Featured, Opinion

Investigating The Root Causes Behind Nigeria’s Rising Divorce Rates

Ogunbiyi Kayode


June 16, 2024

Dear Beamers,


It is difficult to accept that love, often associated with sweetness, peace, and protection, can deteriorate into something toxic and harmful over time. The focus now shifts not to who will stay forever, but to who is willing to commit till whenever. Memories, once cherished, along with moments and promises, can transform into painful reminders as emotional bonds break. Marriage, traditionally the pinnacle of a harmonious relationship between a man and a woman, sometimes culminates in a regrettable end known as divorce. Alarmingly, this trend is increasingly becoming commonplace in our society, where couples often resort to divorce at the first sign of discomfort. Therefore, in line with our commitment to addressing critical issues in our community, this week’s newsletter will explore the concerning rise in divorce rates in Nigeria and its potential causes.

The deliberate process of forming connections with strangers, investing time to understand them as individuals, and deciding to progress to a deeper relationship requires significant effort, time, and dedication. As the relationship develops, it often feels like two halves that once existed separately have come together in unexpected places, forging a shared life and future. With mutual admiration, these individuals agree to marry and some eventually begin raising children together. Amidst plans, promises, shared interests, and intimate secrets, familiarity sometimes breeds a longing for new purposes or sources of happiness. Over time, for various reasons, what was once a happy home can lose its luster, leading to disagreements that culminate in divorce. Eventually the divorce marks the definitive end of the relationship that was once built with hope for a wonderful married life.

Divorce is far more complex than simply one partner waking up one morning and declaring the relationship over, unlike the more straightforward process of breaking up in relationships. Similar to the intricate stages leading up to marriage, which involve extensive preparation over weeks and months, divorce also follows a structured process. It requires mutual involvement from both spouses, as the steps and grounds for divorce vary depending on the nature and circumstances of the marriage.

In the traditional Nigerian context, divorce is often facilitated through mutual acceptance by the families of both the husband and wife, acknowledging that the marriage is no longer viable. This typically involves the husband’s family returning the dowry to the wife’s family, signifying the formal dissolution of the union and bringing an end to the marriage.

However, despite the significance of religious or traditional marriage ceremonies, court marriage is widely recommended for its legal binding nature. It ensures both parties’ rights are protected under societal regulations, facilitating a fair judgment and just separation if needed, or allowing for reconciliation efforts. In Nigeria, unlike in some other jurisdictions where a simple signing of legal documents suffices for divorce, the process involves attending multiple court sessions. These sessions assess the relationship’s status and grievances from both sides to determine if reconciliation is feasible. If the court determines the marriage is irreparable, the judge proceeds with formal proceedings. Should neither party contest the divorce within three months, the marriage is dissolved, even without formal document signing.

A question that persists in the topic of divorce remains: What are the primary reasons for divorce? This question is inherently subjective, as the factors leading to divorce are as diverse as those that lead people to marry. However, these reasons often coalesce under certain overarching causes, with frequent conflicts being a prominent example.

Constant conflict, prolonged disagreements, and unresolved tensions nightly are detrimental to a healthy marriage. How couples manage conflict is the most critical factor influencing marital survival. Enduring a home environment that is more stressful than the toughest workday challenges one’s resilience. In a fulfilling marriage, your spouse serves as your partner, providing solace and unwavering support during difficult times. Conversely, in a high-conflict marriage, a spouse can become emotionally destabilizing, akin to a difficult boss. Without intervention such as marriage counseling or therapy, this negative cycle can persist, eventually leading to divorce as the last resort.

Conflicts can arise from a lack of shared interests or compatibility between partners. While opposites may initially attract, shared interests are crucial for strengthening bonds. Without common activities, couples may either spend less time together pursuing individual hobbies or sacrifice personal interests for their partner’s pursuits, which can breed resentment and strain the relationship. Resolving such differences often requires marriage counseling and a readiness to compromise. If mutual agreement cannot be reached and sustained, the resulting incompatibility may ultimately lead to divorce.

Moreover, a recurring reason for divorce in Nigeria is the absence of physical cohabitation. Many couples underestimate the importance of living together before marriage, which can lead to marriages where both partners are close to ending the relationship. Cohabitation allows partners to learn about each other’s lives honestly and transparently, experiencing each other’s daily routines and understanding their philosophies firsthand, rather than relying solely on descriptions exchanged over dinner dates. During cohabitation, couples may spend extended periods together, ranging from days to months or even years, gaining clarity on whether they can envision a lifelong partnership and mutual tolerance.

Abdullateef Ajuma, a businesswoman, advocates for cohabitation as a means to assess compatibility before marriage. According to her,

“Some may disagree, but honestly, cohabitation can be beneficial. While some religious beliefs, especially among Christians, deem it unacceptable, there are ways to understand this stage of a relationship effectively. Cohabitation allows you to observe and identify serious warning signs early on. These red flags can be glaring, unless you choose to ignore them or hope they will resolve themselves. Dealing with major red flags can be challenging, and unless you’re prepared for potential future issues, it’s crucial to address them seriously and discuss whether your partner can change or if the relationship should end at that point.”

