We’ve all heard the phrase 'marriages are made in heaven’ (sometimes followed up by the cheeky comment, ‘…to be busted on earth’).
In a lot of cultures across the world, people see marriage as a spiritual union between two, and sometimes more, people. A married couple often makes a public and legal vow to make their relationship last forever. But in some cultures, it’s common to have marriages that are only recognised socially, and not by law.
While in some parts of the world gay and lesbian couples can get married, other countries ban homosexual marriages. Read more about laws and attitudes concerning lesbians, gays and bisexuals.
Couples around the world marry for different reasons. They might decide to say the wedding vows because they are deeply in love with each other, and they might have been in a relationship for a while. These are called love marriages.
In some cases, parents and/or relatives of the groom and bride play a role in setting up marriages. They are actively involved in choosing the bride or groom for their children. Such marriages are called ‘arranged marriages'. The choice of spouse might be restricted on the basis of religion, language, or tribe.
What if you don’t want to get married but you’re facing pressure from your family and society to do exactly that? If you are being forced into a marriage, you can always find help.
Love marriages happen between two people who love and care for each other.
In cultures where love marriages are a norm, one of the lovers usually proposes the marriage and the other accepts or rejects the proposal.
Some people put in a lot of thought and effort into planning and scheduling their proposals, whereas others do it spontaneously. You could go down on one knee on a moonlit terrace of a five-star hotel. Alternatively, you could just light some candles in the bedroom to create a bit of atmosphere before you pop the question. It all depends on your taste and style.
To know more about what you should and shouldn’t do when you’re proposing, have a look at our Marriage proposals: do’s and don’ts.
You might be proposing a marriage or accepting a proposal, but how do you know that you’ve chosen the right person? When’s the right time to get married? Can you ever be entirely sure? What if it goes wrong? All these might be legitimate concerns, if you’re making up your mind on marriage.
And you’re not alone, almost everyone getting married faces these challenges. It’s a big decision after all – are you ready to spend the rest of your life with this person?
The risk of being different
Love marriages can also bring along some practical challenges. If you speak different languages or belong to different tribes or religions, it might mean adjusting to these cultural differences. Life does not follow a script and getting around these issues can be very difficult.
Sometimes these differences, especially in tribe and religion, can be particularly hard to overcome. In many parts of Kenya, couples face real threats of rejection from their families and communities – with their mixed marriage seen as an affront against group honour.
Depending on where you’re from and what your background is, you need to weigh the risks and be absolutely sure about wanting to marry someone outside your tribe or religion.
Come we stay
In Kenya, couples often live together without being married, which is commonly called ‘come we stay’. Once you’ve lived together for over six months, it’s essentially the equivalent of being legally married – but only if it’s recognised as such by a court.
The Marriage Act of 2012 was introduced to give more legal rights to partners and children of ‘come we stay’ unions. While termed as ‘cohabitation’, ‘come we stay’ is not officially recognised as a union and Kenyan courts interpret each situation on a case-by-case basis to establish a ‘presumption of marriage’. That means that if you did what married people do – lived together, had children, shopped together, attended family functions, had a joint medical coverage, etc. – then these are taken as evidence of a union. If there’s no contrary evidence, the courts will likely decide to recognise it as a legal union.
Arranged marriage is a type of marital union where the bride and groom are selected by their families rather than by each other.
There’s not one single formula for arranged marriages. It all depends on your family background.
In some cultures, parents, relatives, or a matchmaker find a match for the man and woman once they reach a marriageable age or at a later stage. The bride and groom may or may not meet before the wedding day. But the final decision about the marriage often rests with the parents of the bride and groom.
Some families do it differently. Parents or relatives find a suitable partner for their son or daughter. They then introduce the couple to each other. They may meet once or several times to see if they like each other and if they are compatible. Depending on how they feel about each other, they decide whether they’d like to get married or not. These kinds of marriages, where the families only introduce the man and woman but leave the final decision to them, are known as ‘introduced arranged marriages’.
Getting married is not only about the ceremony and having a good time. That’s just the beginning of a lifelong partnership – in the case of an arranged marriage, with a person you hardly know.
In a lot of arranged marriages, the man or woman could face pressure to conform to their family’s wishes. If you are considering an arranged marriage, here are a few tips that might help you along the way:
- Ask yourself if you are ready to be married. Your parents might think that you’re of a marriageable age, but are you ready to give a full-time commitment to a new person in your life? Think about the kind of changes it will have on your lifestyle. How would it affect your social life and your professional life? Would you be able to handle the changes?
- Think through your new responsibilities – not only to your partner but also to their family and friends. There will be a lot of interaction, keeping up relationships, and maintaining cordial relations with new people. People will have expectations of you. Are you ready to deal with them?
- Sort out the finances. Will your spouse be working? If not, would you be able to support them? Are you expected to make a contribution to the family expenses? Have you discussed this?
- Insist on having a meeting with your proposed spouse before making any decision. Of course it makes sense to see them and find out if your personalities match before you decide to spend the rest of your life together.
- Be honest when you meet your potential partner. Don’t start what could be a life-long relationship with a lie. Tell them openly about your past life and what your expectations are from the future.
- Listen to your future partner’s story. Give them a chance to open up to you. Try your best to ease the pressure off the situation.
- Let them know whether or not you think they are a potential mate. Tell them how you feel. Keep your family informed, too. But take your time. Often when you first meet someone, you can’t see the difficult side of their personality. Give yourself time to discover each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
- Let your parents know what the weak links are. If your parents are expecting you to get married to someone you find incompatible, explain the situation and reassure them that this won’t be the last chance you’ll have to be married.