Widows and Orphans
An unfortunate characteristic of having a tightly connected family is that sometimes widows and orphans do not fit easily within a social structure. As unconnected individuals, they have lost their advocates and social power leaving them at risk for displacement, abuse, and neglect. In some families, these individuals are easily folded into extended families especially when affection exists for the parent who passed. However, in other circumstances, they are displaced or abandoned (UCSS, 2015).
Domestic Violence including sexual assault continues to be an issue in Uganda in both urban and rural areas. Unicef (2000) reported that 41% of women surveyed reported having been beaten by their husbands, and 41% of men report having beaten their wives. In rural areas, it is sometimes an expectation that physical violence is a normal part of married life. Additionally, as rape is also widespread and often misunderstood within the context of the marital relationship, Uganda Counseling and Support Services (2015) has instituted education programs for community outreach that educate men, utilizing male instructors, as to what constitutes rape, even within the context of a marriage. Similarly, male and female Ugandan outreach workers educate women on what is appropriate and not appropriate. Although many women continue to tolerate rape and domestic violence, especially within the bounds of marriage, there has been progress in prevention efforts. One of the hypotheses for the UCSS program is that women will pass this knowledge on to their sons and daughters which will eventually break the cycle of domestic, interpersonal violence. In addition to domestic violence and rape prevention education, psychoeducation addressing parenting, well-couples, and marital enrichment have been used to help relieve relational strain between couples and within families. This is a complex effort as many marriages continue to be polygamous in nature with one man and multiple wives and many children. Wolff, Blanc, and Gage (2000) concluded that “Women’s ability to negotiate the timing and conditions of sex with their partners is central to their ability to control a variety of reproductive health outcomes” (p. 303). They also recognized that the “sexual double standards constrain women’s sexual authority within unions as well as outside of them” (p. 305). Women’s sexual power is often officially or unofficially left under their husband’s control. Common early sexual socialization practices within the community dictate that women are not to deny their husband of sex when expected. This is especially true in areas where polygamy is still employed. Wolff, Blanc, and Gage (2000) speculated that senior wives and brides in monogamous unions are able to retain more power within their relationship.
The Idea of Marital Partnerships and Parenting
Traditionally, men in some rural Ugandan villages have identified three main roles they play in family life: fathering children, building a house or houses, and brewing alcohol. Counseling and psychoeducational programs that help men recognize the importance of their role in the family can be increasingly effective in helping them find additional ways to contribute to the welfare of the family. Warrington (2013) found that parental involvement, especially with fathers, had the ability to increase self-esteem and promote academic and career success in daughters. A major extrinsic factor was also the role of biological parents and networks of people who served as surrogate parents and mentors. Many couples have identified the desire to leam more about counseling and psychoeducational opportunities to enhance their marriage and family lives. Mujuzi (2010) identified that the Odozi Commission concluded on women’s rights that “Ugandans had great expectations that the equality of women with men would be guaranteed in all aspects of life 'in the new Constitution and the new society governed by it.’” The commission documented the importance the Ugandan people place on family and expressed concerns with the right to marry and form families when it is “interfered with by tribal customs on grounds of race, tribe, creed or socioeconomic status and that the rights of both spouses as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution are not recognized nor respected” [sic] (417-418).
Gottman (Gottman & Silver, 1999) proposed the elimination of four elements from all marriages. He identified them as the four horsemen: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Gottman explained that complaining is good as it allows each member of the relationship to clearly articulate his or her feelings. Complaining is most effective with the use of I statements. I hate it when there are so many clothes to wash or I wish I had something to eat when I arrive home. In complaining, the focus is not on the fault of either spouse, but rather upon the circumstances.
Criticism involves attacking someone’s personality or character. Examples would involve You always ... or You never. Contempt is a more severe form of criticism and involves attacking the partner’s sense of self-worth or attempting to psychologically abuse or mistreat him or her. This can include hostile humor, insults, and name calling, mockery, or derogatory body language (facial expressions, eye rolling, or sneering.) Defensiveness includes denying responsibility, making excuses, or cross complaining. Defensiveness tends to escalate conflicts rather than deescalating them. Stonewalling is the emotional removal of oneself from a situation. The stonewaller becomes a stone wall. The stonewaller claims to remain neutral. Gottman indicated that men are more likely to stonewall as they are more easily overwhelmed by marital conflict than women. Gottman also encourages couples to allow their partners to influence them, to work toward successful repair attempts in conflicts, and to create shared stories that are positive (Gottman & Silver, 1999).
Couples counseling can help couples focus on the relationship rather than on power, control, or blame. The counseling process can help couples to move toward a mutually empathic connection with each other while helping maintain a more balanced and egalitarian relational dynamic. Patience, cooperation, and kindness should be fostered as the possibility of competition may emerge in polygamous situations. Issues of power should be identified and appropriately addressed in a culturally humble manner as second and subsequent wives, young wives, and very old wives might not have the same power as primary wives, educated wives, and wives from families with resources. As the couple can foster a “we-ness” they can share in the concern while alleviating guilt, shame, and blame.