My husband's family is denying him a traditional marriage

Question:

I have been having this dilemma and do not know how else to proceed. My fiancé and I had a civil marriage with the consent of both parents. A year later we were to have a traditional wedding (as I am African) and then a church ceremony. Long story short, my fiancé's parents withdrew their support from the traditional and church ceremonies. Their reasons:

  • I am never smiling or enthusiastic (Mind you, I have seen the parents a maximum of one week)
  • That my fiancé's mother and aunt bought and sent me money, and I never told any of his family (Again, my fiancé was aware, as I told him and asked he thank them on my behalf also)
  • That I do not relate with his family (His family live in a different country from me. His mother and I communicate with each other at least once a week. His aunt, on the other hand, has never communicated with me unless I do so first. His sister and I communicated with each other one time. She never responded. My only message from her was about six months later asking for a favor. I asked her to go right ahead, again she read my reply, and I never heard from her again).

My fiancé's other aunts said they don't know me and since I am the quiet type, he needs to be careful with me. They also asked why were we rushing to get married. That people date five or six years before marriage. (Mind you, when his cousins were getting married, his mum was not in communication with their spouses, so why that became an issue in my fiancé's case, I don't know).

So the issue: my parents say there can't be a wedding (traditional and church ceremony) if his parents aren't involved (which my fiancÚ and I have come to terms might never happen). My fiancé is ready to fulfill the traditional requirements; however, traditionally it's done with the parents or elderly uncles. Now his uncles were willing to step in, but his parents informed them not to and told other family members not to attend or support him. His parents have even asked him about filing divorce papers from the civil marriage a year back, against both our wishes. It breaks my heart to see his family do this to him because he is such a selfless person and goes out of his way to please people. And now that he needs them, they turn their backs. I believe his parents reasons and mere prejudices are not biblically based. Now we don't know how to proceed with the traditional and church ceremonies. Do we stay married or divorce on his parents' instruction as they are unwilling to support their son's marriage?

We appreciate your advice.


Answer:

"Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24).

He is not your fiancé. He is your husband because you did have a civil marriage. That marriage is valid, regardless of what additional ceremonies do or do not take place. His own parents acknowledge the validity of your marriage when they badly suggest that he get a divorce. You can't divorce someone to whom you are not married.

It is nice that you and your husband wish to follow the traditions of your country and have both a traditional wedding and a religious wedding, but these are merely man-made traditions are not required to make a marriage. I would suggest that your husband tell his family that he is willing to have a traditional wedding, but if his family does not want to be a part of his life and his children's lives, then he appreciates their raising of him, but he is moving on with his life without them. I know this is hard in a culture strongly wrapped up in family ties, but his family is trying to destroy his marriage -- something they have no rights or say in the matter. It is better to cut out the toxic elements than to let them continue to cause harm.

By the laws of Christ, which trump his parents' wishes, you and your husband are not allowed to divorce. "But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife" (I Corinthians 7:10-11).

I suspect that they will cave because they want control over your husband's life and your children. It will take a while before they realize they don't have control, but it won't stop them from trying. If they stick to refusing the weddings, then it merely proves they have lost control because his life will go on without them.

Thank you so very much for your words of encouragement, they truly were uplifting.

You are right in that, regardless of any other additional ceremonies, the civil marriage is valid and acceptable by law. However my parents do not see it that way. In Africa, it's a bit tricky. If a traditional ceremony is done without a religious one, they do not recognize the couple as 'married' and vice versa. They believe also, a religious ceremony must be in a church; otherwise, it's not God ordained, regardless whether a minister officiates it. People need to broaden their perspectives, but unfortunately, most parents in Africa are stuck on tradition that complicates issues. Now that's the stand my parents hold and do not term us as 'married' because tradition has not been done. By tradition, I mean the husband fulfilling a list of requirements (a monetary dowry and other items). This he is willing to do by bringing friends, but my parents refuse because it's 'traditionally' done with the husband's parents and relatives.

I fully agree that these traditions are man-made and over time have been 'modernized' as society grows. I must say though, I feel sad that his family are turning him against them. He has told his parents his stand and that's what angers them, especially his mother. She is doing everything within her power to make sure the traditional and religious ceremonies do not take place. I feel they are not approaching this from the biblical point.

Again, thank you so much for taking time to reply this. I really need this.

It needs to be remembered that traditions never usurp God and His laws. "Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, "Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread." He answered and said to them, "Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, 'Honor your father and your mother'; and, 'He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.' But you say, 'Whoever says to his father or mother, "Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God" -- 'then he need not honor his father or mother.' Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 'These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men'"" (Matthew 15:1-9).

It is God who joins a man and woman in marriage. "And He answered and said to them, "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' "and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate" (Matthew 19:4-6). It is this last statement that your husband's parents, and indirectly your own parents, are violating. Despite the claim of wanting a religious ceremony, they actively working against God's teachings by not acknowledging that you are married. Nothing is said about a church building because it has no significance. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a marriage in the Bible taking placed in a place of worship. Nor is there a requirement that a religious leader conduct a wedding ceremony.

What both parents are doing is using tradition as a club to control the lives of their children into adulthood. I'm sorry you are going through this, but stick with the truth in God's Word. If traditions can be accommodated without breaking God's teachings, then do so.