All right. So you have seen your mother, aunt, and sisters marriages. Of all the marriages you intimately know, you can count the ‘good’ ones on one hand, and some of you might have five fingers left over. Everyone says marriage is hard. Even Hollywood, Nollywood or Bollywood (if you prefer), for all their romantic fashionings, do not shy away from the grimy underbelly of marital issues. Yet you want to do your own.
While an earlier article – “Before “I Do”” summarizes considerations women should make before (and possibly in) marriage, this article will share considerations for after the wedding. Here are a few pieces of advice on what to do after you are married – polled from married women who shared what they would do differently if they had a do-over (in no particular order). While circumstances will dictate which of these are feasible in your reality, it’s important you consider them all strongly.
- Don’t change your name – people can call you Mrs “Whatever they want”. But you don’t have to change your names officially. This is extensively explained in Married Maiden and ‘The Fine Print‘.
- If you can, wait to have kids: Everything changes with kids. And for the worse. So either wait to have kids, or don’t have kids. Not every one that gets married must have children. Also do all the impulsive things before having kids.eg. travel. Don’t get me wrong. Children are wonderful beings. But they will arrive and demand everything of you because…well, they never asked to be here and they will die if you ignore any of their needs. Any. You and your partner must be aware that you have a responsibility to meet their emotional and physical needs regardless of the state of your marriage, and lives in general. Take the time to make sure you are both on the same page before the kids arrive. And if you wait, you get a chance to decide if this is really the kind of person you want to have kids with. If the guy doesn’t seem sensible, better to get out before the kids arrive. You can still leave even after kids. It’s just easier before. Also a reminder here that you do not have to get married to have children.
- Emergency fund: Have an emergency fund no-one else knows about for 6-12 months of expenses for you (and your kids if you choose to have them). Our Caribbean brethren call this ‘vex money’. Call it whatever you want. The stories I’ve been through/heard are wild. My ex told me that since I left him, I have chosen to carry this burden of the children alone. And then proceeded to try to starve us back into a relationship. (talk about a romantic gesture). Just have a plan for when (not if) this comes up. Because…men.
- Keep your power: This relates to “keep your vices” in part 1, but is a little broader. For example, if you want to use birth control, or jet-set to a new island once a month, or dress provocatively, do so. This will take guts and is also the reason you have to find yourself and what you care about before marriage happens. After marriage, do not dutifully bring the things that give YOU joy or peace of mind to the table for discussion because once you do, you have given them up and your husband can decide whether or not you will get to do those things. Game over. This is how marriage gives your husband veto power over your life. You will notice that the men usually don’t bring their plans for themselves to the table for discussion. They simply inform you, (if at all) and without consequence. Then expect you to help with whatever cockamamie idea they come up with. I remember a woman complaining bitterly to her husband’s male friend about something her husband was doing. The friend said to her “You are right and he is wrong. But I will never point it out to him because it’s just the way things are”. Now let’s flip the genders for a second. Let’s say for example, YOU do not want to get pregnant yet, but when you suggest going on birth control, your husband insists that you must stay off birth control. Is it his body? No. Yet your lord and master gets veto power over YOUR body. And guess what? The minute you ‘disobey’ you will hear from your mother, friends and in-laws that you are driving your husband into another woman’s bed. Meanwhile, it’s your life that will be threatened by the pregnancy. Society strong arms women ALL the bloody time. In this case, they will ask you if he is complaining about money to feed the child. Your wants and needs are clearly irrelevant at this point. You get married, you think you’re equals, but slowly you realize that you do not dare to go against his will or else it is grounds for him and society to justify making your life hell. So. Do the things that are important to you. Just do them. It’s hard but do not do everything according to how your husbands would feel. You are still the protagonist of your own damn story.
- Don’t try to be Superwoman: Let the man be a man and provide. Last I checked he doesn’t have to carry any pregnancies. Patriarchy will have men get away with doing nothing except bringing money. So you might as well not cheat yourself since you will be doing everything else.
- Keep separate rooms and bathrooms. In fact, some even said to keep separate houses! (hahaha). I laugh but this is not unusual in matriarchal societies. Either way, your mental health will thank you. (no joke). It doesn’t mean you both can’t sleep in the same room. It just means that your belongings are in separate rooms and you have the option of sleeping apart when you want. Also everyone is different and has preferences on how tidy or disorganized they like their rooms. Such things can breed resentment that builds until someone reacts. Separate rooms does not automatically symbolize a bad marriage. However, it can be what saves yours. I remember being advised to have a small marital bed so that our bodies will be forced to touch even when we are fighting and not talking to each other. And that’s just rubbish. Human beings are individuals first before they become wives or husbands. Everyone needs a place they can go to and cool off or just relax in their own home. (And no. The kitchen does not count! Jeez!). It’s definitely better to simply go to your room instead of leaving the house when you’re upset. This forced ‘in-your-faceness’ only breeds explosiveness and someone always suffers more.
