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There’s no single formula to successful marriages

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Sometimes, wisdom comes from predecessors – those who went before, surveyed the land and brought back a report of what they found out. Three couples who have been married for over 25 years share their experiences.

Marriage is an institution that is a cocktail of bitter sweet experiences. While some have successfully navigated through the challenges of marriage to celebrate double-digit anniversaries, some marriages met their death in the turmoil of life.

While every marriage story and circumstance is different, are there some common factors in the unions that endure the test of time? We got three couples to speak to us about the ups, the downs, the joys and frustrations, the heaven and hell in the chambers of 'for better or worse'

'WE NEVER GO TO BED ANGRY AT EACH OTHER'

The Mulambas, married for 27 years, parents to three children

Margaret and Ken Mulamba have been married for 27 years (Photo: Courtesy)

Margaret Mulamba:

What has marriage taught you?

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Marriage works. That is the first testament I would like to give. That marriage works.

What is that one thing that made you almost walk away from your marriage?

I once had a heated argument with one of my in-laws in my husband’s presence. My husband remained mum. I felt so unprotected. I felt that my husband had an obligation to stand up for me. We’ve gone through a lot together but this… This hit a nerve so deep. Even though now, me and that particular in-law are in good terms, it took a lot for me to let go… to forgive.

What is the greatest lesson you have learnt over the years?

The things that seemed big in our initial years of marriage are no longer a big deal. I’ve learnt that communication is so important when it comes to making a marriage work.

What's one principle that works for your marriage?

Never let the sun go down on your anger. My husband and I never left the house in the morning while angry at each other. We always ensured we were on talking terms before we parted ways, no matter how heated our argument had been. We also avoided going to bed while giving each other the silent treatment.

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On finances…

Women want to feel protected. One of the ways they feel shielded is when their husbands take a lead in providing the needs of the family. When we got married, I soon realised that how I handled finances and how my husband handled money was very different. On this we had our differences but we have learnt to work on them with time. I’m a planner, I work with budgets. That was a new concept to my husband.

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Hardest season you went through and how you handled it

At some point, we went through a season of such plenty – we enjoyed the best that money could buy. That was followed by a season of such financial dryness that we at times did not know where the next meal would come from. As for me, I stayed because I made up my mind that when I said “I do” I actually did. For better, for worse we say…

Mr Ken Mulamba:

What is the secret to a lasting marriage according to you?

A wedding doesn’t guarantee a lasting marriage. It is not the key to love. Marriage is work. We are still working on it today… intentionally. Enjoy each other’s company and expect better days ahead. Never threaten each other with words like separation and divorce, for those words will eventually bear fruit. Also continually expect better days ahead, do not lower expectations because you feel that you have gotten old.

What is greatest lesson you’ve learnt so far?

I’ve learnt to focus on her strength. This keeps me appreciating her. I’ve learnt that truly my wife expects me to find solutions to problems, statements like, “I don’t know what to do” will only result in greater conflicts, so now I would rather say, “I’m working on it.” It makes my wife feel more secure.

If you were to go back in time, would you choose to be single or would you still opt for the married life?

Margaret and Ken Mulamba: I would choose the married life

John and Eunice Wahogo have been married for 36 years (Photo: David Gichuru/Standard)

'WE CONFIDE IN EACH OTHER AND INTENTIONALLY PLAN TOGETHER'

The Wahogos, married 36 years, parents of three children (one is deceased)

What do you wish you knew before you got married?

Eunice: I wish I knew that my husband had 10 siblings that he was helping educate. When we first started living together, my initial expectation was that I had reached the land of milk and honey. He was a civil servant at the time, which was a big deal because it meant he had a steady income. What I didn’t understand at the time was why there was not much development in his life despite having a well-paying job, I found out the hard way. Although my husband is a good man, this put a strain on our finances for a long time, I never struggled for basics like food, but there are numerous ways in which we could not develop because of this factor. If he told me from the onset, I would still have gotten married to him but my expectations would not have been as high as far as finances were concerned.

John: My wife worked as a school secretary when we met. After we got married, I asked her to quit so we could focus on farming. She agreed. Looking back now, that was a bad move as the farming project flopped. As for me, there were no ‘shockers’; there were no surprises from her when we moved in together.

What was the most challenging thing you had to go through as a couple?

John and Eunice: The loss of our last born son; he was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at the age of 10 and passed on at 21. This, however, brought us closer as a couple as we would confide in each other a lot. The hardest part was knowing there was no cure, no treatment, that there was nothing we could do to prolong his life.

