Data shows that 5.5 per cent of Kenya’s 12 million households are headed by divorcees or persons who are separated from their spouses.

| Pool

Silence that kills a marriage

A story published by Daily Nation in January this year based on data from Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) shows that 5.5 per cent of Kenya’s 12 million households are headed by divorcees or persons who are separated from their spouses.

This translates to one in every 18 households, with 61.3 per cent being headed by separated or divorced women, and 38.7 per cent being headed by men.

One amongst many Kenyans who have gone through divorce is George Chacha, a father of three boys.

The divorce was finalised in 2021, after 27 years of marriage. George attributes the premature end of their companionship and happily-ever-after to communication breakdown.

Although he held on to a glimmer of hope that they would resolve issues with his wife, this hope was snuffed out when she told him that she would rather be a widower than have him as her husband.

It is at this point that George, then an aeronautical engineer serving in the Kenya Air Force, finally left home, ‘to avoid further escalation of the situation, and avoid possible occurrence of physical violence by either party.’

Looking back now, he says there were a myriad of red flags that he swept under the rag throughout the years, and he wonders if there was anything he could have done to save his marriage.

“I have had a complicated relationship with my mother, therefore I was brought up to a large extent by my father. He was a Kenya Prisons police officer, and therefore raised us with a military-style kind of parenting, something that would come to influence my parenting as well, besides being a military man myself. I come from a polygamous family, and I am the second born son to my mother, and we are a total of 25 siblings.

When I was five years old, I moved to Kamiti Maximum Prison where my father was working at the time, and then later moved to Kisumu when I was in class six after he got another transfer.

I then joined high school within the area, then later transferred to Nairobi where I finished my A-levels and O-levels. I knew I wanted to be a priest right from my teenage having attended two catholic-run high schools. I often wonder what my life would have been like if I had followed that aspiration.

This dream was however cut short when my parents refused to give their blessings and consent for me to join the seminary due to cultural reasons. My older brother had married a Luo woman and was therefore still considered unmarried in the Kuria tradition.

The mantle was passed on to me and it was a must for me to get a family. Shortly afterwards, there was a military recruitment, and that is when I joined the air force in May 1990.

George Chacha

George Chacha at his home in Migori County. He attributes the end of his marriage to communication breakdown.

Photo credit: Pool

On top of my seven months of basic military training, I spent six years pursuing Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering at the Defence Forces Technical College.

By the time I was nearing the end of my studies I was 24, and my peers back home had started families. In fact, my cousin whom we were the same exact age had gotten married and had two children already. Therefore, despite my achievements, I was under a lot of pressure from my family to get a wife too.

I took leave from work, went home determined to find a spouse, and I found her. She was from a respectable family, well-mannered, and she had a natural beauty about her with her short trimmed hair. So, without wasting time, I gave some money to my mother to buy livestock from the market for dowry payment, and a few months later, I went for the girl at her home and we started living together as husband and wife.

Throughout our marriage, we never struggled with disputes about money. I had told her upfront that she was not marrying a rich man and even showed her my payslip.

So despite insufficiencies, especially early on in our marriage, we did not have problems here. She never complained about the simple lifestyle we had even after we got our first born in 1994. I could not be any happier.

However, I had noticed one thing about my wife; she was easily irritated, and she tended to hold a grudge. She was a bit stuck in her ways, which meant I often times ended up compromising on whatever it is that we had divergent opinions on.

I saw this as hard-headedness and a threat to my position as head of the family. Sometimes, I stood my ground and we would hit an impasse. This was followed by days of silent treatment that would stretch to even a week. The longest bout of us not speaking to each other lasted an entire two weeks.

Unfortunately, even after we resumed talking to one another, we chose to ignore the issues we had disagreed on to avoid sliding back to the silence. We thought it was the best way enjoy the little moments of happiness that we had in between.

Life took a turn for the worse in 2010 when we relocated back home to Migori. I had just retired and we couldn’t afford to live in Nairobi.

My wife started having health problems, and every time she would go to hospital, they couldn’t put a finger on what was ailing her. She would spend a lot of time by herself, always complain of being in some kind of pain, and she always looked sickly. I now know that she was struggling with depression, at the time I didn’t know that.

Even before retiring, our marriage was unhappy and when we moved upcountry, things only got worse. We were so caught up in our feuds that we didn’t notice how much it was affecting our three children.

The home environment was terse, and this affected our second born child the most. He would say things like ‘we didn’t love him’ or accuse us of deflecting our issues on him, still we didn’t pay attention to this.

Come 2021, our disagreements had escalated to a point where we slept in different bedrooms. In fact, this had begun the previous year but it became permanent in 2021. Our second born son had just graduated from campus and was around more often at home.

He kept asking why we were so hostile to one another but I didn’t bother to explain anything to him. He sometimes said outrageous things like when he was in high school back in 2014, he said he preferred death to being part of a family as broken as ours was. Looking back, I realise these were cries of help from a traumatised child. I just assumed it was teenage rebellion.

On January 31, 2021, we came home and found our son had prepared us supper and cleaned the house. He served us and asked us if there was anything else we wanted. He was unusually jovial.

After a while, he stepped out to go to his room which was adjacent to the main house. After some time, I had an uneasy feeling and decided to go check on him. I came out of the house and saw him under his favourite tree. I assumed he was making a phone call and called out to him in the dark but he didn’t respond. I drew nearer and to my horror, saw his lifeless body hanging from the tree. I will never forget that moment.

Our son left behind a letter detailing all the things we had failed to listen to over the years. I was filled with guilt and regret. I had failed my children, my family. As you can imagine, things got worse in the months that followed and in November when my wife said she would rather be a widow than live with me, it was my cue to walk away from my home and marriage of 27 years.

I have shared my story many times hoping there is a young husband or wife somewhere who will hear it and learn the value of communication especially in marriage. Those silence treatments we allowed in our early years cost me the love of my life, my son and my family. I have even started a YouTube channel and my main agenda is to encourage couples to talk to one another, communicate effectively and solve conflicts before it is too late.”

Do you communicate effectively with your spouse?

For solutions read here