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Read Letter

Success And Marriage

Dear Jack, two friends got married. One became successful, the other struggled to succeed. Yet both their marriages failed. Moral: both success and failure can produce a failed marriage. We tend to imagine only lack can break a marriage, but success can also break a marriage. It’s sad but true. Partners have to be mindful of the effect of success on their marriage.

The pressures of lack on a marriage are obvious. Lack frays tempers, creates fear of tomorrow. There’s also the social factor. You’re excluded from social rounds. And lack affects self-esteem. When we go into marriage we go in with hope and expectations. We expect things will progressively get better economically. We expect our partner will succeed. It’s why a woman will marry a young man without a dime. All he has is promise, no evidence. But she can see drive in him, can sense a sense of responsibility. It’s the selling point of the young man. He has to work hard to produce result. Or the woman begins to lose faith in the promise he was. She’ll be afraid of shame.

As we grow older our spending profile increases. The kids come, and with them come school fees. We want to live in a better neighbourhood, drive better cars, travel for vacation… There are also extended family responsibilities, for Africans in particular. Children are the social security system for aged parents in Africa. As we grow older demands escalate. As we succeed the demands escalate even more. For some families the firstborn is the investment scheme. He has to succeed. All the family resources are invested in him. And the strategy is simple: when he succeeds he can take care of everybody else. It’s a horrendous burden. The firstborn thus becomes the head of the family. If female, she has the additional burden of being a surrogate mother to everyone in the family. Sometimes the firstborn’s ambition is sacrificed. His schooling is prematurely terminated. He takes on the burden of earning for the family upkeep, thereby short-circuiting his own education. He trains everyone. He does this hoping his brothers and sisters will later pick up the tab to train his own children. This has proved a miscalculation on many occasions. Siblings have been known to refuse to pick up such tabs. His children will thus hate him for abandoning them for the larger family. Invariably he loses the respect of his affluent siblings. People don’t always have a sense of gratitude or responsibility towards history. But the larger point I’m trying to make is that the older we grow the more resources we require. Life makes certain demands on us and the dynamics of those demands produce pressure on marriage.
You can easily see how lack of resources can destroy a marriage when increasingly growing expectations have to be met but earning power remains low. In African context that earning requirement can be very tough on young men, especially those starting businesses. And there are all those cultural factors to contend with. The man has to have leverage to avoid being called “woman wrapper.” That’s not very complimentary in African society. It’s the vision of a man who’s not a man. But the fear of being so labelled has robbed many a men of the wise counsel of their wives, causing some to take foolish decisions and some to seek to make pointless points. Pride is foolishness.
Here’s how success can easily wreck a marriage. The man may not be able to handle the success. If you’re not grounded it’s so easy to lose your head when prosperity comes. It why it’s often prefaced with adversity. Adversity grounds us. The confidence of success can easily lead to hubris. It will make you want to fly very close to the sun. Your name becomes Icarus. Money makes people feel like a god. And of course money is attractive. It makes men suddenly become handsome. If you make money the God of your life something will give. Your values will change. And at some point your marriage will be affected. In fact at that point the marriage will be in trouble. You’ll have changed radically and significantly. You won’t recognise yourself in the mirror. To be sure, money changes everyone. Your confidence level soars. That can lead you in so many directions. You must forcefully cultivate humility when you begin to succeed. For your own sake. Without humility you won’t be open to valuable counsel from your partner. You’ll think you know it all. The unfairness in that is that everyone in your family will pay for your bad decision whether they participated in it or not. If for example you take a vengeful loan from a bank your entire family will pay for it; and they’ll continue to pay long after you’re gone. It’s why you need counsel before taking certain decisions. Your partner’s perspective is useful.
But there’s another way success can destroy a marriage, and it has to do with our reaction to our partner’s success. Some spouses react badly. Some men can’t handle the success of their wife, just as some women can’t handle the success of their husband. They don’t see the success as theirs. Truth is, in a marriage we’re all products of each other. And so your success is my success and my success is your success. We must be mindful of that. The family ought to present a unified front when it comes to success, or busy bodies will tear the family apart. A family is a unitary system. But when we seek to burnish our image at the expense of our spouse we begin to tear the family apart at the seams. Those seams represent our partners’ self-concept. It’s most important not to be envious of your spouse. It’s stupid and it’s an impulse you must fight. What is hers is yours, what is yours is hers. You are one. Don’t let money tear your family apart. Don’t forget money has wings. It can fly. What then will you have left? The irony of life is that many of those who lose their head over money actually have pittance.
Because of envy some end up hating their spouses for succeeding. They’re in an invisible competition with their spouse. And sometimes the envy flows from a sense of entitlement. When a spouse is from a poor background the partner from an affluent background can have a sense of entitlement. Sometimes that sense of entitlement is not even based on anything. It’s just pride! What then happens is that that spouse will hate everything associated with the partner’s success – his clients, his staff, his friends, his cars… She’ll begin to punish her partner, become resentful. The marriage begins to break down. Unfortunately you can’t solve that kind of problem in marriage. The issue is deeply embedded in someone’s psyche. And that’s the flaw in some marital counselling. There’s the general assumption the marriage is at an impasse because there’s a fight. But there are marriages that break down without a single fight. If one party is envious of the other a marriage can break down without a single fight. There’ll just be animosity, and it will hang in the house like a dark cloud. The reason you can’t solve that kind of problem is because there’s no surgery for the human soul. The issue cannot be excised like a bad human part. It’s why you have to watch yourself. Once you find yourself becoming envious of your spouse you must shut down the stupid thought immediately. You must recalibrate yourself.
You rejoice with your spouse when things begin to go well. It’s for the good of the family. It’s for your own good too. The more the family earns the better for the family. How does it then make sense to resent your spouse’s prosperity? Isn’t that what we’re praying for? It’s why spouses must bond, identify with each other. Spouses must be one. Always wish your spouse well. Avoid the poisoned chalice. Envy eats into the bone, rots the bone. It can never lead to anything good. Murders have been committed out of envy.
Now you know where the mines are buried, avoid the mines.
Your mentor, LA
© Leke Alder |
In a marriage, we’re all products of each other. Your success is my success and my success is your success. Click To Tweet
Tags : Success, failure, successful partner

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