Long distance marriage thrives – NICK AND SUZZIE MUTHOKA

Nick and Suzzie’s marriage vindicates the saying ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’. Nick, a 40-year-old hotelier, and his 39-year-old banker wife never imagined living apart when they got married 15 years ago. But their careers have separated them for most of their married life. Their situation notwithstanding, the couple says their love continues to grow from strength to strength. ESTHER AKELLO chats with the couple on a marriage that has overcome the distance barrier.

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The chemistry between Nick and Suzzie is palpable. It’s in how they subconsciously pile on the PDA (public display of affection) as Nick repeatedly rests his hand on Suzzie’s knee. It’s in the soft nuances and play of their body language, as so effortlessly Suzzie leans into the crook of Nick’s shoulder and turns her gaze to him while maintaining eye contact when he says something she agrees with; or to the more bold terms of endearment like ‘honey’ casually interspersed in their conversations as they seek to clarify events with each other during the interview.

Adjusting the sails

Nick and Suzie got married in 2000. It is obvious they have kept their love ablaze, which is rather ironic given that they rarely see each other, thanks to Nick’s career. For almost all their married life, his career path has seen him work in different parts of East Africa and is currently working in Tanzania. “I have never had a job close enough to be with my family, although that does not mean I have not tried,” says Nick.

In fact, in 2007, after four years as the general manager of a hotel in Kampala, Uganda, Nick declined to renew his contract after realising his son Mickey Muthoka, now 14-year-old, was simply not adjusting to the long distance relationship. He recalls a disturbing incident when Mickey was three years old. “I had come home for a short visit from Uganda and Suzzie and I left the house to run errands. Shortly afterwards, my mother who was visiting called to say Mickey was down with a fever and crying incessantly,” recounts Nick.

Worried sick, the couple and Nick’s mother rushed Mickey to a doctor where he was given a clean bill of health. However, the doctor was of the opinion that he was suffering from separation anxiety brought on by the fear that his dad was going to leave again. “It scared me to think that being away from my family was having such a negative impact on my son. I knew things had to change,” says Nick.

This influenced his decision to leave Kampala and seek employment in Kenya. However, the position he got was in a hotel in Mombasa, meaning he could still not live with his family. The couple admits that they had not envisioned living far from each as their ideal family situation but have learnt to make the best of it.

But Suzzie knew right from the beginning what she was getting herself into with Nick’s career because when they started dating in 1998, he worked long hours and she would stay up late waiting for him. She says this taught her patience and acceptance of each other’s career and unwavering support. She calls this a positive growth curve in their relationship.

Laying the ground rules

Suzzie became pregnant with Mickey shortly after their marriage and Nick had to adjust his working hours to support her. “I cut back my working hours and changed shifts to enable me support her transition to motherhood and spend more time with my family once the baby was born,” explains Nick.

While a long distance relationship would definitely be a deal breaker to most couples, Nick and Suzzie have taken it in their stride but there is a secret to it. They set firm ground rules right from the day they got married to allow their relationship to continue thriving no matter what life threw their way.

One, they were to support each other’s life and career goals. Two, they were to discuss and mutually agree on major decisions that would affect the family. Three, no one was to have unilateral power over the other. Lastly, they were to manage their home and family as equal partners. And so when Nick’s career got him out of home and Suzzie couldn’t go with him because of her career as a banker, they found a way of working things out. Suzie remained home to pursue her vocation and take care of their son.

The couple is cognisant of the fact that long distance relationships are prone to infidelity but say discipline, honesty, faith and trust have kept this vice away from their marriage. “There is no way of policing each other once we go our separate ways and this is where honesty and trust come into play. We know temptations abound but if you love, honour and respect your partner, you will not succumb,” says the couple.

The couple says they keep themselves very busy when they are not together with Suzzie adding, “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” They have used the free time in their hands to further their education. Suzzie graduated with a bachelor of commerce degree in finance from Catholic University in 2008, and Nick with a higher diploma in hospitality, strategic management and public administration from Makerere University in 2007. In addition, they are engaged in various business ventures including a bakery, rental properties and a bee farm in Makueni. Their rural farm in Emali also keeps them busy.

Sacrificing for the greater good

Because the couple does not enjoy the luxury of having a lot of time together, they value and treasure every minute spent together. Mickey is a boarding student at Moi Primary School, Kabarak and a KCPE candidate this year. His parents visit him as often as possible and Nick ensures he fully plays the father role to his son. The couple’s second child, Michelle Mwale, now six years old, is in class one at Donholm Catholic Primary School. Coming so many years after their first child, the couple says they have more experience to help their daughter adjust and cope better with her father being away most of the time.

While two remains their ideal number of children, the couple has no qualms over having a third whether biologically or adopted. Till then, however, they are keen to give their children a head start in life by inculcating positive values. The duo agrees that parents should not only provide positive direction, but should also be their children’s primary mentors, providing a safe and approachable environment where they can talk freely about their concerns and struggles. To foster this, they say couples should not be afraid to show affection for each other in front of their children as this gives the children a sense of love and stability.

In a bid to provide holistic balance for their children, they are keen to cultivate their hobbies and interests by encouraging them to pursue numerous activities. Mickey is a member of the Liberty Football Club, affiliated with Kenya premier league team, Thika United, while Michelle takes Taekwondo lessons.

Nick is currently working in Moshi, some 270km from Nairobi. They often meet half way at their home in Emali, which is a mere two-hour drive from Moshi. He travels to Kenya as often as his job allows and his wife and children also visit him and sometimes Suzzie pulls a fast one on him. She tells of a time when Nick visited the family in Kenya and travelled back to Tanzania by road only to find Suzzie, the children and several friends at his workplace for a surprise birthday party. Nick was so touched he broke down in tears.

Talking about intimacy in a long distance relationship, the couple say the distance keeps the fire burning. “It’s like seeing him afresh every time he comes home,” says Suzzie, adding that Nick is fond of lavishing the family with gifts to which he teasingly says he cannot help it and she adds, “he still hasn’t quite got it that I graduated from a girlfriend and he has already won me over.”

The couple obviously enjoys engaging in playful banter and there is no doubt it enriches their love and friendship. But they are quick to add that they are human and sometimes disagree and even quarrel. “We definitely have our battles and I tend to give the silent treatment when am annoyed. But in most cases, the guilty party will seek an apology and we work things out,” says Nick adding that for a relationship to thrive, discretion is key.

“Not everyone should be privy into the inner workings, plans or conflicts within a marriage, be it friends or even relatives as you can easily be derailed from your vision or issues can be blown out of proportion. Although we have faced some friction in our marriage, we always strive to emphasise love and reconciliation, not hostility,” he says.

The couple is open with each other on matters finance and they manage a joint account where all their money goes. They work the family budget together. They reckon that money issues can ruin even the best of relationships, so they are very open with each other and don’t find a need for either of them to keep a secret account.

Nick cautions men to slow down on looking for the next big deal, while keeping their wives in the dark. “It is important to seek your wife’s approval on any deal you are making, whether it’s buying property or a business venture as you would not want her to be caught by surprise if things went wrong,” Nick advises.
The couple looks forward to the day they will be working from one town but for now, they have to deal with their situation not only because of Suzzie’s job, but also because Kenya has better health and education facilities.

They also believe that their children’s quality of life is much better in Kenya.

PUBLISHED JUNE 2015

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