Lies have been known to wreak incalculable damage in marriages, and those relating specifically to inability to have children have been even more devastating. VINCENT EBOIGBE explores this issue through the eyes of those who had been caught in this conundrum. Behavioural scientists and clerics also provide explanation for this phenomenon while highlighting options available to spouses who have been victims of such deceptions.
Mr. and Mrs. Olajumoke had been married for six years without a child. They were Christians and the ‘little’ matter of childlessness was not supposed to be an issue to threaten their union or fret about unduly. So it seemed.
The peace in the home of the Olajumokes was shattered when the man of the house came back from the United Kingdom after a training course. His wife, Oluyemi, was acting strangely and Dapo couldn’t understand the reason behind it. Oluyemi, apparently stricken by a huge dose of guilt was finding it difficult to keep up the charade and lies she had told her unsuspecting husband for years.
The façade was coming off. She finally told Dapo that she couldn’t have children, that she had no womb. It was a bombshell and Dapo was understandably angry. “That was when the bottom fell off the marriage but Dapo was a staunch Christian, a deacon.
So, sending his wife away was going to be a tough proposition given that he wedded her in the church,” recounted a source close to the situation but who didn’t want to be identified. “Eventually, the couple couldn’t keep a lid on the whole affair as furious Dapo demanded answers. That was when the church got involved.
The church’s elders set up a committee which after reviewing the case decided that considering Oluyemi’s deceit, lies and Dapo’s anger, the wife should move in with one of the church elders, albeit temporarily.
“It was the best compromise the committee could come up with. On the one hand, they didn’t want to approve an outright divorce since it was a church wedding; on the other, they couldn’t escape the seriousness of the case.
They were caught between a rock and a hard place and their solution was a smart way of dealing with the trying situation. Even at that, members of the church were not happy with the decision of the elders’ committee.
However, many of them became less critical when they heard the entire story.” That was the end of the marriage as Oluyemi never went back to her matrimonial home. The separation of Ben and Blessing Okundaye was cantankerous.
While Oluyemi was stricken with guilt, Blessing was prepared to stick it out, she refused to tell her husband the truth. But when she couldn’t conceive after seven years of marriage, Ben’s older sisters took matters into their hands.
They harangued and harassed Blessing at every turn. As it turned out Mrs Okundaye had damaged her womb long ago following a series of abortions, but she kept the fact away from her husband.
So, it was not strange that Blessing was not keen on medical tests. “Anytime I brought up the matter of going to the hospital for tests she always had a ready excuse. It got me worried and thinking.
Ultimately, she had no choice but succumb when my sisters’ insistence became unbearable,” stated Ben. “When the results came out, my worst fears were confirmed. I was livid. How could she do this to me?
I’ve heard it said that when people are going to lie, it is to those they are closest that they will lie most completely, but even at that I couldn’t believe the extent of her deceit. “I didn’t know when I pounced on her and beat her to an inch of her life.
It looked as if I was outside of myself, one of those out of body experiences. I said I would kill her for wasting my time so deliberately and callously. She landed in a hospital and from there landed back in her parents’ home.” When Mabel Okeogwu had not con-ceived after five years of marriage, she was almost beside herself with worry. But his husband, Douglas, never seemed overly bothered.
He was content with offering perfunctory platitudes like ‘it will be okay’, ‘don’t worry yourself so much’. But Mabel continued to worry. She had done countless tests where it was confirmed she had no problem.
“Mabel eventually got pregnant by another man while still married to Douglas, but she couldn’t bring herself to foist the pregnancy on Douglas. She told him the truth and moved out of their matrimonial home,” narrated Mabel’s neighbour who asked not to be named.
“Mabel was such a nice woman but her family put so much pressure on her and she finally caved in. In fact it was her family that ‘arranged’ the man she later got married to. They convinced her that Douglas only fired blanks and knew about it as his first wife had also left him for similar reasons. She confronted him and he had nothing to say. I must confess I also encouraged Mabel to listen to her family.”
