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January 16, 2009: Nigerian academic writes book on immigrant marriage in America

by Jeffrey Cottrill

LANSING, MI -- For centuries, people from around the world have immigrated to the United States in order to improve their lives and experience a level of personal freedom they may not have had in the old country. Many have gone on to have wonderful lives in America. But adapting to a new culture and lifestyle often poses problems, and sometimes, one of the most distressing casualties of the immigration experience is the loss of one's marital relationship.

Dr. Ernest Ndukwe, a Nigerian-American senior environmental-quality analyst at the Department of Environmental Quality in Michigan, has written a book about the frequent breakdowns in the marriages of African immigrants to the U.S. The book, Is Marriage Doomed in America?, explains the unique stresses and strains on immigrant marriages in America and offers advice to fellow married immigrants on how to prevent a divorce.

"I wrote it in an attempt to make people understand the reasons why two people who are from other countries come to the U.S. and then begin to grow apart," Dr. Ndukwe said of the book in a recent interview with Voice of America. "Immigrating to a new country... is very traumatic, and sometimes, marriages do not survive that trauma."

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Dr. Ndukwe, whose academic background includes geology and environmental studies, grew up in the Onitsha district in Anambra (a state in southeastern Nigeria) and immigrated to the United States in 1977. In 2005, he divorced his wife of six years; he has three daughters from the marriage and another from a previous relationship. Dr. Ndukwe said in the same interview that part of his motivation for writing the book was for his children to know the truth about their parents' divorce -- that it wasn't because he and their mother didn't love them.

According to Dr. Ndukwe, divorce has a strong stigma throughout Africa and is rare there. "Over there in Nigeria, and in many parts of Africa," he told VOA, "people will do just about anything possible to make sure that divorce doesn't happen." Family members, he explained, "lend support and do their best to mediate between the spouses." But in America, most married immigrants have no access to their extended families, making divorce "often inevitable".

The author, who lectures part-time at various universities, also pointed out that a divorce is far easier to obtain in the U.S. than in Africa, and that both spouses in immigrant marriages often have to work full-time in order to support themselves, which creates a lot of extra pressure.

Dr. Ndukwe researched the marital relationships of African immigrants across the U.S. and found that Nigerian immigrants had one of the highest divorce rates. He told VOA that his fellow countrymen "really mourn the loss of their culture and are really affected by it, and their marriages deteriorate".

Other reasons Dr. Ndukwe noted for the high rate of divorce among African immigrants in his book are the highly materialistic culture in America, and the difficulty of one or more spouses in a couple with adapting to the differences  between African and American marital norms.

"Thousands of books have been written about divorce," he said, "but during my research, I realized that very few have been written about the unique stresses and strains that the marriages of immigrants -- and especially Africans -- suffer when they settle in the United States."

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