RICHARD AND JANET CHOGO It’s never too late to work on your marriage

Pastor Richard Chogo and his wife Janet Rahadia, a counselling psychologist, a couple always in the spotlight and who many expect to be perfect say surviving the first half of their 16-year marriage was nothing short of a miracle. The couple, who are in their, 40’s share the lessons learnt from their mistakes and how they found their footing with ESTHER AKELLO.

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How long had you known each other before you got married?

Richard: My dad and her mum were workmates and we lived in the same neighbourhood. We would thus meet often. Once in a while, she would be sent over with some traditional vegetables which my dad loved but my sisters were too busy to prepare. But by then, we were just good friends.

Janet: We lost touch with each other after we both lost our guardians and moved to different neighbourhoods. We bumped into each other again in 1997 at a time I was looking to move from where I lived. When I told him, he offered to help me find one in the estate where he lived. We renewed our friendship but this time not as ‘just’ good friends but romantically involved. He proposed to me in 1998.

Sounds like everything worked out then?

Richard: (Laughing) Not really. I did not even realise just how deep I was in her ‘friend zone’, until she rejected my proposal saying that she only loved me like a brother. I used to visit her thrice a week because she made awesome chapatis but after the rejection stayed away for four months!

Janet: (Emphatically) Which was fine by me. We were family friends and we just couldn’t cross that line. As far as I was concerned, the message was home.

The more you speak Richard, the more the concept of good food keeps coming up! Was it a requirement that your future wife had to be a great cook?

Richard: (Laughing) I must admit food is a critical factor though in hindsight, I never voiced it out.

Janet: He used to come to our house and stay well past supper. It got so bad his dad banned him from visiting us!

You spoke of ‘not crossing the line’. You are now in your sixteenth year of crossing it! What changed?

Richard: I upped my game. I thought the reason she rejected me was because she did not believe in my ability to look after her. I had just resigned from my job and joined a Bible college. I had a stipend but nothing to write home about. I asked my boys to pray for me as I embarked on wooing her properly, taking her out and so on. I think I impressed her!

Janet: True. I did not believe he could look after me. My ideal husband was a someone with a guaranteed income. After watching my mom struggle to raise me singlehandedly, I needed financial stability. There was even a serious contender but somewhere along the way he lost the plot and I revisited Richard’s proposal. The fact that we had a history and he was saved, combined with all the wooing, finally mellowed me and I said yes. It did take a while though for it to sink in that I had married a pastor.

How did you cope with Richard’s unstable income as a pastor?

Richard: It was hard and it took a toll on my self-esteem. I had been optimistic that the church I was pastoring would grow fast and exponentially! Several months, a year, two years into the marriage and we realised it was not working out as planned. At some point I thought I would get ulcers because of the pressure to provide for my family. She did, however, try to encourage me.

Janet: We were in this boat already and now children were involved. We had to be positive. I thank God I had a steady job so I concentrated more on the little blessings we had. Sometimes though I felt like I worked too hard and the frustration would make me withdraw unto myself.

Didn’t you have this discussion before you got married?

Richard: (Shaking head somberly) I wish we did.

Janet: No. I wish someone had told us to prepare us for the fact that life was going to change.

Richard: (Laughing) We had no timelines, no targets, no nothing. Those conversations were difficult to have because we did not even have a framework on how to start them. After I joined Nairobi Chapel and studied a course called Ndoa (marriage) my eyes opened. The course is designed for couples who want to enrich their marriage but more so those preparing to get married. It is also a requirement for all in the church’s leadership to go through.

How long were you into your marriage when you did Ndoa?

Richard: Nine years.

Janet: That is how long we had strained discussions about our expectations of each other. We had no idea how to handle crucial areas such as finances and parenting and this did not augur well for the relationship. Being raised by single parents (me by a mother and he by a father) both of whom had passed away by the time we got married, we had no one to mentor us on marriage.

Did Ndoa help?

Richard: Yes, it gave us the boldness to have difficult conversations. There’s a mantra in Ndoa that says, ‘Work on  yourself and pray for your partner.’ When you do that, you are able to meet in the middle.

Janet: It was only after Ndoa that I realised I was infringing on some of my husband’s roles. For instance, I was keen to provide for the family and always made sure there was food in the house. I didn’t realise how important it was to let my husband play his role and shine too.

Richard: Marriage has several parts – the foundation, process and product. Many people spend so much to set up the foundation (wedding). Few plan for the process. The process takes time effort, energy and, yes, conflicts. Given our circumstances, Ndoa made us realise we needed to work on having a great marriage but the journey had to begin by ensuring our marriage was functional.

What is a functional marriage?

Richard: It is one where couples appreciate each other’s differences and make deliberate effort to make the best of them. It is realising that it will not be happiness all the time but even when one hits rock bottom, they can come up again. Having such conversations about these temporary states better prepares couples for storms ahead.