But why would men and women lie to their spouses about such a fundamental issue? Dr. Rotimi Coker, Behavioural Scientist, Department of Behavioural Medicine, Lagos State University College of Medicine (LASUCOM), Ikeja, Lagos, provided some insight into the matter. “The first explanation is that, those who get married never do fertility tests.
There is no way these couples will find out whether they will conceive or not,” Coker said. “Secondly, married couples can only find out that they are infertile after trying to have a baby for one year after living together. After one year, they are advised to carry out infertility tests for both couple.
The fertility test will thereafter show those that are fertile and those that are infertile. “Thirdly, a very minority of men and women will find out that they were infertile before getting married, and they could only find out probably by chance.
“Due to the cultural and traditional implications of being infertile, the individuals involved may use psychological or emotional defence mechanisms such as denial, repression and projection and make them to accept the reality of being infertile.
Therefore, they consciously or unconsciously behave as if nothing is wrong with them.” Mr Akin Gabriel, a clinical psychologist at Psychiatrist Hospital, Yaba, also shed some light on why people engage in such monumental deception. “One reason for this is that people do not want to hurt their partners with the truth. He or she is going to be apprehensive about how the partner will take the news. And it is not likely they will take it well.
The African man, especially the Nigerian man, places so much premium on children. Immediately after marriage, family members will be watching for signs of pregnancy and if there are not, they will begin to murmur.
But people are often so desperate to get married that they take the risk. “If a young lady for instance has issues with conception but is getting old and is desirous to get married, she is not likely to tell the truth to her partner.
Some people also lie to push the blame to their spouses. Nobody wants to appear incomplete. “And there is the current religious trend where everything is well. Despite the stark reality, some people refuse to affirm anything they claim is negative.
They keep saying it is well despite the obvious facts. People with this mindset are likely to hide the fact of their inability to conceive from their spouses in the hope that things will work out in their favour, but that is a recent phenomenon.
As you know in these instances, the woman will be running everywhere in search of solutions, but the man could just be the one with the problem. But he may not tell the truth because he knows the implication of that.”
A medical social worker at LUTH, Titilayo Tade, painted scenarios that could drive people to keep secret such a crucial fact. She gave both cultural and religious perspectives to the whole issue.
“One of the major reasons is that who we are as a people is tied to our culture. Culture and education shape who we become as adults. From a cultural and religious perspective, we are told that when you get to a certain age, you have to get married and have children.
So, culturally we’ve been programmed that way, we’ve been told that is what to do,” Tade said. “Also, religiously, as a Christian and I think the same applies in Islam, we were told to go into the world and procreate.
So, as an adult, you have that at the back of your mind but then you run into a situation where you are told you cannot have kids. What do you do? You are not likely to reveal that fact to your partner “As you are getting married there is already pressure almost from day one.
People are already telling you ‘we hope you will be double soon,’ ‘we will come and celebrate with you soon.’ So, the pressure to get married and have children soon afterwards is huge. “Now to find out that you cannot have children or are incapable of conceiving is too much to handle for most people.
So, they lie to their partners because to tell the truth is a certain way of losing that partner. Africans like children and rarely would a man or woman hear that their prospective partner has such problem and still go ahead with the marriage “Even for those who do not have such problems but decide to have just two children for instance, older folks would think they are crazy.
They would insist that they have more. So you can imagine the pressure those who cannot conceive are under. Given these scenarios, people would rather not come clean. “In fact, people with such problems even lie to themselves; they will tell you ‘I reject it, it is not my portion.’ They will move from one church to the other, from one spiritualist to another, taking all sorts of concoction.“Again, a man’s ego is tied to his ability to procreate.
Traditionally, men don’t want to even hear such things. Even when they are the ones with the problem, they would rarely own up. They don’t even want to go to hospitals with their wives; that is why in hospitals these days, they ask wives: ‘why are you coming alone?’ Where is your husband?” Dr. John Kome, General Overseer, God’s Kingdom Centre International Inc., who has been a church leader for several decades and had seen many of such cases, recounted a couple of them to Saturday Telegraph.
“In my 39 years as a preacher and a counsellor, I have witnessed dozens of partners who flagrantly lied to their partners about their state of partial, acute or complete impotence. The bad news is that the aftermath of such obvious secrecy was catastrophic. “Come to think of it, where will trust which is the key to successful relationship ever hold sway in such relationships? “Let me narrate one instance.
