The Cornerstone of Succesful, Long Lasting Marriages?!

Samurai cake dolls

It will take me some time to get to my point so bear with me. For quite a few years now I have been fascinated with understanding relationships. Even though I am still in the stage of life where I am pretty much a wholesale seed distributor, I have always loved to reflect on, study and understand relationships that work and work for a really long time.

Long Distances and Mashada

So, anyway, one day I ended up on the popular message board Mashada quite distraught. There had been two long distance relationships I had looked at and thought to myself:

They will go the distance those ones. They’ll make it.

Typically when people in their 20s show up in the diaspora and say they are in a long distance relationship, I think of it at the very least as a joke and at the very most as an exchange of physical pleasure and flattery every so often, though when apart from one another, everyone and everything is fair game.

But not these two. Allow me to explain.

Relationship Number 1

They were both in their late 20s. They had both long since put the fun and nonsense that is high school and University behind them (point one for them). She was abroad pursuing her Masters and he was back in Africa holding down the fort.

When she spoke of him one could see that they clearly had a deep friendship and their relationship wasn’t just based on some superficial attraction (point two for them). She is a woman and she is abroad, and so of course African men jumped on her like chaff on Velcro. For a good year or so, the two men who had put forth the most consistent effort were consistently being shut down in spite of their clear charm (point three for them).

A Small Crack in the Ceiling

But alas one of them one evening managed to get her in a room for a game of tonsil hockey which was unfortunately interrupted midway. As soon as the interruption took place, the woman sped out of that room and we all thought that was all she wrote.

Six Months Later

Fast forward six months later and both of these men got what they wanted from her in spite of the fact that she had a chance to go back to Africa and visit her guy.

Relationship Number 2

She was quite young, still of college age, but she was the quintessential woman of faith (point number one for them). She admitted that once someone had her, he had her for life (point two for them) and that was pretty much her intention with her significant other.

No one has come between them, but the fellow who is also pretty young (point one against) has ended the relationship by trying to let her down easy. I won’t go into too much detail, all I will say is it took me by quite some surprise just how quickly it ended.

Right Back to Mashada

So anyway I end up on Mashada and I decide to ask folk:

Do these long distance relationships ever work?

Now of course a lot of you already know the answer that 9 times out of 10, especially when we are talking about people in their 20s they don’t work BUT out of that discussion something came up that I thought was definitely worth discussing.

Are Family and Community the Cornerstones of Succesful and Long Lasting Relationships?

You’ve all watched the TV shows where someone takes their partner to their parent’s home and the parents totally disapprove of him or her. In a moment of defiance, the person will normally grab their partner tight, leer at his or her parents and say something to the extent of:

Well she’s not marrying you. She’s marrying me and I love her. So regardless of whether you approve of this marriage or support it, we’ll get married anyway.

And then they walk of hand in hand to face the world together: Just the two of them and their love.

Is that a Huge Mistake?

In Australia we have this tabloid type program that’s very popular called a Current Affair. Sometime ago they had a special on Indian arranged marriages where they were trying to explore why Indian marriages last so much longer than typical Western marriages that are basically like Russian roulette with a 50/50 chance.

One of the things that came out of that is someone said:

In an arranged marriage, one isn’t simply marrying a person, they are marrying their family (or clan or community).

That got me to thinking….weren’t traditional marriages exactly the same and didn’t they also have the ridiculously low divorce and run away rates?

Accountability and Committment

I am just speculating based on the limited information I have but I think what it ultimately boils down too is when you marry or form a relationship with someone’s family or community instead of just them you have made a committment and are accountable to a lot more people.

Compare this with the typical love relationship where one is usually not even answerable to their spouse but instead to their feelings. How can we possibly expect to build a long lasting relationship or commit to anything long term simply on the basis of how we feel when we are so damn capricious as human beings? (I have waited so long to use one of my favourite words, capricious)

When you marry a family you are answerable to a lot of people and this helps get you by when your feelings tell you that you don’t feel like going.

They Force You Back Together

When you decide you need distance from each other lest you kill each other, you retreat to a family/and or community which considers itself a part of your relationship and so will try to force the two of you together……….

Back to You

My mental exercise ends there. What do y’all think? Does marrying someone’s family and community make a difference? Is this a load of bollocks? Leave a comment and let me know.

