marital relationships are part of everyday life and related issues cannot be overemphasised. For every generation, there is usually a voice that imparts much-needed relationship and marriage wisdom. Perhaps, now more than ever, given the unprecedented high rate of divorce, today’s generation needs a voice that speaks to them in a language they understand and drive the value points home.
The Nigerian Xpress recently spoke to Mrs Dolly Ohanyere, a lawyer, relationship expert and bestselling author on the dynamics and peculiarities of modern-day relationships and marriage.
Firstly, how did you become a relationship and marriage expert?
I am a lawyer, but I’ve always had a passion for relationship counselling. It didn’t start today. I went to my drawer where I had my documents two weeks ago, searching for my birth certificate and I found an envelope with full sheets of marriage talks. This was like 2012 or 2011. So, I have always had that thing, right from when I was young. I have had friends and family members, who trust me and tell me things, but back then, it was more of advisory. When I was younger, I used to ask people that were married, what is this marriage thing? What is it really all about? And I ask them, how come you people started with so much love and now everybody is frowning? I always asked questions.
What influenced your decision?
When I was single, I got my laptop; I started writing a book on marriage. I called it The Realities of Marriage. I had written about 7000 words.
A voice spoke to my ear, who are you and what gives you the authority to write about marriage? So, I dropped it. But in 2016, I started writing again; that was about my marriage basically because I had been married to my husband. Somehow again, that same spirit: Who are you? You have only been married for eight years. What gives you the authority to write about marriage? I dropped it again.
But in 2020, during the lockdown, for some reasons, I listened to House on the Rock service that day. I am of the Catholic faith and ordinarily, I’m not an online person, but I just found myself there that day, listening to their service for that day. It was as if God sent the pastor to me that day. It was about my purpose and at that particular moment, I started crying. The seed I sowed that day, I had never given that kind of offering before. That was how I started writing. I wrote 10,000 words in 44 minutes. I have three books to date. My books are structured around three groups: Single, relationship and marriage.
Most marriage issues we have are foundational, which is why I concentrate more on singles.
My vision is actually to see marriages thrive and I need to achieve this by equipping individuals and couples with the right tools and resources they require to have healthy marriages and also maximise their full potential because I think the mistake is that a lot of single people think marriage is a destination. Marriage is not the destination; it is actually the journey. People should not see it as a reward; it is not a reward, it is an assignment.
Do you still practise law?
I do not practise law fully, but, of course, I still do documentation, preparing legal agreements for properties, etc.
What are the main issues attacking marriage now?
First is communication. There are different types of communication and the way I like to address communication is understanding the differences between men and women.
I have had situations where I had some communication issues with my husband and I go back and forth; I’m like, this is common sense, but the truth is, men and women are different. I learnt this recently.When I say to my husband, “please, when you go out, could you call me or check up on me to know how I’m doing?” What he hears is, she doesnt want me to go out. I am saying something and he is hearing something else. We kept arguing about this thing for years and I realised that men and women actually process things differently. With time, I started understanding those differences. Women are emotional. We are relational. Men are more logical in nature. Men like facts and figures. Women like the process; men like the end. You see, most times, what we do is, we pay attention to what the person is not doing well and forget the fact that sometimes it comes out in a judgemental way, sometimes, it comes out as if you are criticising them. Let’s not forget that you don’t know this person’s background; you don’t know how the person grew. These are the things we don’t know before we even get married to someone. Communication is key.
Another issue is lack of patience. You know, marriage is for better for worse, for richer for poorer. A lot of us, including myself did not realise marriage is a covenant at the time we married; we just went to the altar, excited. We go to the altar thinking it is a partnership or a contract and marriage is not a contract because, in a contract, you have terms and conditions you agree to? Marriage is not a contract; marriage is a covenant. We need to build that patience in marriage and patience means loving somebody, despite anything that comes up.
What is happening to the young generation, why is divorce on the rise?
Let me now differentiate between our parents, our grandparents, our parents and our generation now. You are wondering, how come they were married for 40 years in seemingly marital bliss. People have asked me that question several times. You must realise at the time, most of our mothers were dependent on their husbands to provide for them. When you don’t have financial independence, it’s hard for you to walk away even when you’re going through whatever it is you are going through. Another thing is our mothers stayed back for their children. They’d say, I have children, let me take care of my children, let me live it out, let me stay put. Let me be patient. Let me keep loving. What we have now is a new breed of highly independent women. What is happening to ladies now is that we all have our money. If any husband treats us anyhow, we can go out and live our life after, “all I have my own money, I can rent a house, I can buy a car, I can do this and that.” We are all financially independent. So, right now, nobody is ready to be patient, or to endure or to go the extra mile for any man. Another factor is this thing called partnerships. Right now people are saying, what’s the point in getting married, if I can get pregnant for a man and still be getting money from him, getting a big duplex, getting Range Rover. That’s why you hear some say “Let me go and get pregnant for a rich man.”
