Hardships can Strengthen Marriage

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James Okumu, 41, and his wife Maureen Wanjiku, 42, have been married for 15 years. Despite growing up in the same neighbourhood and even attending the same primary school at some point, they only got to know each other in college. Their marriage has been a myriad of tests, which have left them better soul mates. They walk FAITH MURIGU down their journey of marriage.

James Okumu was born in California Estate in Nairobi but his family relocated to Buru Buru when he was four years old. The sixth born in a family of nine siblings, James recalls enjoying great company while growing up from his many siblings. His parents ensured they lived a comfortable life. Maureen on the other hand grew up in a polygamous family. Her father, a teacher, worked at the Kenya Institute of Education in Nairobi while her mother worked with the government press in Nairobi.

Okumu: While I was in class seven, my father, who was my greatest mentor lost his job and relocated to Western Kenya to try his hand in business. He lives there up to this day.

Maureen: Although ours was a polygamous family, we grew up in unity and love. Sadly, my mother passed on in 1988 marking the darkest moment in my life. I took over many responsibilities in the house including taking care of my younger siblings who were in school. My father later remarried.

Paths crossing…

Okumu: While in high school at Jamhuri High School, I became a born-again Christian at a gospel crusade at Uhuru Park in 1998. Consequently, I joined the Jamhuri High School Christian union and became a devout Christian. For some reason, by the time I got to form four I lost interest in the Christian life. After high school, I lived with my brother in Thika who got me a casual job with British American Tobacco in Thika. I worked there for a year then enrolled for a graphic designer course at the Kenya Polytechnic College now the Kenya Polytechnic University College.

Maureen: I wanted to work as an airhostess but dad wanted me to pursue graphic design at the Kenya Polytechnic College. That’s how I ended up being classmates with Okumu in College. I found him smart, well built and a pleasant person, thoughts that I confided in my sister.

Okumu: When I first noticed Maureen, my heart took a leap. There was something unusual about her that made me attracted to her. She looked so innocent and I resolved to make her my girlfriend. Maureen became my desk mate and I took the opportunity to ask her out on a date. Being shy, Maureen appeared shocked by my boldness but with time she warmed up to my charm and we became the best of friends. One day during our conversation, Maureen talked about her brothers and I realised I knew them from primary and high school. This new revelation made us want to know each other deeply, which further enhanced our blossoming relationship.

Getting to know each other…

Okumu: Although I respected my mother’s opinion, I never took her advice on relationships seriously. All the same, she encouraged us to be open about any relationship we were in for accountability purposes. It was therefore no surprise that mum got to know about Maureen because I spent a lot of time with her. I was not very dedicated in my schoolwork and this rubbed off on Maureen. We almost missed our graduation because we were late to submit our final project. Love had consumed us. Luckily, we worked on the project tirelessly for two weeks and finally submitted it just in the nick of time.

Maureen: We spent most of our time talking about our aspirations. Our friendship grew deeper by the day and I was at peace with Okumu because he appreciated me for who I was. All the same, we had challenges, as is typical with any relationship. One of Okumu’s ex-girlfriends was especially a thorn in the flesh. I constantly warned him about giving her attention because I felt it was a violation to our relationship.

Okumu:  After graduating from college, Maureen got a job in town but the pay was little. I was not lucky in my job search and so when I gave up looking, I requested her to leave her job and together we started a business. We designed cards, T-shirts and bookmarks for sale targeting churches as a major market. Mum allowed us to use her house as our office. The business picked up with time. It was also around this time that I rededicated my life to God.

Maureen: It was good news to hear that Okumu had rededicated his life to God. Being a Christian who had also backslided, I hoped that one day I would feel the conviction to return to salvation. It happened several months later.

No proposal…

Okumu: Maureen sought to know the direction our relationship was taking. I was still staying in my parents’ house and she felt that I needed to move out. Maureen found a house for me, paid rent and furnished it with basics. She was further proof about how serious she was about our relationship. I purposed to stay alone for a year before marriage, which she supported.

Months later, I moved to a cheaper mabati structure house in Waithaka on the outskirts of Nairobi since business wasn’t doing well and I couldn’t afford to pay rent for the house Maureen had found for me. Maureen also rented a house not far from where I lived so we could continue our business with ease. We tried several businesses- making mandazis for sale, selling juice and second-hand clothes. Despite our financial constraints, we still went ahead to plan our wedding for December 2007. I did not propose to Maureen because our relationship had taken its course and we were both ready for marriage.

Maureen: When we started planning the wedding, we did not have money and most of our friends in our wedding committee were also jobless. So we kept it simple.

Okumu: I shopped for my wedding outfit at Gikomba market. It cost me Ksh1000. A month to the wedding, my best man pulled out necessitating a quick replacement. Then came drama on the wedding day – the bride was late to church due to logistical problems and arrived at 4pm while her bridesmaids showed shortly thereafter.