Just trying to figure this whole thing out,


No Comments

  • By Julia Sanna, June 1, 2008 @ 9:29 am

    You hit the nail on the head. As a marriage educator, most of my time is spend explaining to couples the importance of family and how their support can strengthen their upcoming marriage. Africans married outside of Africa face a difficult time maintaining strong marriages because the culture here (US) is not family focused. Research shows that married couples who say they are unhappy will often switch their tune within 5 years if they stay in the marriage and work it out. That’s why I treasure the strong marriage examples I saw growing up in Kenya. Think of our parents, grandparents, uncles, aunties etc – they had so much to deal with yet maintained their marriages because they were married to each other and the family. You don’t just cut and run – the extended family holds you (the couple) accountable.

  • By Mwangi, June 1, 2008 @ 12:28 pm

    @Julia Sanna: So I was on to something…definitely something to think about should I head on over to a girl’s house and get ceremoniously rejected by her parents…it is then my responsibility to make it work between us. For anyone reading this comments thread let me suggest you head on over to Julia’s blog she has a great blog for those whose headspace and world revolves around family, marriage and domestic life.
    While I have your attention….any other tips for having super duper marriages?..actually I wrote an article about this and I thought I would get your opinion on it….
    Ezine article on relationships
    Any thoughts on that too?
    Thanks for stopping by, I always love it when people smarter or further along than I am stop by……

  • By, June 1, 2008 @ 12:36 pm

    Here is an interesting position,on similar issue.
    I must warn you, 98% will disagree with it’s position:

  • By acolyte, June 1, 2008 @ 12:48 pm

    My guy first of all going to Mashada for advice is a reason for you to get a good beating. That place is an online cesspool. Second there is only a limited amount of time that you can stay away from your significant other esp in the West before succumbing to loneliness or temptation.
    It’s different if you are married but if you are young and vibrant the odds of a long distance relationship working are very slim.
    And community is dying out in the urban parts of Africa so marrying into community there may not help you very much when you are subject to the pressures out there. While out here there are not ties at all to back you up. Anyway not to be a hater lakini kibao of our generation your readers included have a long way to go before they get married, given how life out here is treating us and how too many peeps (male and female) are just acting the fool!

  • By gal africana, June 2, 2008 @ 4:14 am

    I really have to take issue with this, cant help it…why is it your stories about the long distance relationships only talk of what the woman did? And how her actions either reflected positively or negatively on the couple? What about the guys? What were they doing? Good or bad? Couple-hood is a two way street…

    I’m only asking because I get a general feeling that Kenyan male bloggers are really good at examining the values of or lack thereof (mostly the latter) in women…and rarely reflect on their own values or lack thereof, as men. Some of them excel at telling interesting stories of and reveling in women failing in one way or another. I’m NOT saying you do…its just that your system of awarding or demeriting the couple based only on the womans actions, got me thinking along those lines.

    I was going to disagree with the premise that the success of a marriage is based on the participation of family and community members…but after giving it some thought…I do see the merits of having some support…It helps to be surrounded with people who are more mature and less emotionally vested in the relationship and thus can help untangle any conflicts. Also, getting practical help with daily issues can help. I’m only talking from a rational point of view and not from experience…from what I’ve seen, the family/community usually makes things worse…that’s why I was initially inclined to disagree…

    I’m still, by far, a relationship cynic…I feel like the social whirlwind we live in nowadays makes it extremely difficult to have a relationship…and then relationships end up feeling too much like another boring time consuming job…and watching the couples around me does not help alleviate that conviction. Its actually quite scary.

    Capricious is your word? I’ve had the words…”cantankerous” and “duplicitous” running around in my head….until it hit me that they came to me after being with a certain dubious person

  • By Mwangi, June 2, 2008 @ 4:37 am Your article discusses the issue from a very theological and philosophical perspective and I would love to hear your take on the issue of family and community in relationships from a practical one……Feel free to check out the article where me and are discussing polygamy.

  • By Mwangi, June 2, 2008 @ 4:41 am

    @acolyte: Lol! There are quite some wise people on Mashada, unfortunately the chaff is in plenty, but when you find wheat it can be of quite a good variety, check out Ester’s opinions for example.
    A great number of long distance marriages, end up with one of the partners, cheating but the marriage still remaining in tact and with young people who have no responsbility to anyone…..a pleasure buffet.
    I agree that most folk reading this blog are probably a long way to the altar, but I think its very useful to know the skills and things you’ll need to make it work rather than just expecting things to fall into place when you get there.
    One of the great tragedies of Westernization is how fragmented our communities have become all so that we can chase that buck. Put me on a governing committee of any African nation and that’s one of the things I would fight against tooth and nail.