Another thing is that in our mothers’ time, they were afraid of divorce. It was like a stigma. It was unheard of, a cultural thing, a taboo, like how can you even do that? Do you want people to laugh at you? They were worried about the feedback, but right now, nobody’s afraid of divorce, nobody’s afraid of separation. The truth is, when you go and tell your story on social media, you’re going to become a celebrity. You are even going to make money from it because when you come out and say, Oh, my husband beats me and I have a child, people will start feeling sympathy for her. In fact, someone will open an account and she could become an overnight sensation and a billionaire. Social media is also an enabler for all these things. Science has also contributed by opening several options for the woman.A woman can decide not to get married but have children.
Another reason is infidelity, which is on the rise. Infidelity is betrayal. Sadly, men and women cheat now.
Should infidelity be the reason a marriage ends?
In most of the cases I have handled, it sometimes ends up breaking down the marriage.The problem here is that a lot of people say they have forgiven, but they haven’t forgiven. So, infidelity is no longer the cause of the break-up, it is the unforgiveness. In most cases, it is not the conflict that causes separation or divorce, it is the inability to forgive. I have seen a situation whereby a woman said she hadn’t forgiven her husband’s infidelity of over 30 years ago! I have seen women who are widows but are still carrying grudges over an issue with a late husband. It is unforgiveness that is the problem.
For a relationship expert, you’ve heard so many things, in all these what bothers you most about marriage, what are the things you have picked that make a marriage thrive?
What bothers me most is I would say values; you must be with someone with whom you align in terms of values. If you miss that, you miss everything. Values, for me, are spiritual. You must be with someone you are in sync with, you complement each other, you both can have fun as friends and work well together. A lot of times, people think being compatible is just between you and the other person. For me, it goes beyond that. It cuts across family, culture, tradition, spirituality, beliefs, and values. If you are dating someone, who takes you to his parents and they say hey, you cannot marry her because she is Igbo and you go ahead and marry without your parents’ consent, there is going to be an issue in that marriage. If you take a woman home and your parents say you cannot marry her because she is Jehovah’s Witness and you are Catholic, that marriage may be exposed to issues. If you marry someone whose family values do not align with yours, you will have issues in that marriage. If you bring a woman home and you are told not to marry her that she is more educated or wealthier than you or not in the same class as you, you have already been set up for clashes in that marriage once you go ahead with it. I could go on and on. We have seen this play out in many marriagee and some have led to divorces.
If you are with someone who you argue with on any and everything, there is no lead way during any conversation whether in small or big issues, you do not agree on anything and fight all the time, please it is better you walk away with pride now because you cannot change the person in marriage unless he or she changes by him/herself. If anything, the person will be worse because we are usually at our best when we are dating.
Shared values, that is one thing a lot of us didn’t get right before we got into marriage; that is one key thing that is causing problems. Another major one is expectations. We go into marriage with high expectations of each other. I will give a practical example of how expectations cause problems in marriage. A girl grew up in a family where the dad was passively doing everything for them. The dad would pay school fees, pay rent, provide food for the house. He was passively doing everything for them and their mom was working but to their dad, a woman’s money is for her own private use. For him, taking care of his family was his responsibility as a man. Now, this girl starts dating somebody and marries this person. This other guy came from a home where mom and dad shared responsibilities. How do these two individuals, brought up in different family lifestyles, live? I think we are too quick to get married without having conversations about what to expect from each other. What do you think will happen? Clash of expectations. If you don’t start early to begin to go for counselling and coaching, to turn around those expectations and make it align, that marriage is going to break up. Unmet expectations is a major problem in marriage.
How do you define a successful marriage?
Like I said earlier, it is just to achieve that oneness. You see, once you get to a place where you no longer fight, all you do is have conversations, dialogues, you have mutual respect for each other, you understand each other, you have boundaries that are being respected and understand the person’s love language. You have reached oneness.
The truth is, if you haven’t fought, you wouldn’t know how to identify what causes the problems and reach this goal. These things don’t happen overnight, it happens over time .When you are now a team, there is no external influence that can come inside your marriage. When everything is WE, then you have gotten to that point where you know you have a successful marriage. It doesn’t mean that you people don’t disagree, You disagree to agree.
Any last words?
Marriage is not a destination it is a journey and there is a lot of things that will take you there. There is patience, endurance, mutual respect, forgiveness; there are too many things involved to get you to the place where you want to be.
It is not everybody that is supposed to get married though; it is in the bible. If you desire to be married, then be married but there are people who do not desire to be married. And that is why Reverend Fathers chose their path. I have met people, who don’t want to get married; they just want to serve God and do their thing. Marriage is not by force, it is one thing God gave us and said we should choose. Did you choose your father, mother or siblings? No! But your spouse is one thing God said you should choose; so, it’s important you choose right. God will help us. God’s grace is there; it is just for us to tap into it.