Husband Wife Relationship

To some extent the nature of the relationship between a husband and wife depended on the way in which the marriage was executed. If it was the outgrowth of a premarital affair, there was less conflict and discomfort than if it was an arranged marriage between youths. However, there existed a built-in assurance that marriages would be conflict-ridden. When the young married couple discovered a pregnancy, both husband and wife were displeased by the prospect of sexual abstinence and the variety of taboos associated with impending childbirth. The husband blamed his wife for getting pregnant too soon and wondered why his antipregnancy magic was not effective. She resented his anger and worried that he would seek out a second wife during their enforced abstinence. They both rebelled against the restrictions on their freedom. The husband feared that a boy would be born, a son who would compete with him and cause conflicts, while the wife feared that she would bear a daughter for her husband to dote on and prefer. Discussion ensued as to whether the child should be kept at all. Thus, at the very inception of a new marriage, conflict arose between wife and husband that was unlikely to lessen much over time.

Marriages, then, tended to be rather stormy affairs. Couples argued about a variety of things, including the fate of a newborn child or a wife's too frequent absences; marital arrangements for their children were often cause for serious conflict, especially if the husband wanted to use one of their daughters in an exchange for an additional wife for himself, thus depriving a son of a wife. Established wives resented a husband's attempts to acquire an additional wife and sometimes made it so difficult that the husband gave up the attempt. Divorce, especially before the birth of children, was not uncommon.

Few men achieved the ideal of eight or ten wives simultaneously, but many men did have multiple wives (11 out of 31 in Kinakatem in 1932). Cowives rarely cooperated with one another; usually their relationship was one of conflict and competition for their husband's time and resources, both for themselves and their children (especially sons). Men had favored wives, with whom they spent more time; sometimes these were the younger and more attractive women, but some men favored older and more productive wives. Cowives frequently fought verbally and insulted one another; occasionally the quarrels resulted in physical violence.

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