At least one in every three first time marriages in Botswana end up in divorce – well that’s probably a no brainer. What boggles the mind is that although Batswana women are usually the first to push for marriage, after spending years dropping hints about getting hitched, one they get the honorific “Mrs” they are also usually the first to rush to the divorce lawyers.
Indications are that they are so focused on getting married that they tend to ignore a lot of red flags or is it? Dr Poloko Ntshwarang, Senior Social Work lecturer at the University of Botswana, says women are usually aware of the incompatibles with their partners but believe they can mould them into their perfect fit. When the project fails they rush to the divorce court – she however does not say it in so many words.
“Men generally try to find and marry the woman of their dreams – and then expect that she’ll never change from the day they got married. Men are comfortable in their roles as the “head of the house” while women are not particularly satisfied with being pigeon-holed as a wife who supports her husband’s career, the primary caregiver to their children, and the unpaid domestic help. Women, on the other hand, look at their partner’s potential. Women have no problem marrying someone who doesn’t check all of their boxes, hoping that they can guide their men into perfection. Most become frustrated when the men resist change. Society, religion, and other cultural “norms” have oppressed women around the world for thousands of years, and women are becoming less and less inclined to go along with these regimes”, she says.
The divorce rate hovers around 43-46% for first-time marriages. An average of 4000 divorces go through Botswana court every year. According to the Ministry of Immigration, Nationality and Gender Affairs, between 2019 and 2021 Botswana registered nearly 9000 divorces. Divorce is a legal process with a considerable financial, social, and personal toll. In some instances, for women, the financial hit of divorce tends to be higher than men, and if children are involved, care-giving responsibilities tend to fall disproportionately on the newly single mothers. These are significant challenges. From a practical standpoint, it would be no surprise if women fared more poorly than men after divorce. Some women, in a messy situation, don’t wait until the marital woes pile up high, but rather, take action, and take action far sooner than men. These include frustrations that women may feel in their marriages as well as the confusion experienced by some husbands over these seemingly nonsensical outbursts of their wives. For some couples, altercations such as these become the norm of married life. While petty at first, these fights over laundry, the dishes, dinner begin to entangle much more. Even though a wife may have been simply frustrated with her husband for forgetting to do something she asked of him, she begins to resent her husband for this forgetfulness.
Clinical psychologist in Gaborone, Dr Sophie Moagi says, “Generations of men have been trained to “man up” and stay in unhappy relationships – and perhaps to seek happiness outside their marriages to make their lives tolerable. Modern women, however, are more independent than most men think, and they’re unwilling to accept unhappy relationships month after month, year after year, with no hope of change. Oftentimes men don’t even realize that they are in a failing relationships until their wives say “I want a divorce, “I thought everything was fine – I was blindsided by this divorce!” In business, “successful” men are trained to focus on intellectual pursuits, to use logic to solve all their problems and to ignore their emotions. Ironically, it is this disconnect that often causes a marriage to fail – and for men think their marriage is “fine” while their wives are talking to divorce lawyers. By the time the divorce is filed, women are done trying to work on the relationship.”
The mismatch between what today’s world offers women and what women have historically required from a relationship often times introduces relationship instability. Back then, men were the ones to provide the resources (food, protection), while women tended to rely on them for these resources. Fast-paced social changes such as birth control and family planning, access to education have created a new dynamic where reliance on a spouse for resources (e.g., money) is no longer as necessary as it might have been. Women do not need a partner who provides resources, which historically they did. The benefits they gain from marriage may be less than what men gain from marriage, and so, if unsatisfying, women may be more likely to initiate divorce.
Women tend to crave a much deeper connection and closeness with their partners. However, many aren’t sure of how to ask for it. They believe that their husbands should instinctively know how to connect with them, and when he fails to do so, the woman often feels let down. This can lead to feelings of resentment that, when left unspoken, can fester into major problems and lead to a total breakdown of the relationship. Traditional roles in marriage may also be a reason that women file for divorce more frequently. Many husbands continue to expect women to shoulder the bulk of the housework and childcare, regardless of whether or not both partners work outside the home. This inequality in the household, as a carryover from decades pass, can cause those festering feelings of resentment for a woman who feels her husband doesn’t pull his weight in the home.
In marriages where both partners have a University degree, the wives initiate a staggering 90% of divorces. Women with University degrees are more likely to pursue careers outside the home, shedding off the traditional roles of a housewife; and when both partners have full-time careers, a lack of balance in the household duties becomes much more apparent much more quickly.