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Mental health: Men are losing it, and women are not helping

 Mental health: Men are losing it, and women are not helping (Photo: iStock)

Max* a 45-year-old tech professional, finds himself burdened by a double life. Struggling financially and emotionally, he is caught between his wife Clara, their two children, and another family from an affair two years ago.

Every other day, he receives calls and messages from Lisa, the mother of his third child, demanding more money and threatening to reveal everything to the wife.

As Max drowns in debt, and puts in extra hours at a job he dislikes, his relationship with his wife is deteriorating. They fight often, escalating over seemingly trivial matters. Max feels powerless to change the course he is on, and the other woman is constantly causing him anxiety.

In an attempt to regain control, Max quits his job, hoping to find something that will reignite his passion. Instead, he finds himself unemployed. 

“I drink every day before getting to the house juu sitaki kelele! The stop at the local gives me peace of mind even though it is not a permanent solution,” says a seemingly drunk Max.

Max is not the only man in this predicament and when children are involved, the effects of an affair extend beyond the couple to the entire family, leading to emotional distress and long-term consequences for their well-being and development.

This emotional turmoil can manifest in abusive behaviour as a means to exert control or express unresolved anger. On the other hand, men can also be victims of abuse, experiencing emotional manipulation or coercion by their partners.

Divorce rates among young Kenyan couples have surged, starkly contrasting with previous generations. Many of these separations happen within the first 10 years of marriage, reflecting significant societal shifts.

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, the number of divorces recorded annually increased significantly from 3,476 in 2020 to 5,611 in 2022 representing a 16.5 per cent increase. A trend noticeable among couples aged between 25 and 35, who account for a substantial proportion of these divorces.

This shift is attributed to societal shifts that have significantly altered the landscape of domestic relationships and changes in family law in 2019, which abolished the mandatory three-year period of family life before filing for divorce, making it easier for couples to dissolve their marriages.

This is accompanied by increased reports of domestic abuse, stemming from differences in personal affairs and relationships, social and economic pressures, including changing societal norms and increased awareness of legal rights.

The younger generations are placing a higher value on individual fulfillment and pleasure than they once did on traditional marriage vows. The consumption of social media and contemporary communication technologies, such as Instagram and TikTok, has also exposed people to a variety of global lifestyles and relationship dynamics, further challenging conventional norms.

The increased separation among couples who share domestic responsibilities in what we call the “come we stay” is particularly evident among younger generations, who may cohabitate before marriage or opt not to marry at all.

These unions were ruled to be null and void by the Supreme Court in January of 2023, which means partners have fewer legal protections and rights. This creates uncertainties, especially in matters of property ownership, inheritance, and child custody.

This perceived lack of commitment can lead to instability, as partners might feel less bound to work through difficulties creating a drift in the relationship.

“Men value being respected more than feeling loved, as they often feel disrespected by their wives. This is due to harsh treatment, which makes them feel disrespected and resentful,” says relationship coach Veronika Amaya.

“There comes a time when a woman may start addressing the man with the same tone as the children, which leaves the man feeling belittled and scorned.”

She says that men feel loved when they are treated with respect, and while women need respect, they need to feel cherished and fulfilled. Men would prefer to be with someone who respects them but does not love them deeply.

Dr Howard Markman says: “How you handle conflict is the single most important predictor of whether your marriage will survive.”  

Men, like everyone else, may struggle with personal and emotional problems such as mental health, addiction, or financial difficulties, which can strain their relationships.

When a man feels like his attempts to communicate his thoughts and feelings it is met with criticism and fights about what he is not doing he is bound to shut down. No one considers having constant bitter conflicts and going to bed angry every night a happy marriage.

Mismatched expectations and unclear roles in a marriage can lead to conflicts and stress, particularly for men. Men may feel pressured to meet unrealistic or unfair expectations, which can create emotional distance and erode trust and intimacy.

According to Psychology Today, expectations become troublesome when we use them as a yardstick for judging how we are feeling. Here we refer to wishes and should for example, “You should do this and not that, you should earn more…”.

We might compare our partners’ words and actions to what we expect, and then gauge how we feel or treat them based upon whether or not they measure up.

According to the publication, midlife crises in men often involve a period of introspection and questioning one’s life choices and accomplishments, leading to emotional turmoil.

During this season, men may experience heightened anxiety, self-doubt, and existential angst, often leading to impulsive decisions and behaviours that are out of character, such as quitting jobs, starting new relationships, or engaging in risky activities​.

Depression during this period can also be marked by irritability, moodiness, and withdrawal from social interactions, which can be particularly difficult for partners to handle​.

Financial difficulties, often coinciding with midlife crises, can exacerbate these issues. Men may reassess their priorities, make significant lifestyle changes, and feel a sense of urgency to reevaluate their life goals, which can create further instability within the marriage if not managed and communicated effectively​​​​.

According to Kenya Marriage Counselling, this stress can be amplified if there are money issues such as excessive debt, one-sided spending, and financial imbalances that can cause tension and resentment between you and your spouse.

Despite laws against domestic abuse, enforcement can be weak, with victims often not receiving the protection they need and perpetrators often going unpunished. Poor communication skills can lead to misunderstandings and unresolved conflicts, creating an environment ripe for abuse.

Historically, men were seen as primary breadwinners, while women were expected to manage the household and care for children.

However, UNESCO (2000) noted that with the growing educational and job prospects for young women across generations, the timing of marriage and education had ineptly been investigated in Kenya.

This has led to greater involvement of women in the development process, which has intense consequences on their traditional roles as caregivers. With the integration of women into the workforce, they potentially become financially independent and are more likely to remain unmarried or may increase their risk of divorce.

Men who were socialised to view themselves as primary providers and protectors may struggle to adapt to relationships where women assert equal or greater financial and emotional independence.

This cultural shift has led to a reevaluation of masculinity and male identity, with men now expected to be more emotionally expressive and supportive partners. This transition can be challenging for men who lack role models or societal support in navigating these new expectations.

Vulnerability in men is often stigmatised, and viewed as a weakness rather than a natural aspect of the human experience. This prevents many men from accessing the support they need, whether from friends, family, or professional services.

Addressing these challenges requires empathy and support. Programs like ‘Man Enough’ are a step in the right direction. This is a programme initiated by Mavuno Church, Kenya, that focuses on men’s societal issues within the context of faith. The programme aims to challenge traditional notions of masculinity, promote healthy relationships, and empower men to lead fulfilling lives, personal development, and spirituality.

It addresses topics such as communication skills, emotional intelligence, leadership, financial management, and spiritual growth, focusing on a holistic approach to men’s development and well-being. It includes elements of mentorship, group discussions, workshops, and seminars to create a supportive community where men can openly share their experiences, challenges, and aspirations.

Incorporating initiatives like “Man Enough” can complement existing recommendations and provide additional avenues for supporting men’s happiness and fulfillment in domestic settings.

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