By Francis Ewherido
There is a bit of hypocrisy in all human beings, yet we call some people hypocrites. My understanding is that some people’s lives are built on and around hypocrisy that is why they are called hypocrites, not that the rest of humankind is immune from hypocrisy. It is in that regard and with all sense of humility that I declare that I am not a hypocrite. I am not saying this to prove any self-righteousness, but to share how it has become a stumbling block in my divine assignment (that is what I believe) as a marriage counsellor. I have shared with you before how my former parish priest told me to accompany him to beg a husband who caught his wife in the act of adultery. I refused to follow him. I was brought up in the strict Urhobo tradition where wives are expected to be faithful. Christianity expects no less.
But we take many things for granted in Christianity because we worship a God of mercy and compassion. The consuming aspect of Him is often forgotten because God often gives us a seemingly infinite opportunity to repent and come back to him. But erivwin, the consequences of sexual immorality for married women who engaged in adultery that I grew up to meet in Urhobo land (some say it is still on) showed no such leniency. The consequences started manifesting soon after with the death of the women’s children, until it got to her, if she did not confess. If she confessed, traditional rights (agiye) could be done for her to cleanse her of her transgressions. In the case of Christianity, she must go to God for confession and reconciliation. So, there are some points of convergence between tradition and Christianity: both have provisions for confession and forgiveness, although, the husband might refuse to forgive in traditional setting. The wife’s family is then obliged to return the bride price and the marriage is dissolved.
Jesus is very emphatic on forgiveness. “In the Lord’s prayers, he taught: And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” He went further to say that unless you forgive your neighbour who offends you, your heavenly father will not forgive you. These portions of the bible are tough for a typical Urhobo man doing reconciling adulterous women and their husbands. But if you voluntarily subscribe to Christianity, you have to obey the tenets.
Before some women here jump into the train of gender equality (I am for gender equity) that leads to ruin, hear me out. In our polygamous culture, pinning adultery on a husband who did not do civil or church marriage and took oath of fidelity is tough. We have been through that here before, so I will not belabour it today. But we can have a convergence point that those who took the vow of marital fidelity should keep it.
Another very difficult situation that I have had to deal with in counselling is a man whose wife denied sex for years. How am I supposed to preach to the man with a clear conscience? As a Christian, if he sleeps with another woman, it is adultery. Yet this Christian woman was denying her husband sex. If he were to be a much older man whose libido has been dealt fatal blows by high blood pressure, diabetes and other debilitating ailments, I would have been less worried, but the husband is a young man in his 30s, with very hot blood flowing through his veins. Yes, I know he also took the vow of “for better, for worse,” but what kind of daylight witchcraft is the wife practising? And there are even reasonable grounds to suspect that what she was denying the husband, she was giving it to another man (abi na men sef). I used biblical injunctions to counsel the man, but I felt like a big hypocrite. I do not like using my teeth to share meat that I do not eat. But I take very seriously Jesus’ admonition that what God has joined, man must not put asunder. Sometimes counselling can be very tough and unappealing. You preach to people to accept what you are not sure you can tolerate. Hypocrisy. Very sickening.
The third thorn in my flesh as far as counselling is concerned is counselling people whose spouses have abandoned their marriages. The bible is very clear on divorce, even though people water it down or give it different interpretations. I have said before that one of the most difficult and frustrating aspects of marriage is that only one spouse cannot make it work; it takes the husband and wife to keep a marriage alive. Their contribution to the marriage might even be a ratio of 95/5, but both spouses must contribute to the success of the marriage. If one spouse unilaterally opts out, the marriage is dead. It can only exist on paper. I have had to deal with cases like that. Unfortunately, these are young marriages, some as young as a few years. These marriages were done in the church where divorce is not allowed, and to cap it, they took a vow of “for better for worse.” How do I tell a young man, in his early 30s, to live a celibate life that he did not sign for? If he asks me if I would have done the same, am I supposed to tell him “yes”? Honestly, I do not know how I would have dealt with such a situation? And I thank God every day that I did not have to deal with the situation.
In such situations, I usually talk to the runaway spouse. Sometimes, it is the actions of the other spouse that pushed him/her out. But both do have their shortcomings. If both do accept to mend their ways, be more sensitive, tolerant and accommodating, they can be reconciled and continue living as husband and wife. But there are cases where another man/woman has turned the head of the spouse. It might be an ex, a richer man/woman, a better performer in bed (that is one of the downsides of infidelity), etc. These are very bad cases. They require a lot of prayers, fasting, patience and perseverance. Sometimes, the scales will fall from his/her eyes at some point and he/she goes back to the spouse. If he/she accepts and forgives, normality is restored. But some of the marriages have ended up like this.
Many of the people being counselled always want me to tell them what to do, especially if the action they want to take goes contrary to the scriptures. I always avoid doing that. My job is to counsel you, it is your responsibility to take your decision. Even where the lives of the persons I am counselling are at stake, they still have to make the decision to leave the marriage and save their lives or stay and risk getting killed. But as for my children, I pray for them to have happy marriages, but if the unthinkable happens, I will ensure they get out of the marriage. I am not ready to be predeceased by any child because of a violent spouse.
Francis Ewherido is a seasoned relationship, financial and insurance coach. He’s also an author. He can be reached on: firstname.lastname@example.org.