A. Conflict Management / Tolerance Level
Conflict was defined as dispute between parties – where communication breaks down or is not effectively channeled. It was noted that couples failed to realise that the ways in which matters are handled in Africa, with access to domestic staff tasked with different chores, cannot generally be replicated in the Diaspora, except for a few lucky ones with enormous wealth who can afford domestic staff. In the Western world, most people would have to do almost everything by themselves. There was the unanimous belief that not changing the mindset would lead an African man living in the Western world to make several seemingly unreasonable demands on the woman – a situation which evidently would lead to irreconcilable differences. Another perspective was that if personal conflicts (as the mind has different facets of which emotion is one) have not been appropriately resolved, such unresolved issues would ultimately have negative impact on the relationship.
It was observed that the African culture is gradually being eroded by the Western culture. In the African culture, the involvement of both families provides an avenue for conflict resolution, where the ‘head of the family’ of either party would be consulted for advice and adjudication. The Jewish and Asian communities were cited as examples of cultures where, irrespective of their place of residence, try to maintain their sense of cultural identity and community spirit. A significant point highlighted was the fact that Africans who seek advice from Pastors, fail to realise that the Biblical principles quoted in resolving disputes were based on the Jewish culture – in which some aspects were irrelevant to the African culture.
B. Anger Management
Anger was said to be the pinnacle of one’s emotion. To avoid a situation where one loses control, the other party in the relationship must endeavour to know the tell-tale signs. Furthermore, the angry person must be aware when he or she was about to lose control. It was affirmed that couples should know how to complement each other – their likes and dislikes, personalities in terms of one being an extrovert and the other probably, an introvert. Therefore, it is imperative to strike a balance in order to ensure that the relationship works. There was the general belief that the best approach to deal with anger was to remain calm and ‘talk to one’s inner self’.
C. Coping with Loneliness within and outside a Relationship
Learning to live with loneliness was said to be crucial to one’s mental state of mind. Women are believed to struggle with this aspect, even whilst in a relationship. In a marriage, some women are said to be ‘business widows’ where the husbands are always away from home on business trips, leaving their wives for lengthy periods of time. The wives, especially the homely type, could find it extremely difficult to cope with the demands of maintaining a family by themselves (even when money was not a problem). Ironically, few men were said to be ‘business widowers’ as they married women who were top professionals whose job responsibilities involved a lot of travelling, leaving the husbands to take care of the home.
Another dimension was that even though some people were alone, they were not lonely, as they enjoyed their solitude. An individual must be able to ascertain their individuality – a state of ‘finding oneself’. Some people were said to seek company of others because they are not at peace with themselves. It was expressed that having a companion was not a guarantee for lifelong happiness, unless both parties were able to add value to each other’s life. Otherwise, one party would be seen as a parasite or liability.
Suggested ways of coping with loneliness –
· Networking – attending relevant functions, parties, etc. so as to meet people;
· Be active, volunteer for different charities;
· Perform physical and mental exercises – go to the gym, read motivational books;
· Get involved in local community projects;
· Go on holiday;
· Fulfil a passion such as writing, studying, painting, photography, etc.;
· Join a social network (for all the right reasons);
· Recreate – do something else. Avoid boredom or routine living.
D. Warning Signals / Signs of Cry for help
Based on his professional experiences, the Psychiatrist advised that warning signals should be taken seriously to prevent someone from committing suicide. He also suggested that people should be tactful when giving advice to those going through a traumatic period. He recommended that one should be mindful of negative words such as ‘come on, get on with it’, ‘you are not the only one’, ‘pull yourself together’. These words were said to be judgmental and depict the addressee as a ‘weakling’ who could not cope with the pressures of life. He emphasised the need to empathise with people and endeavour to seek help on their behalf.
He further explained that when an individual use words like ‘what is the point in living?’, ‘I am fed up with everything!’, ‘why is it only me going through these problems?’, ‘I need to sort my life out now’, I can’t go on’, any interested party should not just listen, but act quickly as the individual under stress could be heading for a total mental breakdown, or worse, suicide.
Examples of Warning signs:
· Self-neglect (unkempt appearance);
· Constant crying or tearfulness;
· Poor concentration;
· Excessive drinking or eating;
· Diminished / excessive sleep;
· Physical tell tale signs (e.g. black eyes);
· Feeling melancholic all the time (hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness);
· ‘Anhedonia’ – reduced ability/complete inability to enjoy things or experience pleasure, particularly as regards activities that an individual previously enjoyed;
· Fluctuation in eating habits;
· Craving for sugary drinks;
E. Moving On
‘Moving on’ was said to be a cliché - an expression which could easily be misconstrued. In Relationship Part 1, ‘Moving on’ was defined as change in life-style (e.g. becoming more outgoing), location, career, change of wardrobe & hairstyle, and possibly, re-marriage.
A guest, having been married four times, unequivocally stated that the most important aspect was to find out exactly what an individual was ‘moving on’ from? He emphasised that without self-analysis and a real understanding of the cause of the unpleasant episode, the individual might just have implemented a superficial and temporary measure. The psychological aspect, which is the mindset, would have to change so as not to repeat the mistake of the past. An expert on Female Mutilation Genitalia (FMG) declared that it was a therapeutic exercise to want to change or explore other areas of one’s life which might have been dormant.
F. Basis of a Good Relationship
· Shared goal and agreement of what the relationship is about, in order to guard against false or unrealistic expectations;
· Couple to know themselves (the enabling objective of coming together in the first place);
· Not taking each other for granted;
· Mutual trust and respect;
· Effective communication - no assumption of each other’s feelings or misconception of what was, or should have been, said.
G. Support Groups
It was the general belief that majority of the Support Groups based in the United Kingdom are not equipped to address matters specific to the Africans in Diaspora. Some Support Groups have since realised this deficiency and a representative from the Relate North West London Counselling Service specifically stated that they were currently in the process of revising their approach in order to accommodate aspects of the African culture, with a view to providing the appropriate service to the African ethnic communities.
Useful Support Groups:
· Family members (elderly role models usually respected by all);
· Trusted Friends;
· Local Faith Groups (Church, Mosque etc.) – without being judgemental and properly trained in Counselling;
· Heart 2 Heart*.
*amongst numerous Professional Support Groups based in the United Kingdom
The internet was said to be a good source of information on several Support Groups focused on specific areas of relationships.
Points to Note:
· Effective communication is paramount in any relationship.
· Mindset needs to be reviewed as life is dynamic.
· Parties in the relationship should be prepared to adapt and be proactive in sustaining the relationship.
· Avoid any threat of violence.
· African Diaspora couples should learn how to manage the African and Western cultures effectively.
· Do not take each other for granted, and work to understand your partner better.
· When issues arise, it is best to deal with it decisively, immediately, and amicably.
· Learn to control your anger and know your tolerance level.
· Be engaged in hobbies of interest to you.
· Find your own happiness within and outside of a relationship.
· Be patient with your partner in any conflict situation, and work to understand his or her views.
· Before committing to a relationship, it is imperative to understand your partner enough to feel that the relationship has a good chance of success.
· Changing aspects of one’s life must have a valid reason and be mutually beneficial.
· A cry for help should not be seen as a weakness. Different people with different thresholds.
· Do not be judgmental about people’s challenges. Empathise and do not criticise.
· Endeavour to discuss problems with trusted friends, family members and external Support Groups.
· Do not let mistakes of the past overwhelm you; use them as lessons learned in ‘moving on’.
· Know the reason for ‘moving on’ and remain focused on achieving your objectives.
· Be honest with yourself and know what you want out of life.