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The Pain of Watching a Marriage Die

Nyamweya is a Kenyan scholar who has done many years of research on a diversity of topics

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Watching a marriage (yours or a friend's) die is one of the most painful things you can witness as an adult. It is an accident scene with no blood(though sometimes there is blood, literal and metaphoric).

Once the marriages cross that point of no return, where the first partner wants out, and the second partner accepts that it is over, the marriage becomes a funeral. Worse if there are children involved. For the several months or even years leading to the eventual separation, the atmosphere in the house is usually charged with aggression and hostility.

Strong words will be exchanged. It gets physical. And sometimes children witness all these. And record. Worse if they are old enough to discern. Worst if they are too young to make sense why dad doesn't come home for dinner every day as he used to.

I have no idea how women process divorce. What burden they carry. The emotional turmoil. A dozen divorced women have told me they went about it so quietly that even their parents came to know later when they could talk about it.

I can speak for men.

The funeral service and the wake of the dead marriage is usually held in a bar.

As a man you sit in a bar. Sometimes with friends whose cliched advice or truths about life and shit, flies over your head because your mind is somewhere exploring the moons of Jupiter. Sometimes you sit alone and sip a big lager that tastes like urine from an aged, sick pig. You are always beside yourself with grief, more so if the marriage is something you worked hard for, and still want to keep, but now you have to let it go.

There will be many nights you will sleep and wake up in the couch, because now sharing a bed is not possible. Insomnia will open a new, 24-hour branch in your head. It is the loneliest period for any man. Because nothing lays down your inadequacy and insecurities for you than when you fail yo keep your marriage and your kids. Remember those kids who failed maths or chemistry that some sadistic petty teachers used to make fun of and we used to laugh at them? Divorce is life showing your score card to the world. I mean this metaphorically.

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And then comes a time a man has to pick his shirts, his laptop, and may be a book and a few possessions and walk out on his family. It is the hardest pain to explain to anyone. But every man who has ever heard a door bang on his back, and walked away leaving children behind, knows the valley of death that walk is.

A special friend told me that there is need for special furnished and affordable apartments, maybe with a house keeper that exclusively target immediately divorced men as they transition into a single life again.

I told her, it is a good idea, but nearly all men who get divorced have to start from zero. Nearly all divorced men I know had to start life on their friend's couch. And waking up for your ones and twos from a friend's couch kills your soul. It milks you dry.

Eventually you find your way to a bedsitter and work your life upwards.

There are the first few months that leave you shaken. When you miss your kids. When the image of your ex-wife triggers you. I would like to know what the image of an ex-husband does to a woman. There is the back and forth, the understandable blocking and unblocking of communication lines. Sad for the couples who choose the petty path (I use the word petty cautiously, because managing emotions when leaving someone you once loved is not easy) of resolving issues.

Rarely in a divorce do you have two sensible people. Whatever causes a divorce sometimes is too volatile to allow for an amicable separation. There is the spouse who wanted the marriage to work who has to reconfigure their mind and accept the new reality. And there is the spouse who wanted out, who sometimes is emotionless or masks the emotions better.

Either way, it ends.

I come from a generation that first fully embraced divorce with no societal or religious pressure, moral guilt, zero thoughts to the welfare of the kids and anything that held people in marriages in the past that they didn't want. Some of us know that our parents were in dead marriages. Those in their 50s may have lived apart but still married. Those in their 40s were the pioneers of western-style divorces and this has now been mainstreamed by those in their 30s, especially the university-educated, corporate-jobs, city-living demographics.

This poses a new challenge to millennials.

Two months ago, I picked this book in the street, Creative Divorce: A New Opportunity for Personal Growth by Mel Krantzler, an American marriage counselor (now dead) whose 24-year-old marriage that yielded two daughters fell apart when his daughters were teenagers.

Krantzler writes with earnest honesty on the initial days as a new bachelor, sleeping around to feel worthy, and the initial challenges men face in a post-divorce life. The book in a sense mirrors what men go through the initial days even though there are notable exceptions from the time the book was published and today.

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