There was this Christian lady who brought a very handsome man and introduced him to me as a fiancé. From the interview I conducted with the man, I immediately knew something was wrong. All effort to get the man own up met a brick wall. I advised against the union but both lovers ignored me and went ahead to say ‘I do’ both in a law court and in the church. Not even a week passed when the marriage fell apart when it was discovered that the man was only handsome in the face but not below the belt.”
There was another young man with a medical condition, low sperm count. He didn’t reveal his true state to his fiancée and they went ahead to do the wedding. Dr Kome recalled the particular case: “Having hid this information from his woman, they got hooked in church in a lavish wedding ceremony.
The nights afterwards were full of more lies such as: ‘I am tired tonight sweetie.’ ‘I will be observing prayers and fasting for a couple of days, honey.’ ‘There’s a business trip with my boss for a few days etc.’
“The lies continued unabated. But you know, what has a beginning must also have an end. At the end of the lying drama, it became obvious that someone had to own up to the detriment of the relationship.”
How does a partner who had been lied to react when they finally find out that their wife or husband, as the case may be, had so deliberately deceived them all along? “On religious side, marriage is ‘For Better, For Worse.’ Nevertheless, marriages contracted on the ground of deceit before God Almighty is sinful and satanic. God hates lies whereas Satan is the father of lies.
Therefore to me, such ‘contract’ should be annulled or voided,” Kome added. “Although I am not a lawyer, the law may not be far from same the sentiment considering the fact that such marriages were contracted on grounds of deceit.
I leave that to the learned gentlemen to interpret. “However, people must learn to tell their partners their medical, heredity (genetic) problems which you think could have a solution because “with God all things are possible.” But if there isn’t faith, cut the relationship off at once.
“Medically, not all cases of inability to bear children are hopeless. As someone in the medical field, we have been involved with medical experts who were helpful in so many of such cases and they came out successful.
Partners are encouraged to seek both medical and divine help not ‘spiritual help.’ People should be truthful to themselves and their fellow human beings.” Chief Imam, University of Ilorin, Professor AbduSalaam Oladosu, was emphatic when he said that any marriages based on deceit and lies had no place in Islam and could be annulled on that basis. He stated that the act of lying violates a cardinal principle of Islam.
“The position of Islam is that as soon as it is discovered that the couples were lying to each other, they can remarry. Lying cannot endure forever and no matter how long a lie had subsisted, at a particular point in time, the liar will be exposed.
The position of Islam is that first, the act of lying is a violation of one of the fundamental principles and practices of Islam, a violation of Islamic ethics and the belief is that whoever lies is not a good Muslim,” explained Oladosu who had his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Egypt and his PhD at the University of Ilorin.
“Secondly, once this cover-up had been discovered, an individual is allowed to remarry because one cannot continue to live a childless life. Indeed it is in Islamic literature that Muslims should try to get married not just to one woman, but up to four if one can afford it.
However, there is a proviso which is that you should be fair and just to all of them. The moment you are not able to be fair to all, the instruction is that you should stick to one. But it is not a crime to remarry after finding out that your spouse cannot have children.
However, you don’t have to abandon the first one (in case of a woman) unless she chooses to leave. “Naturally, we want to have children, except nowadays that we have been influenced by all manner of foreign and alien cultures. In a typical African setting in the past, they married more than one wife and had many children. The prophetic ideal I mentioned earlier is that, Muslims should marry as many as four wives and have as many children as possible because on Resurrection Day, the Prophet will be proud of those that applied that injunction.”
Coker weighed in again: “Handling such cases depends on the maturity level of the individual that was lied to. The partner may ask for outright divorce. He may also ask for medical, spiritual or cultural help. They may even settle for adoption of a baby.
It depends on the circumstance they find themselves. “The lying partner might have been loving, caring, rich, generous and homely before being detected. In that light, the other partner may forgive the lying partner. On the other hand, if the lying partner was a bad person, it will be case of ‘good riddance to bad rubbish.’ Such cases are taken on individual basis.”
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