  • By Mwangi, June 2, 2008 @ 4:48 am

    @gal africana: Actually my articles work in the reverse really: I actually come from the school of thought that men will more often than not cheat and sleep around and so don’t think that’s even worth discussion unless the man is faithful. I just expect more from women and so that’s why I put so much faith in the women (and over time so much of my faith has been betrayed). Men who come here with women at home (even married ones), a lot of them make it quite clear even at the airport that the hunt for women has begun.
    That’s definitely worth discussing too: the problems with family wide relationships e.g. in-law battles.
    As I was saying to aco, that fragmentation in pursuit of profit is one of the great tragedies of Westernization: we can only have relationships if we can fit them within our money making and spending schedule. I do it, but that doesn’t stop it from being quite sad.
    You see with readers like you and sci, I will never need to pick up a thesauraus or dictionary again…..hmm, that person must have been quite the quagmire ;)

  • By rags, June 2, 2008 @ 4:49 am

    Reading your blog, it dawned on me that long distance relationships can be downright ugly and painful. Women almost always are the victims. Yeah, marrying the community is bound to make the jamaa more responsible and less of a free agent.

  • By Mwangi, June 2, 2008 @ 4:53 am

    @rags: Kelly actually wrote an article a while ago which really got me to thinking of what a raw deal African women get when they get married. Check it out here:

  • By gal africana, June 2, 2008 @ 6:58 am

    I think in todays fragmented world, as you describe it, the most important thing a couple can do is occasionally have a talk about what needs they have and how those needs can be fulfilled within the relationship…I think most people avoid the tough talk and expect things to work out because they assume chemistry/physical attraction and common likes and values are enough. The most important thing one can do is be clear about what those needs/wants are…but also be aware that they change with time…hmmm thinking about this always makes me say “relationships are a toughie”

    I also think that entering into a relationship with the full acceptance that things might not work out changes the dynamics of things…

    The person is quite a personality…I cant figure out whether she’s a pure narcissist or just psycho…but she makes for interesting observations.

  • By Mwangi, June 2, 2008 @ 7:03 am

    @gal africana: I agree with everything but one thing….I will NEVER enter into a relationship, unless I intend on taking it all the way. There are all sorts of “arrangements” we can work out in between, FBs, friends, confidantes, but I remember when I was about fifteen years old I went to church and this preacher asked a pretty simple question that’s haunted me ever since:

    “If you have no intention to get married, why are you wasting your time and someone else’s time?”

    In addition to that, most of the emotional needs that folks get from relationships, have been met in my case…so really I am either getting with you to marry you, be your friend or for physical reasons…I have no intention of waiting and seeing……..but I’m capricious so we’ll see how we go ;)

  • By gal africana, June 2, 2008 @ 7:45 am

    Hmmm…I don’t vouch for wasting someone’s time…I vouch for being honest about what one wants from a relationship…in that way the other person can decide to stay or go…I must admit I rarely meet people who are so focussed on getting married…most just want companionship and a playmate…

    You never enter a relationship unless you intend to take it all the way? That’s pretty intense…and all your emotional needs have been met? WOW!

    I thought dating was about “waiting and seeing” you can hardly “know” from the get go?

    I used to be very loyal and relationship focussed…and that sort of bit my ass lol…and now I’m more for being in “thing” as long as its wholesome…and that’s working out much better. Maybe it’s all down to different personalities and what works for different people.

  • By Mwangi, June 2, 2008 @ 7:50 am

    @gal africana: It’s something that some folk find quite odd and don’t understand but in general I feel loved and I feel that I have intrinsic worth as a person and so don’t really need to go after a relationship to satisfy any of those deep core needs, in fact my hope is that once I do get someone I’ll be able to give a lot.
    For sure a lot of dating is just that BUT a lot of folk start dating people though in their heart of hearts they know that if it came down to proposing they wouldn’t even think of it…I just don’t see the point in entering a union like that. But as I said, I am quite fluid so we’ll see how we go.

  • By Mwangi, June 2, 2008 @ 4:00 pm

    For some odd reason, Julia’s article didn’t track back to this article but definitely check it out, it’s a great article full of great practical tips from a married woman in the states:
    Maintaining strong marriages

  • By Kelly, June 3, 2008 @ 4:05 pm

    This is a really good post but to some extent I beg to differ. Sure, having the entire community as part of your marriage will help/or not (in times of conflicts and all), but from experience, what I have noticed is that women still get the raw deal especially in the African set up. If there is a conflict in the marriage and lets imagine there is a separation, more often than not, the main mediators (who are often men) will focus on getting the lady to go back home regardless.

