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Lessons in love and marriage

Written by Tunde-Fagbenle - Punch, Nigeria. 

There is room to take a break from the tedium of Nigerian politics and delve into some aspect of our lives, this time, one which is fundamental to societal structure and nourishes our mutual co-existence: RELATIONSHIPS, specifically, relationships of sexual partnership, love and marriage. I would like to think there is a correlation between societies that largely uphold values of strong family units and their higher societal development.

What’s turned me sentimental today, you would ask? Marriages and the increasing propensity for their dissolution in our time, is what. And at no other time does the concern become more topical than at marriage functions.

I was in one such function last week in the United Kingdom. It was a marriage that qualifies as ‘society wedding’ in its own right. The bride is Funmilayo (Funmi for short), daughter of my good friend, Chief Segun Odegbami; and the groom, Solomon Damilola, son of Dr. Ebun Sonaiya, the Chief Medical Director of Total Health Trust Ltd., the first and arguably the most successful Health Management organisation in Nigeria and probably in the West Africa sub-region.

The Sonaiyas (including Prof. Mrs. Remi Sonaiya, the sole lady presidential candidate in the last election) were intimidating both in their number of family and friends that stormed the Marriot Hotel venue, in highbrow Park Lane/Mayfair area of London and in their classy style. If we, on the bride side (including my friend, Prof. Tunde Makanju of the University of Lagos) totally outnumbered (and outspent!) had not supreme value of self-worth with us, we would have bothered about being outmatched. The Sonaiyas and their friends, medical doctors, professors, et al, including my friend Dr. Seyi Roberts, flew in in droves from all over the world: Nigeria, USA, Canada, Europe, everywhere.

But enough of the preamble. The wedding got underway though well behind schedule – we are Nigerians, remember? And, for not too strange a reason, I was called upon to be the chairman of the august occasion. Not too strange a reason, I say, because, as I am told, it is the prerogative of the bride to choose the chairman at such events. And, lucky me, the bride, Funmi, and I have a ‘pact’ from when she was but a child: she sees me and says to me, ‘hello, my favourite uncle;’ to which I would return, ‘hello, my favourite niece.’ And when the ‘favourite uncle’ call isn’t quick in coming, I ask her, ‘Am I still your favourite uncle?’ ‘Yes, of course,’ would come the reply. So, expectedly, only her ‘favourite uncle’ would take (or is it break) her wedding cake, excuse the pun.

‘Love and relationships’ is the topic of today, lest I forget. And my intendment as chairman at the wedding was to reel out some long list of ‘relationship lessons’ held in pages and pages of typed sheets. Unfortunately, the enemy time denied me that. I did summarise, rather inadequately, but do have pleasure here in providing a greater detailed ‘summary’ for my readers to enjoy.

A week to the wedding, my family – of a few adult sons and a daughter, their mother, a daughter in-law, and another ‘favourite niece’ – were at a function when one amongst us who has not been lucky with his relationships in the past, asked of us what three most important advice each could proffer as guide in relationships.
And so began an exercise in sociological discourse and a conversation that has kept going by crosscurrent emails till date!

I opened with my three that became four and five subsequently (Daddy’s prerogative!):

(1) What you see at the beginning is what you get. If there’s something you seriously detest in a partner (attitude, values, etc.), don’t go into the relationship hoping he or she would change, get on your bike. There’s an interesting note a dying mother left for her 13-year old daughter: ‘Never love someone whom you think you need to mend— or who makes you feel like you should be mended.’

(2) What you hear, be it the ‘sweet nothings,’ or whispers from others, aren’t necessarily so. Be questioning yet trusting.

(3) Don’t get caught but if you do, live with it and make the best of your situation. The grass may not be greener on the other side!

(4) It is essential to have or develop some common interest or passion: a sport (tennis, golf, badminton, swimming, etc.), a game (chess, scrabble, etc.) to do together (not merely quiet stuff like watching film/TV/reading).

(5) Truth: Encourage truth telling by not overreacting to ‘unpleasant’ truth. Also, if you can’t stand some truth, don’t ask some questions. Is that what is meant by ‘ignorance is bliss?’
Thereafter ensued a flurry of advice in each person’s turn. Again, I have no space to run each and every one today. But, there are a few worth highlighting for the benefit of my many young readers – well, and the not so young too!

  1. Check family background beforehand. Family unity history is important.
  2. Be romantic, do little things that say, ‘I care about you’, not just in the early days but throughout your relationship, keep it alive, keep it burning.
  3. Sorry: learn to say sorry and mean it, you don’t even have to be in the wrong but being sorry that your partner is hurt, can alleviate bad feelings that can cause and deepen chasms.
  4. Be friends first, best friends, you need to be able to love this person regardless of the physical/emotional changes they may go through— you need to love the essence of the person, to want to confide without fear, to be yourself with no pretences. You must love being in each other’s company— though fully comfortable being on your own or silent.
  5. There is no place for pride, for ego. Humility is crucial. Neither of you is bigger than, or above, the other. Don’t seek to prove yourself in front of each other, or others— you need to have faith in each other’s understanding of your worth. Nevertheless, do not love someone more than you love yourself— you must be emotional equals.
  6. Be with someone whose life goals— values really— are in tune with yours— you need to be moving in the same energetic direction.
  7. Laughter is truly the best medicine!! It’s very important that you not only enjoy each other’s company, but that you make each other laugh. It stimulates adrenaline and releases endorphins—pure pleasure!
  8. Compassion without codependency. Giving and supporting is essential but depending on the others support all the time places a pressure on the relationship. Sharing each other’s freedom rather than demanding it.
  9. Emotional honesty is important, complete honesty isn’t.
  10. Consistency of effort, the effort will bring rewards. Making an effort to celebrate together during good times and work through bad times. Don’t have give up. The best way to stay married is to not get divorced.

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