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Don’t stay in a bad marriage just because she was your first love

By Brian Guserwa | September 29th 2020

There is something stubbornly African about ‘till death do us part’. Even though wedding vows as we know them today have their roots in Christianity and 16th Century England, the idea of marriage as a permanent bond has always existed within our culture. Whoever you saddled up with, you were stuck with, for better or — more likely—for worse.

It’s a beautiful sentiment, the promise of constancy and steadfastness in the face of whatever life decided to throw at a couple. But it’s because of that promise that we see people staying in relationships which no longer serve them.
It’s why, for example, your grandfather had at least two families and is looked at with nothing but respect. It’s why your shady uncle is still married, even though the whole village knows about his special relationships with every house-help he hires. Never mind that his wife has been frowning for so long her eyebrows are now permanently knitted together.

That ring on your finger was more than a passport out of the singles market; it was also a free pass for all your bad behaviour.

‘Till death do us part’ also explains why the recent tribulations of a certain Argentinian footballer concluded with a whimper and not a bang. You see, I’m a lifelong fan of that diminutive man and his god-kissed left foot, and I was on the edge of my seat throughout the soap opera he teased us with late in August; El dilemma de Messi.

I don’t even like to mention that other fella, the Portuguese one… the underwear model who sometimes plays football. But I think it’s interesting to consider his career path, if only for one simple fact; the man knows when to leave. The minute he got the feeling he was no longer valued in the ways he wanted at his last club, he was out the door. He didn’t wait for strong hints, or small small madharau. He just felt in his spirit that he wasn’t being looked at with the right level of awe anymore. Like a wife coming from a 3-hour whole body rejuvenation session at the beauty shop only for her husband not to notice her makeover.

And so he packed his bags and jumped into bed with the Italians. Messi, on the other hand, has been with one club his entire professional career. For the most part, it had been a happy marriage. But over the past few years, the loving feeling had started to dissipate. They no longer did the little things. No forehead kisses. No good morning messages. No quick smack on the bottom while passing in the hallway. Most damningly, whenever they went out in public, other couples outshone them and made them look bad.

But the GOAT didn’t pack his bags. He mumbled that he wanted out, and he said ‘please’. For a very fleeting moment, I was hopeful that he would put his magnificent foot down and tell the abusive life partner that is his club to go to hell. Instead, they played hardball. They showed him how much a divorce would really cost him. Remember the good times, they beseeched him. Then they assured him the only way out was through a legal battle that would be nasty, public and embarrassing. And, like the husband who knows his wife will turn into Annalease Keating in court, Messi capitulated.

He is hardly the first man to resign himself to suffering in silence. The alternative just seems so daunting, and no one really wants to dive back into that murky, urine-filled dating pool. Isn’t it just easier to learn how to navigate that dysfunctional relationship? Learn to tune out the nagging. Go to bed early to get a head-start on his snoring. Hire a house help to escape her cooking. Stop reacting when M-Pesa texts him in the middle of the night. Right?

There are usually more complex issues at play, of course. Whenever children are involved, there is a very real concern that separating might do them more harm than good. Even though research is increasingly showing that single-parent homes are just as healthy as two-parent homes. Financial challenges might make it difficult to just leave. Then there is the whole religious angle. Adam didn’t divorce Eve, even after she fed him sin and betrayal. Who are you to leave just because your wife hasn’t seen you naked in six years?

But at the end of the day, you’re the only person you answer to. Don’t stay for the kids; they won’t thank you for it, and you may end up giving them the wrong lessons about dealing with toxic situations. Don’t stay just because that was your first love. And don’t stay because the Bible told you to. Don’t stay for anyone but yourself.

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