Marriages under attack . . . 30 percent of unions collapse within five years

KEEPING marriages intact has seemingly become a mammoth task for newlyweds, if statistics provided by the Judiciary Service Commission (JSC) are anything to go by.

At least 30 percent of new marriages are collapsing within five years.

According to the JSC, the number of divorce cases filed in courts across the country increased by more than 100 percent in the 12 months through to December 2022.

All told, 2 735 applications were received last year, compared to 1 351 in 2021.

The couples were married either under the Marriages Act Chapter 5:11 or the Customary Marriages Act Chapter 5:07.

Reasons cited in the divorce files include abuse, lack of communication, financial challenges and infidelity.

Harare and Bulawayo accounted for the highest number of cases, 981 and 403, respectively.

But experts opine the figures could be higher considering unregistered customary marriages, which are often terminated without involvement of the courts.

The hallmark of customary unions is payment of lobola, although the new marriage law recommends they should be registered within the first three months.

There is, however, no sanction for failure to do so.

“Divorce cases involving customary marriages are on the rise. We deal with most of them at community level because they were never legally registered. However, in some cases, where properties are involved and where the two parties cannot reach a mutual agreement, we then refer them to courts,” revealed Chief Ndima Chimareketa of Chimanimani.

Most couples divorce because of irreconcilable differences and gender-based violence, he added.

“Depending on the case, sometimes, we try to counsel the couples first. If they still insist on divorce, we then let them be. We came up with the counselling strategy after noting that some of these young couples lack basic understanding of marriage and they simply need to be taken through the steps,” said the traditional leader.

Dr Shelter Shenjere, a marriage counsellor, also shared disturbing statistics.

She revealed that at least two out of an average of seven marriage-counselling cases she handles per week end in divorce.

“People no longer respect the sanctity of marriage. Divorce has been normalised as one of the ‘best’ ways of revenge or money-making schemes,” notes Dr Shenjere.

Roman Catholic priest Father Paul Mayeresa feels marriage has long lost its sanctity.

“Divorce was not common in Zimbabwe, hence it was highly stigmatised. However, society has evolved and separation is no longer a surprise,” he said.

“Although this is not new, traditionally, families had ways of resolving issues behind closed doors, but it is no longer the case these days as most couples lack patience.

“Children could even be born out of wedlock, but dirty linen was never washed in public, and because people married out of love, issues were solved, couples forgave each other and they peacefully continued with life.”

Fr Mayeresa argues that most couples are now marrying for the wrong reasons.

“These days, most couples marry either for money or fame. As a result, most of these marriages lack affection and end up in divorce,” he said.

Broken vows

When Catherine and Trustworth Chimuti (name changed) got married in Harare in February last year, they vowed to be together for better or worse.

However, their union hardly lasted a year.

The couple was back in court for divorce in November.

“About three months into marriage, he became abusive. The situation got worse by the day and I eventually gave up,” revealed Catherine.

Tendai Mavaza of Harare also found herself in an unenviable situation after divorcing her husband of four years last year.

The couple started experiencing marital challenges two years after they tied the knot.

Tendai’s husband started having mental problems.

He later became an alcoholic and would physically and verbally abuse her on several occasions in the presence of their two children and maid.

Interventions from family members and marital counselling sessions could not salvage the union.

“At first, I thought he was stressed a lot, so I would forgive and try to talk to him about it. But things later got out of hand as he started neglecting our children,” said Tendai.

“He lost affection for me and it got worse by the day, as he preferred spending more time with his friends, getting drunk daily. The situation was a mess.”

Patrick (surname withheld), also of Harare, separated with his wife for two months, but the couple later reconciled after visiting a marriage counsellor.

“I separated with my wife when I discovered that she was cheating on me with our mechanic. But one day, I decided to engage her to find out why she had betrayed my trust. This is the moment I realised I had not been treating her well.

“I did not give her attention and prioritised my friends more. I was largely to blame for the mess. We then went for counselling since we were both angry. We are now back together and life is going on well.”

Psychological factor

Psychologist Dr Nisbert Mangoro believes mental health issues are taking a toll on several marriages.

Due to mental health issues, he reckons, most people now seek solace in drug and substance abuse, which has adverse effects in their marriages or families.

“When one abuses drugs, one becomes delusional and stops caring about most things. This can eventually destroy a couple by weakening the bond between them. If children are part of the relationship, conflicts over parental responsibilities, neglect or abuse can occur as a result of drinking or drug use by one of the partners or both,” he said.

Interventions from family and friends, however, has the potential to save some marriages.

“From a psychological point of view, if one fails to get attention or if a relationship lacks communication, one or both parties become vulnerable to such an extent that they feel close and safe with anyone who lends them a listening ear, which can also lead to infidelity.

“Culturally, married people are not allowed to have freedom outside their unions, hence most of those who find themselves in such a situation silently struggle emotionally. Such situations may even force one to commit suicide or slip into depression.

“Due to the internet, most people now find it easy to either trace their old flames or meet new people, opting to divorce their legal partner,” explained Dr Mangoro.

Sociologist and author Dr Vengesai Chimininge argues that mental health issues are fuelling a spike in local divorce cases.

Most of these psychological problems, he notes, emanated from the Covid-19-induced lockdowns that left some breadwinners jobless or struggling financially.

“Lockdowns left some breadwinners poverty-stricken, hence mentally unstable and desperate. When a person is desperate, they do not think straight and at times divorce to escape responsibility,” he argued.

“The human body controls the state of mind and when there is a problem, the mind is forced to look for a solution.”


Social commentator Dr Rebecca Chisamba said lack of communication in marriages largely leads to separation.

Most marriages, she believes, are now “business arrangements”, where people tie the knot for benefits, and not love.

As such, most unions lack affection and are easily controlled by external forces.

“When there is a lot of interference from third parties, most people often push their partners away consciously or subconsciously and divorce is the end result. There is need for people to embrace traditional marriage counselling programmes, which help in nurturing couples,” she said.

Traditionally, marriage counsellors acted as mediators between spouses to facilitate healthy and effective communication.

“It is sad that modern-day couples may stay in a marriage for years, yet they do not even know what their partner expects from them, how they feel or even their likes and dislikes.

“In some cases, when there is no money in a marriage, problems start to emerge, which leaves one questioning whether it was a union born out of love or money,” said Dr Chisamba.

She encouraged couples to work hard to strengthen their unions and remain committed to each other.

Most problems, she said, start emanating after the blissful honeymoon period.

“These difficulties are not unusual. Patience or seeking the advice of an independent counsellor may help save and strengthen the union. Divorce used to be taboo; society was convinced that it was a curse, so problems would be resolved within the family and life went on.

“At times, children never got to know what was happening between their parents but, unfortunately, the new cultures have taken over and young couples find it easy to give up.”

Traditionalist Mbuya Calista Magorimbo blames broken family ties for divorce.

“We no longer have family elders who used to groom young adults ahead of marriage,” she said.

Most young adults, she added, commit to marriage unaware of what they are getting into.

“Long-distance marriages worked back then, although there was little or no communication, as we did not have the technology. However, we had genuine and effective family systems that supported the young couples, hence these marriages thrived.

“Further, people used to date long enough to understand each other but this is no longer the case. Couples marry after two or three months of dating. Technology has also created a space for most people to masquerade as individuals they are not, so their partners get to know their real characters when they are already in marriage,” said Mbuya Magorimbo.

Traditionally, she said, a man was supposed to provide for his family, while the woman took care of the household, but that is no longer the case as both partners now work.

“This has left most partners with little or no time to spend quality time together, hence the loss of affection, leading to divorce.” – SUNDAY MAIL

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