What’s the litmus test for your marriage?

The discussion that we all forget to have is what primary identity we should embrace for our marriage.

What you need to know:

  • What is, as the Swahili say, the msema kweli of your relationship?
  • What is your primary reference point, the script for your marriage?

We were discussing the upcoming elections in my house and our son asked me whether he was now eligible to vote.

“You have to be an adult to vote.”

“But I am not a toddler anymore.”

Those were his exact words, repeated to me three months after he turned eight and I told him, “You are not a toddler anymore. You now will take on big boy responsibilities, like the rest of the family, including doing dishes and washing your underwear.”

Now he was ready to vote.

“You need an identity card.

“What’s an identity card?”

His elder sister, who has been over the moon about her newfound status as an adult took out her wallet and showed the brother her brand new national identification card (ID).

“Wow!” he said, staring at the card, asking whether he could touch it.

“Can you buy stuff with it?”

I mumbled under my breath that some people have sold it for a vote, but that was a whole other discussion that I did not want to start, especially with the young argumentative owner of the ID card.

“Why do you need to get an ID anyway, when you become an adult?”

This question came from the teenager.

“It is what makes you Kenyan, otherwise you would be considered an alien. You cannot get a job, or register a business, or even operate a bank account or mobile money.”

Later, we had an argument with their dad about something totally unrelated, but something about identity clicked in the heat of that dispute.

“For a Christian, you have a very traditional approach, which is contrary to your Christian teachings.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Your primary reference when it comes to us, this marriage, is traditions of your tribe, which are contrary to what we have been taught as Christians. We must choose your traditions, my traditions, or the Biblical teachings.”

Well, I did not sound as level-headed as I do now. It took five thousand words to get the message across, by which time his tea went cold and tasteless and he turned pastor on me.

“You can’t speak a single phrase of my language. Si the Bible says, my people shall be your people and my language your language…”

“Never! And that Bible verse is not a marriage reference, that was between a daughter and mother-in-law.” I shot back, now acting pastor’s wife as well.

“But in laws come about because of marriage, ama?”

“Yea, but the Biblical reference for marriage is the verse that says, a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife… together they will become one. One unit!”

As you might imagine, the argument developed a mind of its own, moved past scriptures to regenerate past issues and unbury aged fights.

But the idea of primary identity of a marriage remained with me. What is, as the Swahili say, the msema kweli of your relationship? What is your primary reference point, the script for your marriage? Most importantly, do you share one script?

It probably is a more apt question for those in interethnic marriages, where our cultures further differ in the marriage context.

We have three ways in Kenya that a marriage is recognised. The traditional African marriage, the religious marriage, and the civil marriage. Except for the civil marriage that is clear cut, the rest are as varied as we have cultures and religions. The topic of identity is deep. As individuals, we all have a culture, a religion of sorts and are guided by the civil law, the world views and so many other experiences that give us an identity.

When getting into a marriage, there are therefore a dozen identities that each of us brings to the union. The discussion that we all forget to have - until we find ourselves smack in the middle of a fight - is what primary identity we should embrace for our marriage.

While I cannot discard my macro identity such as what race, tribe and gender defines me, just as Hubby cannot divorce the same from himself, we both, as a couple must decide what primarily defines our marriage.

Are we going by the Christian definition, beliefs, and practices about marriage? If so, then we will need to fully comprehend what a Christian marriage entails and give it preference over other identities, especially when those other references are in contrast to the primary Christian one.

Karimi is a wife who believes in marriage. [email protected]


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