What is the greatest lesson you have learnt in marriage?

John: Developing a culture of open communication from the very onset is key. Sharing deeply and seeking to understand each other.

In the initial stages of our marriage, we just went with the flow. We handled matters as they came. After about 20 years in marriage is when we began to intentionally plan together; decide on projects we would like to take on together and what it will take to get it off the ground. Before that, I would tell her something and she would execute, we wouldn’t deliberate over it together.

Eunice: I don’t argue with my husband; if he is upset about something and speaking in a raised voice. I keep quiet and wait until he calms down, I sit him down and tell him where he went wrong and take on the particular issue at hand. Sometimes my husband will come home and go on and on about an issue that he is not particularly happy about. I do not respond by shouting back or speaking in defence. I wait until he calms down then tell him, “I was not happy about the tone that you used to address me on this particular issue or even about how you went about handling it.” This has worked for me over the years as it has kept us from having heated arguments that could have escalated to bad fights. I come from a polygamous family and I saw how my father would beat two of his three wives. I wondered why the second one never got a whooping and after observing carefully, I realised she was the only one who never argued with my father. From that, I learnt one element of preventing violence in my own marriage.

How do you handle the issue of money as a couple?

John and Eunice: Money has always been ‘Our Money.’ It has never been a major source of arguments.

What would you say to a person not sure of what criteria to use to choose a good spouse?

Eunice: A good spouse is God-given. You might think you hit the jackpot (whether in the context of a man or woman) only to find out later that the person has so many secrets. Pray and trust God to lead you to the right person, only He knows the spouse best suited for the kind of destiny he has for you. Also, visit the person’s family, find out how they live, what prevalent behaviours or habits are there, how the person behaves around his or her family and around yours.

John: Be very observant when dating. Do not turn a blind eye on any behaviour that you know would make your life a living hell. If he makes a pass at your female friends, that should tell you something about his character.

If you were to go back in time, would you choose to be single or would you still opt for the married life?

Eunice: Sometimes when one is younger, the option of singlehood might look attractive because of the seeming ‘freedom’ and all the distractions that are sometimes available as one pursues a career. As one gets older, the story changes; without companionship and presence of family, life can feel very empty.

John: The married life is definitely the better option for me.

Ruth Ngunyi is a widow and a mother of four

'WORDS LIKE 'I'M SORRY' AND 'PLEASE' MEAN A LOT'

Ruth Ngunyi was married to the late Herbert Ngunyi for 36 years, parent of four children

What was the greatest conflict you had to deal with in marriage?

We had all our major fights when courting. They were so bad we broke up three times, but I’m glad we had them while dating because then we saw each other’s true colours in the two and a half years that we courted. I see a lot of young people avoiding major arguments while courting and forwarding those unresolved matters to a time after walking down the aisle, in my view this is wrong. Don’t put on a mask and remove it after getting married. Put everything on the table beforehand, communicate those things that displease you, see the worst in each other if possible, before you make the decision that is the person you want to spend the rest of your life with.

What was the greatest lesson you learnt in the course of your marriage?

Little courteous words go a long way in building a marriage. Words like, “I’m sorry, thank you, please” may sound small but they do a lot in creating harmony in a marriage.

She was married to Herbert Ngunyi for 36 years (Photo: Courtesy)

Handling financial conflict…

Plan. Plan. Plan. When it comes to money, if there is no prior agreement on how to spend it, fights will be inevitable. You don’t just wake up one day and inform your spouse you are going back to school. You need to sit down and discuss whether what you are both earning at the time is enough to sustain that decision and when would be the appropriate time to implement it. Avoiding the habit of impromptu spending, whether, on friends, family or self, especially with substantial amounts of money will go a long way in keeping arguments about money at bay.

How did you deal with the subject of in-laws?

This requires a lot of wisdom and understanding. I learnt earlier on in marriage the position that my mother-in-law had in the heart of my husband. As such, even when I felt like she was not being fair to me, I did all that was within my power to maintain peace. I would sometimes keep some nasty experiences I had to myself and not share with my husband. Now that I have daughters-in-law, I can say that I am reaping the rewards of the seeds I sowed. My daughters-in-law are wonderful.

If you were to go back in time, would you choose to be single or would you still opt for the married life?

Yes. Over and over again, I would choose the married life. I enjoyed the experience.

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The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Evewoman.co.ke

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