    In issues such as cheating (which would be a deal breaker for me), the couple or the woman is more often than not forced to soften her stance, after all ‘he’s a man and he comes home to you anyways’. IMO, extended family shouldn’t be part of a marriage. A marriage should be between 2 parties and if they can’t work out their issues, there’s no point involving the entire community. A marriage that is meant to work will work because the couple will focus on making it work. On the other hand if they aren’t committed to making it work, it doesn’t matter if the whole community is rooting for them.

    I also think that in this day and age, that whole communal thing is going to be unworkable. Extended families are scattered all over the globe, it’s hard enough to get to meet, leave alone be involved closely in each others family affairs.
    Just out of curiosity, does the man ‘marry’ the wife’s community as well?

  • By Mwangi, June 3, 2008 @ 4:14 pm

    @Kelly: The fence is expected to swing both ways so yup the man is now a part of the woman’s clan and the other way around.
    Today I was watching the show on polygamy “Big Love” and one of the women said something that really made me think. One woman was talking about how much she loved her husband and his other wives and one wife says, I paraphrase:
    ” And that’s what bothers me. You are just in it for the love. You don’t see any higher purpose behind the marriage. How can you expect to build a marriage if it has no higher purpose beyond just making you feel good.” ( I heavily paraphrased that but you get the point). We never had the discussion post-colonialism as to just why we were getting married (I’ve said this before, haven’t I? It’s been on my mind a lot the last few months……)
    To act as a point of contrast let me give a different take on cheating which for a lot of women, not only yourself, is a deal breaker.
    Women will probably never ever understand this but when those men are saying, “he comes home to you,” and ,” it’s just sex,”, they are being extremely accurate. The urge to cheat is hardwired into men and men have to fight NOT to cheat, not the other way around. I think it’s because women are so associated to the emotional aspects of sex that they find it impossible to understand that a man can simply have no deep emotional connection, or it may fade, after the act.

  • By Kelly, June 3, 2008 @ 4:25 pm

    I hear you on the ‘just sex thing’ but face it Mwangi, most men cheat for many other reasons. To me, there is nothing like being hardwired to cheat. Women are tempted to cheat too, but some make the choice not to cheat (and most these days go ahead. If it’s about sex only, then what do you say about these men who are married, but have a girlfriend on the side for over 5 years etc? For an African man, I think it’s more about the urge to be polygamous, than sex. Unless I’m getting serious value in that marriage, I don’t see the point in having a co wife, who gets the best of my husband, while I deal with the real stuff, like bringing up his kids, dirty socks etc.

    May be I’m cynical, but I believe a marriage of convenience works best. We’re great friends,I marry you and make you a nice home, and in return I get babies, financial security etc and at the end of the day, we’re not alone in our 50s, you cheat on me, I cheat on you we move on. Question is, will we survive the marriage until our 50s when we settle down? Sorry if that sounds blunt, but I think life is like that.

  • By Kelly, June 3, 2008 @ 4:29 pm

    Sorry for the double post. I believe married sex is holy in a way, so if you’re willing to go out there sleeping around ati ‘it’s just sex’, what does that say about sex (which is supposed to be holy again?)

  • By Mwangi, June 3, 2008 @ 4:31 pm

    @Kelly: Since when has being blunt been a problem. If it’s constructive and useful say it. I am quite serious about the hardwired to cheat thing…..thinking about sex hundreds of times a day, being a straight up visual creature, not automatically becoming emotionally attached to women….strikes me that a lot about the male wiring points in that polygamy/infidelity direction. At the moment I am going on intuition, observation and experience and not much empirical research so…………..
    Yeah, when it’s all said and done, that article you wrote a couple months back really made me think of what a raw deal women have always and continue to get in African marriages…it’s one of those things I would really have to ask God about because it really doesn’t seem fair….at all really.
    When I marry I definitely intend to bring the best of the past i.e. bring the community into it and commit to loving the other person and taking care of them for life, but never do I see myself getting hitched for the sake of convenience, I don’t ever want to use marriage and my comrade for life as a way from running away from emptiness or loneliness or a void in life.
    I really want to discuss polygamy some more so me thinks I should put a post in the oven for later on that one.

  • By Mwangi, June 3, 2008 @ 4:41 pm

    @Kelly: I am simply explaining how the biology and mechanics of the process works….I mean any men reading this are free to correct me but as far as I can tell, especially when a man has power, fame, success or any of the things that pull women in great numbers, it’s a struggle NOT to cheat as opposed to doing so….how else can one explain MLK? Was willing to take stonings for a principle but slept around on his wife though he had a family he clearly loved? Anyway more progressive investigation and thought is needed in this area.