A neighbour gave me a lift to my wedding when he found me stranded at the bus terminus waiting to board a matatu to my wedding. The wedding began at 5pm but the drama was not yet over. Just as the bride was marching in, lights went out. Additionally, our videographer never turned up for the wedding and neither did my father, as he was busy holding campaign rallies in Western Kenya for his election as Member of Parliament in the 2007 general elections. All the same, we purposed to enjoy the day.

Maureen: After our dramatic wedding, we had no money for honeymoon. However a friend was kind enough to leave us her house in Mombasa where we stayed for one week. Our marriage life began in the mabati house that Okumu lived in as a bachelor. It was challenging paying rent and finally the landlord wanted us out of his property.

Okumu: When going through all these challenges, we discovered that my wife was expectant. We needed God to intervene in our lives. Luckily, I got an order to design posters for a missionary who was organising a crusade in Kibera. He paid me upfront and we were able to pay the rent arrears and move to another house.

Later, a neighbour recommended me for an interview with Family FM as a radio presenter, which I miraculously secured. In the same year, 1999, my wife gave birth to our first child, Daryll. I worked for eight months before joining full time ministry as a pastor. I then returned to radio at Hope FM in 2008. I worked there until early this year, when I left to be a full time pastor.

Learning how to cope…

Okumu: I am outgoing and a people person while my wife is quite reserved. On the other hand, she is good in the hospitality industry and has been in the catering business for a while. Our differences compliment each other.

Maureen: We have three children, two boys – Daryll and Jesse and a girl, Esther. In the early days, Daryll was asthmatic and it would get severe at times. He needed round the clock attention, which I offered. Conceiving our second child wasn’t easy. We visited several doctors and even sought prayers from a close friend and pastor. We were thrilled when I became pregnant.

Okumu: We went through tough financial struggles and we relocated to my parents’ house in Buru Buru. My mother was then working in Kericho and my dad was in Western Kenya, so only my youngest brother lived there.

Maureen: Living with my brother in law, a teenager, was difficult. His values and ours were different and we had conflicts. Having a young family to raise, we felt that the kind of music he listened to and the movies he watched were not fit for them. Things got terrible warranting the intervention of my mother-in-law. Finally, he moved out. Another challenge was the unannounced visits from relatives from upcountry, which was annoying but we learnt to cope.

Dealing with conflicts…

Okumu: When we got our first child, my wife had complications, which affected our sex life, leaving me feeling sexually deprived. I thought my wife was paying more attention to the baby at my expense and it took dialogue to iron out these issues. Slowly we began rebuilding the sparkle in our relationship. My wife is short-tempered but we are learning how to solve deep issues and still remain friends.

Maureen: I prefer to resolve issues as soon as they arise. By God’s grace we are able to control flare-ups, cut all manner of pride and deal with issues cordially. Its true marriage works but it takes a lot of hard work. Of importance is that when we are resolving issues, we do so in respectful ways. To be successful in a relationship, you sometimes need to behave differently from how you feel.

Okumu: Every couple must identify what works for them in conflict resolution because if you copy someone else’s style in your marriage, you will end up frustrated. Conflicts are a sign that a marriage is healthy.

Maureen: I like having open and candid conversations with my husband. When he is wrong, I let him know and he also does the same to me. For instance, his nature of work causes him to meet many people and he has to define his boundaries to avoid getting into temptations.

Okumu: Having been a radio host for many years, I have many fans that sometimes call me for guidance. My wife always cautions me to tread carefully with them since one can’t be too sure of another person’s intentions. However, I am committed to our marriage and open with my wife. For instance, I have seen the importance of making her aware of some secret admirers I have to avoid misunderstanding.

I strive to be home early to spend time with Maureen and she knows me at my best and worst yet she has stood by me all this while. Although I am not perfect, I endeavour to be a good husband and father. My first priority is my relationship with God, then my family followed by ministry.

Maureen: Raising children is challenging. Currently we have a teenager and sometimes it can get tricky. However, we teach our children what is right and leave them to make choices.

 Our  secret weapon…

Okumu: For the success of our marriage, we constantly try to find what makes each one of us happy and we strive to give it. This has caused our relationship to flourish despite challenges.

Maureen: We like working together on projects and businesses and Okumu helps me a lot in my catering business. We also do household chores together when time allows and this helps us to stay bonded.

Okumu: We communicate openly and constantly because a successful marriage is based on good communication skills. We also spend a lot of time together having purposed from the beginning of our marriage to spend quality time together frequently to build our relationship.

Maureen: We like to be in agreement before embarking on any project. People in happy marriages never do important things without an agreement between the spouses. By God’s grace we try to balance the feelings and interests of both of us when making decisions, after all compromise is key in marriage.

Published on July 2013

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