An abusive relationship pushed Stella Mutahi, a middle-aged woman, to marry her former husband’s biological brother.
In a July 22 interview with BBC Swahili’s Anne Ngugi, Stella, who has been in three marriages, reveals that her third and the last union was the “most peaceful and fulfilling of them all”.
Her first marriage, which she entered into while still a student at a hospitality and catering college in Kikuyu, Kiambu County in the mid-90s, ended in the late 90s, yielding a child. The mother-of-four claimed her spouse was violent and had temperament problems.
In 1998, Stella met and fell in love with her second her husband, a man she had known from her childhood days.
The two moved in together in 1999.
The second marriage, which she says was also riddled with domestic abuse, yielded three daughters.
“My husband was erratic. He would wake up in the morning while okay and charming, but in the evening he would turn violent,” said Stella.
According to the mother-of-four, her then-husband blamed his penchant for violence on women, whom he accused of “ruining his life”.
“When I would ask him which women was he talking about, and how they ruined his life, he would not respond,” said Stella.
So violent was her spouse that it affected Stella’s mental health, and that of the children.
“When he returned home every evening, the children would run to their rooms to hide.”
Stella says her partner was also financially irresponsible.
Her tenth year in marriage, marked her transition point.
“It was so bad that I remember developing suicidal ideation. I would walk in the middle of the road so that I could get knocked by a vehicle. I wanted to even get injured on my feet so that my hospital admission could save me from going back home,” she said.
One day, in her tenth year of marriage, she took her children to her cousin’s place, and vowed not to return to her matrimonial home.
One month later, Stella called her husband to inform him that the children needed school fees and school uniform.
She, thereafter, planned to go meet him at their house.
“When I went to the house, I found my husband had moved out. He had only left behind my clothes and those of the children.”
While collecting the clothes her spouse had left behind, Stella chanced upon a baptism card, which indicated her husband had married another woman.
She said that marked the end of her marriage and communication with her husband. It was in 2009.
Her brother-in-law, who had witnessed Stella and her children being subjected to mistreatment, thereafter, began regularly checking on Stella and the kids.
At the time, Stella had rented a small house in Nairobi.
“He (brother-in-law) was so close to my children. Actually, the kids knew him as the uncle who loved them unconditionally. At the time, he was helping me as his sister-in-law and the uncle to my children; there was no romantic affair between us,” she said.
One day, Stella was kicked out of her rented house over unpaid arrears, and her brother-in-law offered to house her and the children.
According to Stella, her brother-in-law’s wife and their children had moved out following unending family dispute.
She narrated that she had never experienced a peace of mind like she did while under the roof of her brother-in-law.
“Too much fondness yields undesired outcome at times. While living in my brother-in-law’s house, he and I started a romantic affair. At the beginning, the relationship was a secret between him and I. I knew too well that the decision I had made [to get into an affair with my husband’s brother] was not a good one, but I couldn’t resist him (brother-in-law). He was loving and caring.”
After a while, people came to know about Stella’s new relationship.
“I came to know that our relationship had attracted criticism from different people. I also came to learn that my children did not approve of my affair with their uncle. However, I had made a decision, and did not want anyone to advise me otherwise. My previous marriages were full of violence and this new man in my life showered me with love and care. I couldn’t resist him.”
Stella’s mother-in-law (the mother of brothers she had gotten into unions with) had, on several occasions, summoned her to address the “problem at hand”, but she refused to honour the summons.
Her second husband came to know of Stella’s new relationship with his brother.
“He (former husband) would text or call to insult me daily on phone,” she said, adding: “I had to file a report at a police station for him to stop abusing me.”
So peaceful was her marriage that Stella came to realise her talent in safari rallying. She was a co-driver, who took part in various races in Kenya across three years, she revealed.
After taking a moment to look back at her life, Stella said she had to bring to an end her relationship with her third husband because “it wasn’t founded on moral grounds”.
“I felt like I had lost the moral standing to advise my daughters on good or bad relationships.”
After nine years of marriage to her third husband, Stella broke the news — that she wanted the relationship brought to an end.
“I told him I wanted to end the affair because I had brought so much conflict in his family, and that our relationship painted a bad picture to my children and his children. My husband accepted, though with so much difficulty.
“My children never recognised my third husband as their dad despite him taking up all the fatherly duties. Their relationship was strained, though they respected him a lot. Throughout my nine-year marriage to my third husband, the children constantly referred to him as ‘uncle’,” said Stella.
In 2018, she walked out of the union to start all over again, but this time around, with her children only.
“It was a painful decision that I had to make. My conscience couldn’t allow me to continue living with my brother-in-law as my husband,” she said.
Stella says she has chosen to come out publicly to seek forgiveness from the wife of her brother-in-law-turned husband.
She is now a crusader for healthy marriages.