  • By Kelly, June 3, 2008 @ 4:49 pm

    If sex is physical, then why not have it with your wife 100 times a day? Lets draw a parallel here. As a man, you’re bombarded with all this temptation all day long, and I should understand when you have sex with another woman, because it’s all about meeting your physical, or ego needs right?
    Now, will you understand if I sleep with another man because he makes me feel beautiful, pays attention to me etc, which you don’t so much these days because of the hassles in the marriage? It’s not that I love this man more than I love you, after all, I will come home to you daily, will take care of you and I’ll even be less nagging because my emotional needs will be taken care of. How palatable is that Mwangi?

    What I’m trying to say, even women, especially in this day and age when they’re more assertive about their needs have the urge to cheat, but most resist it. Why do you expect us to understand when you can’t?

    On the marriage thing, I think if you’re not marrying for love, then it’s for convenience. Not the business contract type, but in the sense that it’s benefiting both of you in a non emotional way. Just my way of looking at it.

  • By Mwangi, June 3, 2008 @ 5:04 pm

    @Kelly: Some people marry because they see a higher purpose to it (A way to connect to God and express love for God while on Earth, which I think is just an awesome reason).
    One can also marry to simply love and nurture and unleash the full potential of another human being.
    Sadly a great deal of convenience marriages do happen nowadays huh.
    Male infidelity and female infidelity are just two entirely separate creatures. I know you probably read the post I wrote kitambos on promiscuity among the sexes and I think the same apples and oranges mentality applies when it comes to male and female infidelity. For a woman to cheat on a man, a lot of the time she has already allowed that man in emotionally and they have formed a bond ( at least on the woman’s side) that transcends the bedroom and I remember being told that a lot of women sleep with men just to make them happy because they make her so happy.
    A man on the other hand can sleep with a whore (literally ala Eliot Spritzer and apparently MLK, I don’t know if the site I read that from was a propaganda site or what) with whom he has no emotional connection before or after the act of sex….after sex we want to go to sleep, not cuddle (another thing that suggests that men are hardwired for this stuff)
    Another way of looking at it, most women cheat to fill a void in their lives. Men can have the perfect woman but it’ll still be an uphill climb for him not to pursue excitement via sex. How much is cultural conditioning and how much of it is true nature, we’ll never really know, but the history I have studied seems to suggest my intuition is right.
    I have a hypothesis now that the folks who invented polygamous marriage did so in order for them to work within their natural male rhythms in a manner that was dignified and maintained social cohesion… you can see I can talk about this one for days

  • By Kelly, June 3, 2008 @ 5:27 pm

    Yeah, this is a topic that can go for days, so this is my last comment. What I was driving at, with my parallel thing, men cheat to meet their needs (ego physical etc), women cheat for the emotional connection, so why should it be different if a woman cheats? Are some needs more noble than others? Most women are unfulfilled emotionally in their marriages but don’t look for fulfillment in other men.

    Imagine I think to some extent, a love relationship kind of distracts a person from loving God. When you love someone else so much, you find that it’s harder to focus on God, but thats a discussion for another day.

    As much as I’m a feminist, I think it’s a lesser evil for a man to marry many wives than to marry one and cheat on her. That way, we share the responsibility of the family, as opposed to where the ‘outsiders’ have all the fun while the wife does all the hard stuff. I’m yet to see myself as a co-wife though..

  • By Mwangi, June 3, 2008 @ 5:38 pm

    @Kelly: No it’s not that some needs are more noble than others…..existing under the assumption that men and women were created perfect as they naturally are, I was just trying to explain that the way male sexuality works and its proclivities towards either polygamy or infidelity appear to be biological as opposed to just psychological….meaning something that I share with an Indonesian as much as with an American.
    Whereas female infidelity tends to occur as a result of emotional and other cultural factors that are not neccesarily a part of the female anatomy.
    I think people just chose to love their partner as a physical manifestation, I.e. a piece of the divine.
    In short me the way I see my life headed I’ll either have to have a long conversation with myself about just what I’ll do to keep my sexuality on check all marriage long or just find women who are down for polygamy..I was actually reflecting on that today for the first time.

  • By Caustic Blonde, June 6, 2008 @ 4:12 pm

    Simple advice, before getting married take it seriously, because when you say, “I do” it is supposed to be for the rest of your life. Don’t get caught up in the romance of it all and forget it is a serious commitment. Don’t marry someone and think you can “just change the person” after you marry, either love them for who they are or move on.

  • By Mwangi, June 7, 2008 @ 1:47 am

    @Caustic: Thinking you can change someone…..I have heard about the perils of that one quite a bit. I would actually love to hear more stories from folks. At some point in the future I just may write a post on that so I can get discussion going on this.

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