Another significant factor contributing to divorce in our society is the influence of divorced friends. Divorce can indeed be socially contagious, as the stability of marriages within a couple’s social circle can impact their own relationship longevity. Research suggests that couples with friends who have divorced are at a higher risk of experiencing marital dissolution themselves. This phenomenon echoes the adage “show me your friends, and I will tell you who you are,” highlighting how our social circles often reflect and influence our attitudes and behaviors. Close friendships involve shared experiences and deep connections, making it easier for discussions about marital challenges and the appeal of single life to influence married individuals. If a married person internalizes these conversations and begins to compare their own marriage unfavorably, thoughts and actions toward divorce may become increasingly inevitable.

Lack of commitment stands out as one of the most prevalent reasons for divorce. Marriage requires dedication from both spouses to navigate its challenges and ensure longevity. Therefore, it’s not surprising that a lack of commitment can undermine a relationship. Each partner’s commitment, including the husband’s responsibility to love, protect, and provide for the family, and the wife’s role in supporting her husband and managing the household, is crucial for marital success. When either spouse fails to fulfill these responsibilities, a rift in commitment can develop. Despite other efforts to maintain the marriage, such as communication or shared goals, neglecting these fundamental duties can erode the foundation of love and connection, ultimately leading to separation or divorce.

Infidelity also remains a significant catalyst for divorce. Many couples attribute the end of their marriage to one partner’s breach of trust through infidelity. In a monogamous marriage, fidelity is essential for maintaining trust and the sanctity of the relationship. Sexual intimacy in marriage serves not only for procreation but also to strengthen the emotional bonds between partners. When infidelity occurs, it shatters this trust and emotional connection. The betrayed spouse often struggles with profound hurt and difficulty in forgiving their partner. Even if forgiveness is attempted, the emotional toll can affect sexual intimacy, diminishing the love that sustains the marriage. Ultimately, for many individuals facing infidelity, divorce becomes a viable option when reconciliation proves insurmountable.

Bolatito Abolaji, a single mother, emphasizes that domestic violence should never be justified by a husband as a corrective measure, regardless of any provocation from the wife. According to her,

“Domestic abuse is a serious crime and unfortunately, it’s been a growing problem in recent times. Marriage should ideally be about love and comfort, but for many, it turns into daily fights and physical violence. Often, it’s the husband who becomes the aggressor towards his wife. While reasons like perceived rudeness, disrespect, or disloyalty may be cited, none justify a man resorting to violence against his wife. She is your wife not a punching bag or something.”

When a marriage ends, it’s common for both parties to assign blame. Many individuals feel they made every effort to salvage the relationship, often believing their spouse should have put in more effort. Initially, both sides may adopt a victim mentality, rationalizing their actions that contributed to the marriage’s breakdown. Over time, some come to terms with the divorce without regret, while others wish they had handled certain aspects differently instead of blaming their partner. This might involve better communication, greater openness, embodying traditional gender roles more effectively, seeking counseling, and implementing other strategies they believe could have prevented the divorce. A lack of understanding about the complexities of marriage often contributes to partners failing to recognize warning signs that their relationship was deteriorating.

Nosazeogie Uche, a retiree, highlights that divorce triggers a cascade of consequences affecting both partners and their children. According to him

“Divorce often leads to long-lasting consequences, such as an increased likelihood of premature death compared to married individuals, based on my observations. Men, in particular, tend to have a higher risk of dying earlier than divorced women. Children also suffer significantly as they become victims of emotional, physical, and mental pains resulting from their parents’ decision. They often lack the necessary attention and support in these areas from both parents, which can lead to them struggling in life and hating the idea of being born.”

Not long ago, there was a strong stigma attached to divorce. Marriage was perceived as a sacred bond where commitment was meant to be unwavering, regardless of circumstances. Whether good or bad, it was viewed as a lifelong commitment until death. However, societal attitudes have shifted dramatically and swiftly. Nowadays, individuals may end marriages for seemingly trivial reasons, such as dissatisfaction with sexual performance or concerns about physical attributes. Marriage and child-rearing, once pillars of society, are now experiencing a decline, with standards appearing increasingly ambiguous or nonexistent.

Understanding people’s motivations for entering into marriage these days is challenging. The effort invested in making a marriage succeed often reflects the initial reasons for entering into the union. Some individuals marry simply for the status of being called a husband or wife, or to portray a picture-perfect couple on social media. This trend resembles seeking promotion from the perceived limitations of being single. It’s increasingly evident that many people no longer prioritize essential aspects of marriage.

While there is no universal formula to prevent divorce, effective communication stands out as a crucial tool. Couples who communicate poorly often struggle to resolve issues together, leading to misunderstandings and hurt feelings. Effective communication involves both verbal and non-verbal aspects, and it is essential for navigating various aspects of a relationship, such as sexual intimacy, finances, decisions about children, and other sensitive topics that unhappy couples may avoid discussing. When communication breaks down, attempts to solve problems can escalate into destructive arguments, eroding love, intimacy, and respect. To weather challenges effectively, couples must be willing and able to openly discuss issues and collaborate on finding solutions together.

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