NAIROBI, Kenya, May 10 – The rising cases of extreme violence among couples – with up to three reported every week in Nairobi alone – are undoubtedly sending chills across the country.
There appears to be a new trend where spouses use brute force against each other during domestic quarrels sometimes turning fatal.
Dr Margaret Makanyengo, a Psychologist and Head of Mental Health Services at Kenyatta National Hospital says moral decay is one of the leading causes of these incidents.
"In the old days we had the African system which had its benefits where you had extended family where somebody always had a father or mother figure and there were rules and structures," Dr Makanyengo explains.
"But currently most of that has actually broken down so that we are more individualistic and the priorities are quite different with people focusing more on making money and I am sorry to say even some of our religious leaders are now more focused on materialistic factors," she goes on to say.
On average, at least one incident of domestic violence leading to death is reported in Nairobi weekly according to police statistics.
Nairobi PPO Anthony Kibuchi says sometimes there are up to three such cases reported in a week most of which stem from domestic quarrels.
"This goes down to the expectations. For instance where a woman expects the man to meet her financial needs while the man wants her to meet his sexual needs but have not come together to really build a marriage," explains Susan Gitau, a Consultant Counsellor.
The experts are also blaming the cases on the hard economic times the country is facing which they say is making people suddenly or gradually break down.
"As time goes by, you find some of these people develop even paranoia, which is a psychiatric condition. They start suspecting that their spouse is having an affair with somebody else and quite a number of those result into being violent and may harm their spouse," says Dr Makanyengo.
On the other hand Ms Gitau cites influence from in-laws; peers and lack of pre-marital counselling as other factors that are leading to such severe ending of marriages.
"Today we are talking about the married singles. Why should we have such a term? Say for instance a lady taking care of the children, paying school fees and doing everything while the man is in the house. We also have women who really don\’t know what it means to be a mother," she says.
"So you ask yourself, when these people were getting into the marital system did they know what they were getting into?"
She also notes that marriages are no longer given the preference they had in earlier times and presently most couples are coming together for selfish gains.
It has become more of meeting our own needs than building a marriage, she says and this is where the premarital counselling comes in handy.
"The premarital counselling can take two angles. We have the pastoral care and Christian counselling in the church and mostly what they concentrate on is how to make each other happy, finances and all that but they may not come to a level of making them (spouses) bring out their personality differences and yet that can be a major cause of conflict in a marriage and it rarely comes out in courtship because in courtship people wear masks," Ms Gitau expounds.
Pre- marital counselling allows couples to address issues like role description and discuss those that may strain the marriage in future.
At least six to 10 sessions of premarital counselling at the church and with a professional marriage counsellor are encouraged.
Similarly, Dr Makanyengo says from a national view, there is need for the government to urgently address the economic hardships facing the country as a way of reducing tension at homes.
"It is affecting so many people and I would say quite a number of people are probably just at the border line where you might find there is a lot of domestic violence," she says.
"Then health education to the public is important so that we sensitise them to try to identify early signs of mental illness so that before somebody reaches that level (of extreme violence) one can intervene," Dr Makanyengo states.
Some of the red flags of a degenerating marriage are a spouse suddenly lacking sleep, becomes irritable, turns to alcohol, changes personality, gives you a silent treatment or becomes violent be it physical or verbal.
Other warning signs of a strained marriage are emotional and sexual abuse, spending more time with other people and discussing your marital problems with other people other than your spouse.
"When you notice that the relationship with your spouse has changed, that is the best time to seek help and you could start by talking it out with your partner and if you find that there is no breakthrough, then it\’s high time you looked for external assistance," advices Ms Gitau.
Her advice is that one should walk out of a marriage when they are sure that their life is threatened by their spouse and there is a lot of mystery surrounding their partner.
"Let\’s have all the institutions coming together to save the marriage because if we have a working marriage it means we have a powerful family, if we have a powerful family, we have a powerful community, if we have a powerful community we are talking about a powerful society," Ms Gitau concludes.
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