidelity he found in his wife.
So it was with such a dedication that I gave my “till death do us part” vows without batting an eye. There was not a shred of doubt in me that I would be a dedicated wife, a one who would not see any other man. My eyes got shut from other men once I decided I was going to marry him. I intended to keep it that way, and do my Mama proud, my tribe honor, my clan respect. And I would be worth every sent of bride price that he put into me. I would have, had he not actively driven me relentlessly into the heart of another.
When our problems began (as they are bound to do in any other marriage) I worked hard to protect him. I took all the blame. I considered it my marital duty to protect my man from wagging tongues. It was better if I took the blame than if he took it. If he took the blame, I would not forgive myself for having made a flawed choice in marrying him. It was for my own protection if he stayed guiltless. So I reasoned.
Actively, I worked hard at keeping his reputation clean, especially in my clan. He had to stay above reproach. In their eyes. So I painted him rosy. The more he became bad, the rosier a picture of him I painted. Scary was the fact that I actually believed it. I believed the things I was saying in protection of his bad treatment of me. He was turning nasty in order to keep me to himself. He hemmed me in because he was jealous. And jealousy is good. There can be no love without jealousy. Even as it became rougher still between us, I still believed it was for love. Whoever taught women to reason this way?
In all of it, he was still within limits. For he never accused me of unfaithfulness. The teachings of the elders were being fulfilled. “Let him accuse you of everything he wants under the sun, as long as it is not unfaithfulness, marital betrayal,” the clan aunties had insisted. “And as long as he accuses you of everything else, we will stay on your side.” So he accused me of everything: Laziness (although I worked longer hours on more multiple tasks than him), barrenness (although he was the one to refuse doctors’ investigations), brainlessness (although I was stronger there than him), unwillingness to love his people, loving him only for his money (although I earned more than him) and every other conceivable reason to complain about me that he could find. I learnt to take his verbal batterings as jokes, and progressed with life.
The fatal accusation
Then one day after I had our first baby, and I needed money to buy special somethings for her, my husband went beyond the border. He was mad at me, and told me I should not be asking for money from him. Because women who depend on men for their financial needs were prostitutes, and I was one.
Well, I felt like he had slapped me on the face, in my heart. I was physically jolted when those words landed on my ears. How dare he, when I had endured so much at his unstoppable tongue? But worst of all, when I had been and was planning to keep myself pure for him? How could he see me in this light, when it was the only one thing that I was not? His words hurt, because they were words hiding his inability, or non-desire to perform his fatherly duty of supplying for his baby, according to traditions and gender roles in the society.
I wept in secret, the pain of it overwhelming me as the darkness of the nights enveloped me. I wept when I went to the bathroom, for the bathroom was the only other place I could be away from prying eyes. His eyes should not see me crumble. He would rejoice at my suffering and think his arrows had found targets in my heart.
Had he really needed to come this far? Had he been looking to hurt me more and more? When I showed no pain, did he think I was unfeeling and looked for more and more hurtful words? Did he really think he could say anything and everything that crossed his mind and I would keep taking it? The aunties of the clan had not prepared me for such a turn of events.
I of course did not believe his malice straight away. I went into shock. I felt brought down to the lowest level of a woman in the setting. And slowly, I began to resent this. I still, however, tried to understand him and his outburst. Maybe he would apologize. In the society, a man could apologize to his wife, and pay a fine of two cows. Maybe I would get my two cows. But as the day turned into weeks and weeks into months, I understood this unpleasant sleight had been delivered willingly. Willingly to hurt. To silence me. To stop me demanding from him to take his stand and be a man to the family.
Anger creeps in
M y anger began to rise as the reality seeped into me slowly. Anger that this had been calculated. That these words had been meant to hurt, and not to just silence me. They were meant to hurt me and my people. I could have taken it more lightly of they had come from his people, who did not know me as closely. From him, who was supposed to be my closes aster I left my own clan, this was an act worse than casting me out of our home into a canyon.
The more I thought about this, the more I began to want a retaliation. A retaliation that would be as good as the words that had been thrown at me. Without my intention, a thought arrived into my mind. Surely, I wish I had been unfaithful in real. Then his words would not hurt so much. They hurt too much because they are not true. If I was indeed unfaithful, I would be laughing about his words…so the thoughts chased each other in my head and in my heart.
“You said I was a prostitute!” I imagined myself telling him this at that time in the future when he would have found out and confronted me. “And I wanted it to be true.” I flirted with this idea feeling justified, feeling a real deep need to do it, even from the fact that our conflict had driven us apart sexually.
The more I thought about it, the more I wanted it. He would certainly enjoy it if I made his dream come true. Maybe he wants it so that he can divorce me well, with a justification,” I thought. And when I dwelt in the frame of mind, everything became very possible. I even chose his best friend as a candidate. That would hurt him as much as his words hurt me.
Lessons of life
A s I thought about these things, I learned a big lesson. Do not say things that are untrue in order to silence your partner. You never know the extent to which you push them. Words that might be said in one moment of overflow may have long-lasting effects. A big outcome well beyond what was expected. Words that change a whole way of life.
More than anything, I learned how the changes in the marriage journey got worsened by the things we said to each other. Whenever the decisions are finally taken, will we be able to stand there and take responsibility for driving our partners over the edge?
The pains, and joys of marriage!