By Hassan M. Abukar
A friend recently told me how a group of about two dozen Somali women, recently gathered over food and drink at a funeral in southern California, began discussing marriage in their local community.
The conversation started when one woman asked why so many Somali men return home to Africa and marry younger women when they already have a wife and family in the United States.
One woman, married to a Somali businessman, explained how she had been a loving and devoted wife. When her husband announced he was traveling to Kenya to visit his older sister, she ignored her instincts and believed him. Even though he had not seen his sister for eight years.
When he returned home, he told his wife he had married an old friend. The new wife would never set foot in the United States, where it is illegal to have more than one spouse, he said.
“What good does his assurance do for me? I still have to share my husband with another woman in Africa,” said the woman, according to my friend.
Divorce was not an option for the woman, who did not speak English, because she relied on her husband for financial support.
“As wives,” another woman asked, “are we doing our jobs?”
Subsequent conversation ranged from condemning Somali men for being disloyal and unreliable — “nin abaal ma leh” or “men are ungrateful” — to defending the men and exploring other causes for their departure. Either way, the diagnosis was not good: Marriages are faltering, spouses are neglecting each other, and boredom is setting in.
Somalis are not alone. Some psychologists say boredom is more corrosive to a relationship than tension and conflict.
In a 2009 study, Irene Tsapelas, a social psychology researcher at the State University of New York at Stony brook, and her colleagues followed more than 120 couples who had applied for a marriage license in Wayne County, Michigan. The couples were interviewed about their relationships after seven years and again after 16 years. According to a university press release, couples were asked, “During the past months, how often did you feel that your marriage was in a rut (or getting into a rut), that you do the same thing all the time and rarely get to do exciting things together as a couple?”
The key finding, researchers reported, was boredom with marriage at Year 7 predicted a greater decrease in satisfaction in Year 16. Lack of boredom at Year 7 led to a small decrease in satisfaction later, but it did not lead to increased boredom over the next nine years.
My friend said several of the Somali women attending the funeral admitted that they do not spend enough quality time with their spouses.
“Frankly, we spend so much time taking care of the children and household chores that we rarely pay attention to our men,” said one woman.
“I watch the TV at night until midnight, long after my husband has gone to bed,” said one woman. “The poor guy has to get up early to go to work while I sleep until late in the morning.”
But another accused Somali men of being unromantic and selfish.
“Intimacy, according to many of our men, is a one-way street,” she said. “As women, we are mostly observers. It is like watching the same bad movie over and over again.”
What is clear is that it takes two. To curb boredom, noted anthropology expert and author Helen Fisher of Rutgers University, suggests three things: Marry the right person, be intimate on a regular basis, and share an activity or hobby together. And do it sooner rather than later.
According to Time magazine study in 2011, it is actually in the third year that couples begin to complain about their partner’s quirks and annoying habits and the compliments flow less often. If newlyweds complement each other an average of three times a week, that number falls to once a week after three years of marriage, the study showed. Thirty percent of those married for five years or more reported receiving no compliments at all.
Loss of intimacy, too, begins to erode a relationship. Couples married fewer than three years have sex an average of three times a week, according to 52% of the Time survey respondents, and only 16% said the same after being married longer than three years.
Daily routine and boredom kill marriages because relationships need constant nourishment. The important thing to remember, however, is that decline or divorce is not inevitable.
Stony Brook researchers recommended in their conclusions that married couples have a date night, every week, in which they do something together that they have never (or rarely) done before. It should be enjoyable and exciting, according to their report.
“It is not enough for couples to be free of problems and conflicts,” noted one researcher from the Stony Brook study.
The take-home message of this research is that to maintain high level of marital quality over time, couples also need to make their lives together exciting.
Hassan M. Abukar
Hassan M. Abukar is a regular contributor of WardheerNews. He writes about politics, social issues, and Islamic groups.
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