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August 19, 2018

THE TEN ‘I’s THAT BREAK THE HOME (10)

As October 1 draws near
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MIND AND BODY with  Rev. Fr. Vincent E. Arisukwu

INTIMIDATION IN MARRIAGE

It was both fascinating and pedagogic to read an invitation to the marriage silver jubilee anniversary of a couple recently with a comic heading. The invitation read, “25 Years of Voluntary Imprisonment with Hard Labour”. That invitation really generated much fun in town but also called for sober reflection. Looking at many marriages today, one notices that some have simply become prison yards. Even though voluntarily contracted, some couples do not know how to pull out of their marriage. The main reason being that once validly celebrated, the church teaches the unity and indissolubility of marriage. The next reason is the Igbo cultural background which almost sees absconding from marriage as a taboo. The third reason, though suppressed, is also pertinent here; there is always a social dimension in marriage; the social security which being married carries especially for the African woman. All these combine to keep couples in marriage amidst all odds. Some merely manage their union and accept it as their cross for having chosen whosoever has per chance become their partner. Some suffer physical beating while others undergo mental torture but unfortunately endure in silence. Such victims cannot even complain because that would only add insult to injury. They are intimidated, abused and maltreated by the same person they call husband/wife.

To intimidate, according to dictionary definition, means to make timid or fearful, to frighten especially to compel or deter by or as if by threats. In marriage, it means to put one’s partner under some emotional trauma. It could be physical or psychological. Physical intimidation has to do with harassment of one’s spouse which ranges from threats of physical abuse, violence, etc. Psychological intimidation can come in different forms such as denials of provision of welfare or financial upkeep, starving one’s partner of sex, refusal to eat the wife’s food, lack of communication with one’s partner, etc. It can also take the form of false accusation of one’s partner which renders the individual incapable of speaking up or defending himself or herself.  According to christianet.com, “While not immediately apparent, the signs of emotional abuse in marriage are many. Unlike physical abuse, which can leave scars and bruises, emotional mistreatment may be difficult to detect. Many husbands and wives live in an invisible mental prison, held captive and bound with chains of intense hopelessness and despair. Victims are usually shy and introverted, withdrawn and insecure. Telltale signs of mistreatment may also include a lifestyle that is isolated or extremely limited; including a lack of contact with friends or relatives… Besides the signs of emotional abuse in marriage is usually a domineering spouse who desires to manipulate, control and intimidate through an attack on the victim’s mind and self esteem”.

Arguments have arisen severally as to whether husbands intimidate their wives more or women intimidate men the more. In most developed countries, men have claimed to be more intimidated especially by career ladies who see marriage from the perspective of contract entered with men to achieve their own goal and happiness. Such ladies think more of their ambition and comfort than the bond of marriage. They shun anything that limits their freedom or any factor that could come between them and the targets they set for themselves. They don’t imagine that men have any advantage over women and can’t conceive of any superiority theory postulated by men. They are ready to throw any man out who impedes their chances of self actualization. While doing the preface to his book, “Man Down”, Dan Abrams affirms, “I am a lawyer, and I have found the evidence of female superiority to be beyond compelling… I quickly found empirical evidence that women are also the superior gender in many other, less obvious areas.” (Abrams, D., Man Down, 2011, pp.7-8). In African context, especially within the Igbo milieu, the case is different. The female folk complain they are the recipients of abuse and intimidation in marriage. They maintain that men would always want to show that they are the owners of the house while women are treated more like the visitors. One of the reasons posited by men is that they are the ones who pay the bride price of women in marriage. Bride price for some men thus becomes not only a symbol of commitment, but also a sign of ownership and dominance over women.

Meanwhile, wherever the pendulum tilts, our poise here is to expose the crime of intimidation in marriage and condemn it unequivocally. Whether husband intimidates wife or vice versa, it stands to be corrected. When the Jews confronted Christ with the question about divorce, his response was, “Have you not read that the Creator from the beginning made them male and female and that he said: This is why a man leaves his father and mother and becomes attached to his wife, and the two become one flesh? They are no longer two, therefore, but one flesh” (cf. Matt. 19:1-6).  This is what marriage is all about, a covenant of love, a bond, a friendship. It is not a game of superiority or inferiority. According to Thomas Pazhayampallil, “Love and friendship in marriage is not a modern discovery. One finds it in the earliest pages of the Bible. Eve was created as Adam’s companion (friend). The seven years Jacob worked to win Rachel seemed to him like a few days because he loved her so much. The biblical Word of God urges the betrothed and the married to nourish and develop their wedlock by pure conjugal love and undivided affection” (Pazhayampallil, T., Pastoral Guide, Vol. 2, p.774; cf. Gaudium et Spes, no. 49).

Ironically, though, many men do not like to acknowledge the equality of both parties in marriage. They insist on male dominance and would always cite their preferred but misinterpreted version of St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians thus, “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives should be subject to their husbands as to the Lord, since, as Christ is the head of the church and saves the whole body, so is a husband the head of his wife, and as the church is subject to Christ, so should wives be to their husbands in everything” (Eph. 5: 22-25). Being “head” and “subject” here is indeed the mystery in the sacramental union of marriage and is not to be understood in the sense of dominance. Being “head” as Christ is to the church is manifested in love and actualized in service. Pazhayampallil summarizes respect in marriage in these words, “…respect of each other’s personality is necessary on the part of the couple: respect of her on the part of him, of him on the part of her. But respect means, in the first place, recognition of the fact that the other is a human being, and needs to feel such in his deepest autonomy. At the basis of marriage, in addition to love, physical attraction, an affectionate state of mind, there must be, in a word, this vigilant feeling of the other’s dignity” (Pazhayampallil, T., Ibid. p.776). We shall set out to x ray the causes of intimidation in the next edition.

 

To be contd.

 

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