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Does distance damage relationships?

COMMITMENT: Some couples manage to stay together despite challenges

FOR MANY, it is the ultimate dream: boy meets girl, they fall in love and start planning a life of adventure together.

Figures show that 1.9 million people were issued visas to enter the UK in 2009 – 396,690 hail from African and Caribbean nations.

The promise of a better life is what motivates many couples to move to the West, but some relationships fail to survive the challenge of relocation.

This was the case for *Paula, 56, and her now ex-husband, Terrance, 52.

Paula, who is originally from St Catherine, Jamaica, met Terrance, while visiting family on the Caribbean island.
The pair quickly began a relationship and within seven months were married.

Paula wanted her husband to join her in south London, where she was living in a flat with her two children from a previous relationship.

Paula told The Voice that they “missed each other terribly” when she returned to the UK without Terrance, and would communicate regularly over the phone.

After a three-year wait, she managed to secure a visa for Terrance’s residency, but when he came to the UK their relationship turned sour almost immediately.

“He became paranoid and dominating,” she claims.

Terrance would often have random outbursts and tried to control her every move, she says. And things eventually turned violent.

“He would [physically] assault me”, says Paula.

“I was actually bruised and bloody.”

She added: “I think he thought he owned me and suddenly had all this power because he was here.”

Paula started to feel that her decision to bring Terrance to the UK was “the biggest mistake I had ever made.”

Outside of his comfort zone, she believes insecurity drove him to become an entirely different person.

Two children later, and after years of abuse, Paula said: “For the kids’ sake I had to get out of the hell I was living in. He became a living monster.”

But a move to the West does not always spell disaster for couples. Kingsley and Matilda, from east London, married six months after meeting. When Kingsley, now 59, came to the UK, he left his wife behind with their three young children in Ghana.

The couple, who had been married for seven years before Kingsley’s decision to move to the UK for “greener pastures,” lived apart for six years while he worked on setting up a home and organising visas for the family.
Initially, Matilda was reluctant to make the move to England, but did so for her husband’s sake.

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“I didn’t want to come here but my husband wanted to come… you have to follow your husband and keep your family together,” she said.

The 55-year-old said she coped well with the time apart because their children kept her busy, along with her dressmaking business.

“It was very difficult to get over here,” she said. She revealed that local men tried to take advantage of the fact that she wanted to go to the UK to be with her husband, by offering her conditional support in obtaining a visa.

“They would say, ‘I can get you a visa, be my girlfriend’, or ‘let’s go out’, and if you’re not strong you’ll end up falling for it.

“I wasn’t interested. I was really busy taking care of my kids and my work,” she said.

Matilda also faced negative attitudes from her female friends, who told her “‘you can’t trust men, I’m sure he has another woman’”.


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But she was confident that the bond she shared with Kingsley was strong. “I know my husband; he would never do that.”

The couple have now been married for 26 years.

She said that they achieved this through frequent communication at least once a week when they were apart.

Matilda said when the family finally reunited “things did not change at all.” In fact, she says they became closer and their relationship was stronger than ever.

Although she has no regrets about moving to the UK, Matilda believes she would have been able to achieve success in Ghana just like her friends who are now also nurses back home.

“l love Britain,” she says. But adds, “I miss home.”

Kingsley told The Voice that having his family back together was “a morale booster” after frustrating years apart.

He said there were no problems when they reunited, stating that “things changed for the better.”

Emmanuel Sarpong Owusu-Ansah, lecturer and author of Fourth Phase of Enslavement: Unveiling the Plight of African immigrants in the West, says less than 50 percent of couples defy the odds by successfully continuing relationships after reuniting like Kingsley and Matilda.

His research found that more than half of marriages and relationships collapse shortly after couples reunite in western countries.

He said many ended up “regretting” ever embarking on the journey to the West.

“Many have cursed and continue to curse that they made up their minds to bring their partners over,” he added.

According to Sarpong Owusu-Ansah, some of the reasons for this were men becoming domineering, domestic violence, women holding on to traditional values such as relying on the male to handle all the finances, infidelity and negative advice from family and new friends that have become westernised after moving from Africa or the Caribbean.

“Western Afro-Caribbeans have a considerable influence on newcomers [female partners]”.

“The influence is not always negative,” he added.

Faith-based institutions said that couples can work through any period of absence with prayer, faith in God, and a substantial amount of time dedicated to communication.

Pastor Hilary Dalziel of Kings Church, who hosts marriage courses in Catford, south London, said: “It’s hard to see how being apart for long periods can be good.”

“[Being away] may well be undermining to a marriage,” she added.

“If it must be done… being in daily contact so that the ordinary events and changes of life are shared – using technology like Skype can help with this… Communication is vital; open, honest and continual.

“Each of the partners must start by recognising that both of them are making a sacrifice to make it work,” she added.

* Names have been changed.

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