Many people would admit that families nowadays are less stable than families in the past. Affluence has not brought happiness in the home, but has contributed to separations and divorces.
Those who talk about family life constantly refer to women’s rights and gender-based violence. They advocate laws to punish violent spouses, with the husband as the main culprit.
Sociologists attribute breakups of families to several factors, including extramarital sexual affairs. Yet in the past men practised polygamy and some co-wives lived happily like partners. In those days, culture accepted as a right for a man to marry more than one wife if he could treat all the wives fairly.
These days marriage counsellors tell young men thinking of marriage: one wife, one trouble; two wives, two troubles. Minimise your troubles by sticking to one wife. Yet even in monogamy happiness is not ubiquitous. Courts are full of divorce cases.
In the past, it was mostly a man who divorced his wife for such reasons as adultery, laziness or insubordination. Women tended to endure unhappiness in the family because of their total dependence on him.
These days, many wives are gainfully employed and sometimes earn more than their husbands. At the slightest provocation, some get summons and walk out of the marriage home.
Wealth alone does not guarantee happiness. Jean Paul Getty, who until his death in 1976, was the richest man in America divorced and married five times because he had more time for his business than for his wives.
Although financial constraints create difficulties which disturb marriage, there are families with modest means whose spouses have lived together till death separated them in advanced age. Money is not the root of evil. Lust wrecks families.
The late Dr Albert Schweitzer of Lambarene, Gabon, wrote that he was satisfied with his little salary because his interests were very few, especially to give medical services to the poor and preach the word of God. His marriage lasted because his wife shared his interests.
If you choose a simple life but your spouse prefers glamour, your home will be trouble. Both rich and poor families last long if there is compatibility between wife and husband.
Some famous people had unhappy homes because of the problem of incompatibility. One of such great people was US president Abraham Lincoln (1809-65). I have never seen a portrait of Lincoln which shows him smiling. His partner in a law firm wrote that at no point in the 20 years they co-practised did he see Lincoln looking happy even though he had an illustrious career.
According to Dale Carnegie’s book Little Known Facts about Well Known People, a Miss Mary Todd had attended a snobbish school in Kentucky, spoke French with a Parisian accent and came from an illustrious family. She pleaded with Lincoln to marry her, he reluctantly did so.
Lincoln’s family origins were humble, with no great achiever behind him. He attended school for only 12 months. While the wife always looked glamorously dressed, Lincoln was slovenly. It did not take long for Lincoln to realise that he had entered into a wrong match. His wife was intensely jealous. If she saw her husband look at another woman, she would make a scene. One day they were having breakfast and Lincoln said something which did not please her, she picked a cup of hot coffee and dashed it into his face. Lincoln did not scold her, while his landlady wiped his face.
Violence in the family can be provoked by either of the spouses. Happy family life cannot be achieved by sticking to statutory laws alone. The injunctions found in the Bible are these days being pushed to the background. Priests and pastors are busy telling statesmen how to govern. This is a pity. Religious leaders have a primary duty to remind spouses they must just demand rights but also render duties. n