Can one be ever really prepared for the down times?

Richard: It is good to have in mind the possible challenges that you might encounter. For us, we engage in ‘worst case scenarios’ type of conversations. A great example is, for instance, what if we both lose our income at the same time or if one of us strays or if we fail to have children? Such conversations help a couple prepare for the worst by enabling them to come up with a strategy. Unfortunately, many couples are in denial about such things and this leads to dysfunctional marriages when situations arise and are caught unawares.

Share the discussion on infidelity as a worst-case scenario? Richard: It can’t happen!

Janet: (Laughing) That’s the male ego talking!

Richard: (Cheekily) I still wonder what kind of man can unsettle my throne. I have to confess it would be hard for me, even becoming intimate with Janet, after such an occurrence. Considering our roles as leaders, I would try to make it work but chances are it would be a sham.

Janet: My first instinct as a woman would be to walk away. Only later would I ask if there is something worth salvaging especially since our roles as leaders involve counselling couples facing similar challenges.

What other challenges have you faced in your marriage?

Richard: At some point, the leadership at Nairobi Chapel re-assigned me to take over Mavuno Mashariki. It was a struggling church and I was tasked with reviving it. As though I had not learnt from my past, I came in full of optimism that the church would grow fast and exponentially. Of course it didn’t! I had no backup plan, could not take up my past post as someone else had already filled it, my wife was a stay-at-home mum and my income depended on how well the church performed.

Janet: We had to release our house help, move to a cheaper house and pull our children out of private schools. Despite having the discussion, it was still difficult saying bye to a life of pushing full trolleys to one of bare necessities.

Richard: I did try to get out of the assignment but in retrospect, I am glad I stuck with it because it has moulded me as a leader and taught us valuable lessons.

It is clear that the situation has changed. Why are your children still in public school?

Richard: (Laughing) Buruburu One Primary School has proven to be a good school for our children. For our first-born, 13-year-old Corban Chogo, his school life was barely disrupted and his performance remained relatively stable when he moved. Additionally, we felt public schools offered good exposure and lessons on just how diverse the world is. Our investment in our children is beyond just an expensive education. We try to teach them values that will help them to have strong resolve and become useful citizens of the world.

Janet: We also realised that good parent- teacher relationships increased their chances of experiencing a good learning environment. However, we are considering changing the game when it comes to Corban’s younger brother, 10-year-old Asaph Mgofwa. We noted he needs more attention and we are even considering home schooling him.

How has parenting changed you?

Richard: It has helped us to understand our roles as guardians and mentors. Corban was hyperactive and unruly when he was younger and, unfortunately, we succumbed to his mood swings as opposed to giving him direction. Through another course at Nairobi Chapel called Lea, we learnt to set ground rules with our children.

Janet: I had zero experience when I had my children. Lea taught me that I had to be intentional with the way I raised my children, for instance, ensuring that I came home from work to deliberately spend quality time with them. In that process of discovery, I resigned from work in 2007 to become a stay-at-home mum. It was difficult as I had been targeting a promotion and to a certain extent the ghosts of unstable incomes of the past still haunted me. But by then Richard’s salary was stable and the decision also freed me up to better support him in ministry. A few years later, Mavuno Church sponsored me to go through a counselling psychology course and absorbed me as a member if their staff in 2013.

How do you ensure there are still butterflies and rainbows in the marriage?

Richard: Sometimes it’s the little things: remembering birthdays, anniversaries and that sort of thing.

Janet: (Laughing) After nine years of fumbling, we realised that this thing can be worked on. We try to do date nights but I am not very good at it as I love being indoors. Richard, however, helps as he understands my love language, which is service. Sometimes he will clean the dishes, cook for the kids and help with their homework and that makes me feel loved.

Richard: Janet also affirms me, telling me I am a good dad, a good man and a good pastor. Additionally, the time we spend with couples who are in trouble helps us to appreciate each other. Those moments re-energise us.

How do you maintain a healthy sex life?

Richard: Several aspects have a bearing on how our sex life flourishes. Though we socialise differently, we are good friends.

Janet: We are emotionally intimate meaning we communicate constantly and candidly with each other. That does not mean though that we do not have days when we shut each other out. However, achieving your goals takes intentional effort, otherwise you can divorce emotionally.

Richard: There’s also spiritual intimacy – seeking and serving God together. When these things are in place, then there’s a richness that helps to feed into the physical intimacy. It’s no longer dependent just on style or length or antics, although it is also good to explore your sexuality as a couple. We are also at a place where we are getting older. Why lie, our energy levels are not the way they were even five years ago so we are also revisiting how we go about it in our midlife. It’s not perfect but we are working on it.

akello@parents.co.ke

Published in February 2015

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