Come we stay, out you go: The 12 causes of marital conflict in Kenya

Getting into marriage with ill-motivated reasons leads to frustration and a lot of stress

Yours is ours: Whether wired by blood relations from the Diaspora, arguments over money is the biggest cause of marital conflict among Kenyan couples.

By Shifa Mwihaki

Feature writer/Essayist

@Undercover KE

Of the dozen couples on honeymoon this week, half won’t be in talking terms before the Locust Invasion comes to an end. A third will have called it quits before Kenya gets its fifth president in 2022. Those who would celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary would either be persevering or tolerating each other ‘for the sake of the children.’

The dozen perennial causes of marital conflicts analyzed so far would mostly affect couples who wed in Pentecostal churches.

 Just what is going on? 

Well, according research from a local university, there are several major causes of marital discord: couples who are clueless why they got married, marrying for selfish reasons like money and elevated status.  

“Getting into marriage with ill-motivated reasons leads to frustration and a lot of stress hence most marital conflict that continue to negatively affect institution of marriage and family,” notes Mary Okello Ojowa in her study pegged on ‘Marital conflict among church wedded Pentecostal couples,’ at Kenyatta University in 2005 and 15 years later, the causes of marital conflict have not changed much besides the cellphone and social media adding to the list of the causes that turn marriages into living hell.

Majority of couples sampled were married between five and 20 years.  Most singled out: Power struggle, gender roles, individual differences, sexual adjustment, childlessness, wider family pressure, infidelity,  money and  how to bring up children among the leading causes of marital conflicts.  Dishonesty and social status were the least causes meaning lying in marriages and class differences were not a major issue of couples who wed in Pentecostal church. The causes would differ with couples in come we stay relationships and those who married through civil and traditional and Catholic wedding ceremonies.

For instance, Catholic faithful are allowed to smoke and drink alcohol and thus a Catholic couple would have had alcohol abuse ranking high as a cause of marital dispute.

The Ogre in-law: Kenyan wives have major issues with the mother in-law, especially when a word to her son, becomes the domestic law.

But here goes in order of major causes…

  1. Money 78 %

When it’s too much, or too little. When money is misused by men on side chicks and alcohol or by extravagant house wives on fashion and cosmetics. Then there are working wives who hardly spend a dime of their own in family budgets.

2. In-laws 43 %

Most women found it hard coping with a controlling mother in-law besides interference by blood relations on either side of the families who inject their habits and impose unsolicited opinions and biases on private affairs.

3. Sex-related 32 %

Lack of sexual chemistry, differing fantasies, attitudes and assorted dysfunctions often lead to frustrations and stressed marriages destroying any warmth and tenderness left during honeymoon. Couples whose sexual demands are not adequately met turn grumpy, nasty, garrulous, rough and impatient. This is a major trigger of infidelity.

4. Infidelity 30 %

Lust, social pressures and opportunity from partners who travel a lot for work and those in long-distance relationships may lead to adultery besides loneliness, emotional deprivation from feelings of being unwanted and unloved.  For church married couples, infidelity is not easy to forgive and is a major cause of divorces.

5. Children 28 %

In-laws were fingered for putting pressure when a woman ‘delays’ giving birth or gives birth to a girl instead of a boy. When kids come too fast and thinly spaced, straining budgets besides how best to discipline them.

The other causes of marital conflict were as follow:

6. Friends and relatives 18 %

7.Misunderstanding 13 %

8. Communication breakdown 7 %

9. Lack of respect 6 %

10. Selfishness 6 %

11. Drugs/alcohol 5 %

12. Job/career 4 %

Father Abraham: Not getting pregnant, giving birth too quickly and delivering the ‘wrong sex’ of babies in some communities is a major cause of domestic migraine.

While these were the overall major causes of marital conflict, their weight changed when looked at through the eyes of the husband or wife. 

Men: The top five major causes of conflict were; money, in-laws, sex related, infidelity and children. It was slightly different for women:  Money, in-laws, children, sex related and infidelity.  

For both men and women, money and in-laws are the major triggers of marital hell.The research findings got more interesting for couples with and without children.

For couples without children, money is a big issue at 100 % followed by lack of respect at 66 %. Not having in-house brats surprisingly contributes 58 % of marital conflict. And since in majority of cases in-laws push couples to populate the earth, they are the next biggest causes of marital migraine at 50 %.

For couples with children, conflicts are spurred by money 75 %, in-laws 42 %, infidelity 33 % and sex related 30 %. It appears when couples get children, they become tolerant as lack of respect takes a back seat as a major cause of marital conflict at 7%.

The scenario changes when couples flesh out issues during counseling. Major issues for both sexes are: money, in-laws, infidelity, conjugal rights and communication breakdowns.

When asked for ways of coping with marital conflicts,  couples singled out: dialogue, prayers, counseling , tolerance and adjustments. However, women 18 %prayed more than men 14 %when men were more open to counseling.

Of methods either gender uses, dialogue came out tops for both sexes with men also singling out providing for needs and counseling. Women, however, had a hidden card in ‘separating for while’ at 8 % while for men separation was 0%.

When no solution was in sight, couples use alternative means which include; separation, persevering, tolerance for children’s sake and being subjected to silent treatment.

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