By Gel Santos Relos
“For better, for worse…” a solemn vow of undying love and total commitment professed by a man and a woman in marriage. Pero uso pa ba ang martyr ngayon??? What happens when it is only the woman who lives up to this vow---when the husband does not work to provide for the family, when he stops being caring and affectionate to his wife, when he lies to and cheats on her, and worst, when he becomes abusive physically, emotionally and psychologically? Until when will and should a woman stand by her man?
It seems that women are physiologically "wired" to protect their brood, their family-- children and husbands included. A woman releases those hormones called "oxytocin" upon orgasm in her most intimate contact with her man (men do release oxytocin but not as much as women). This is also the same hormone she secretes when she gives birth to her baby. Oxytocin makes a woman bond and be attached to her mate...it is also responsible for a woman's maternal instinct to take care of and protect her baby---it even triggers the production of milk to feed her offspring. This is why in most cases, it is the woman that is the caring and nurturing parent...and why, generally, it seems harder for a woman to break the marriage and tear the family apart.
The woman is also “wired” by the expectations of society, especially in the Philippines, to be the beacon of light, “ilaw ng tahanan”, the paragon of the virtues of patience, of over-extending herself just to help family members, of putting the needs and happiness of her family before hers, of forgiveness, of martyrdom even to a fault. She is raised in a culture that glorifies male machismo that expects the wife to turn to her faith to strengthen her when her husband goes astray. “Sa hinaba-haba man daw ng prosisyon, sa simbahan din ang tuloy”---which can be interpreted as the woman just having to let her husband be just because he is a man. What is important is that she is the legal wife, he provides for the needs of the family, he comes home to her, and even if he doesn’t-- yet, someday he will—when he is old and weak and sick, he will come back to die in her arms.
Some women stand by their man because they are psychologically and emotionally afraid to be alone, while many depend on their husbands financially just to survive. Some have to stay to keep their medical insurance coverage, or to hold on to the chance of having a green card and legalize their status in the United States. Most women stay for their children--- thinking they will be better, more stable and decent people if they do not grow up in a broken home. Other women endure the pain and the hardship because they fear for their lives and for the safety of their children from the hands of their own husbands if they even try to leave. In desperation, they believe they are left with no other options but to stay.
There are also women who keep their marriage for utilitarian reasons---“You use me, I use you, so let us play this charade”. They stay because they want to continue enjoying the convenience, luxury, and social stature they have gone accustomed to. Some go as far as having their own romantic or sexual affairs—but hey, they think---at least their marriage is intact!
But then, there are women who stand by their men because they love their husband so much---sinner or saint---and believe in the miracle of redemption. Some can look at their husband and see him beyond his fault and imperfection, remembering and focusing on what is good about him, rationalizing he is but human and that someday he will find the light. Still, many women hold on to their marriage because they made a solemn vow to God to keep
the marriage, for better for worse, in sickness and in health, ‘til death do them part. Many women, especially Filipina wives, consider their marriage as their vocation, and that no matter how difficult life with their husbands may be, they have made the commitment to stay, and this is a sacrifice they offer up to God.
Other women have actually built a good friendship and partnership with their husbands through the years, and so even if their relationship has failed on the romantic man-woman level, they still have their friendship to keep them together. Remember the celebrated case here in America of the wife who in middle age, had her husband come out of the closet? She did not divorce him, still lives with him in the same house, raises their kids with him, and has fully accepted her husband for the person he has become even if he chose to have a sex change operation. She may have lost her man but she still keeps her very best friend. Their kids may have lost their Dad but are now loved and cared for by “two Moms”.
But not all women are like Hillary Clinton, Loi Ejercito or Lannie Mercado who stand by their man no matter what. Some, like Elizabeth Edwards, Jenny Sanford, Dina Bonnevie, and Senator Pia Cayetano, left their husbands. All of them have their own reasons. Each of them has her own story. But that will be for my next blog…