- Keep your friends, especially your single friends: He can’t be your all. If you try this, you will end up frustrated and isolated because you certainly won’t be his all. We are multifaceted beings and we will not find everything we need in just our partners. Make sure you maintain your external connections where you water yourselves and grow outside the marriage. There is a tendency to become subsumed into the role of wife and mother. Your friendships become centered around other married couples. Your individual friendships are replaced by “family friends”. And your single friends gradually fade away because you have had to abandon your vices and become “responsible”. But those single friends are the ones that tether you to a huge part of your identity – who you are outside of being a married woman/mother. And those single friends still need you as a friend. Singleness is not a disease.
- Maintain separate and joint bank accounts: As you maintain separate social lives, so should you maintain separate bank accounts. I know what you’re thinking. “Isn’t that ‘unison’ what we are all supposed to be working towards?’. No it is not. It’s fantasy and it does not work. I repeat. It is FANTASY! You can have a joint account if you want. But ensure you maintain separate accounts and agree beforehand who contributes to the joint account, when, how much, and what that money will be used for. Also ensure you are both joint signatories on the account. Mine started fraudulently withdrawing funds without ever mentioning it to me.
- Prepare for eventualities: Preparation does not mean you must accept any eventuality, but rather that when you see the things you will only find out after you marry (and there will be many), that you make sure you assess each one as it arises to determine if they are new non-negotiables or not. Don’t just brush it under the carpet as part of the package, especially if it really bothers you. This is where waiting till you’re older helps as you have a clearer view of your boundaries. And if an eventuality arises that you cannot handle, honey know you do not have to die there oh.
- Talk!!!!!!!!!!!!: I know marriage counseling said you should keep your matters between the two of you. But do you know what thrives in the dark? Mischief. Do you know how many women have died from keeping the things they are going through to themselves? The men will claim that they don’t like it when you bring family into your matters. Meanwhile, they are doing nothing to address the things you were complaining about before you went to the family in the first place. It’s remarkable how men will form disappointment about you sharing your pain, but never remorse/recourse about causing said pain. I always say that if there are horrific things he doesn’t want his family to know about, he should never have done them to his wife. Wives are not guinea pigs sworn to secrecy. Silence kills. And the only people who benefit from the silence are the truants. You will only swallow bile and gain chest pain if you keep covering up maltreatment, misbehavior and abuse from your partner. Then when you die, the same ‘everyone’ that said you should only keep matters between you and your husband, will say “Ah! We didn’t know! She never said anything!!”. But you’re already dead and gone. Sometimes, only when you start to express the things you are going through to someone else, do you realize how truly horrific it is. Gaslighting (watch this short YouTube movie please. So many of us can relate) and trauma creates bonds that often confuses its victims and makes it hard for them to process what they are going through by themselves. So talk. Get therapy. Find someone whose judgment you trust. Report to his parents/family/pastor if you must. But do not keep silent. I beg you.
- Don’t not move. Unless you are moving from a war torn area (in such a case you should be moving regardless), don’t move states or countries for marriage. Do you know why it is always assumed that the woman should move for marriage? Because she is supposed to sacrifice herself for the survival of the union. It is also implicitly assumed that she is the lower income earner (or will be after she has kids) so it’s okay to interrupt her career anyways. A lot of us have moved because we felt ‘that’s just what you do’ and didn’t realize we were falling into well worn (familiar??) patterns of behavior silently predicated on the assumption that we are less important (like…cough…marriage!). Listen ladies, unless you found a promotion and higher paying job with prospects of advancement in his location, or clear upward mobility, don’t do it. Women give up their social networks, support networks, way and quality of life, and peace of mind (because do you know what it is to be learning a new area? finding the closest hospital? or figuring out which stores have what you need at any given time?) all for the sake of marriage. Have the man move or keep it long distance until you find something that works for you or both of you, and not just him. Contrary to what we are told, marriage is absolutely not more important than You.
- Start how you want to finish: This is in regards to cooking, cleaning, in-laws, money, etc. Know that however you start, is how you should be doing it for as long as you want that marriage to last. So only start what you can live with. Enough said.
Some might say that this is a recipe for divorce. My response is that these things are not earth shattering and none of them are foreign to men. They are simply suggestions to ensure women do not end up stranded (as far too many have). It is more mind boggling that we consistently expect so much self denial, self sacrifice and self erasure from women. What is good for the goose is also good for the gander…
So you chose to get married? Don’t worry. I’m sure yours will be the first good one.