The year was 2005 and Anne Wangui, then 21 years old, was in for the ride of her life when 27-year-old dashing lawyer, John Ochola, swept her off her feet, forever dismantling her resolve not to get married. Ten years on and the couple attest that as far as their marriage is concerned, they have learnt that they are not only the main, but also the best captains of their relationship, negotiating and interpreting their ups and downs in their own unique way. They speak to ESTHER AKELLO about their decade-long journey.
What’s your love story?
Ann: We met in 2005 when John came to visit a friend at the law firm where I was working. Later on, he got hired at the firm and we became, first, friends then a couple in 2006.
John: When I met Ann for the first time, she had a pleasant persona, which made an impression on me. The rest is history.
You hail from different communities. Has tribe ever been a hindrance to your relationship?
Ann: Not really. I grew up in Narok and was exposed to people of different ethnicity.
However, from an early age, I had made the decision not to get married and informed my parents as much and even insisted that even if I did, it would not be to someone from my community. Additionally, my father encouraged me to marry for love, not for ethnicity so John was not a surprise to them.
John: Ann’s ethnicity was not a big deal to my family.
Was it easy to settle into your roles as husband and wife?
Ann: No! The things we previously took for granted like not reporting to anyone about one’s whereabouts became a big deal. Some habits such as John sleeping on the couch as opposed to the bed when he was sleepy and hanging out till late with his friends were also serious pet peeves. Given the fact that we got together when I was just 22, I had doubts as to whether I was ready for marriage.
John: Growing up, sleeping on the couch was something my brother and I loved to do and it was never a big deal to our parents. So hearing her complain about it was quite a shock to me!
How did you resolve those pet peeves?
Ann: I think with time John realised just how much they annoyed me, and he made a conscious decision to avoid them. It also helped to share with close confidantes in my church who assured me that with time we would acclimatise. We also decided that we would never go to bed without resolving an issue and in the event we agreed to disagree, we would revisit the issue when emotions were not running high.
John: I don’t like conflict and I avoid it as much as I can. At the time when we were learning to gel as a couple, I was facing other tough situations. A business I had been working on was not working out and I had left employment. I turned to the church, which helped me realise that just because something did not seem offensive to me, it did not mean I could not empathise with my partner. This helps to relieve your partner’s anguish and create a bridge between the two of you where you can meet in the middle and resolve your issues.
Is the church always your go- to place when resolving major conflicts?
Ann: We are a couple that likes to figure things out. Once we surrender our issues to God, then we work on figuring what is eating us both as conflicts arise from personal discomfort over a certain situation. Sometimes you may go to a second party but whatever they recommend is not guaranteed to work.
John: The church is a good reference point but people need to realise it is not a silver bullet that works in isolation. Human beings have imperfections and at times may hurt each other. We do read a few books and try to learn from other people’s experiences. It’s upon every couple to find a unique way of dealing with their own issues.
After 10 years, have the embers of love cooled down?
Ann: (Laughing) We have not reached that point. We discover new things about each other and we still look forward to seeing each other after work. We also communicate all through the day as opposed to waiting to do it only in emergency cases. When possible, we go out and spend some time together.
John: Spontaneous dates have also brought us closer to each other.
What is the role of intimacy in maintaining your relationship?
Ann: It’s a big deal. However, there are times when things can be out of one’s control, for instance, when your partner is sick or tired or is experiencing challenges at work. In
our case, however, provided the ambience is conducive, we always try to make time for it as many times as any one of us would like.
John: Intimacy is top priority! We are lucky we have not experienced prolonged challenges such as sickness or long distance work. It also helps to strengthen and cement our bond as a couple.
How do you ensure it remains top priority and as fresh and enjoyable every time?
Ann: Maintaining a good relationship helps, so does good communication. Sometimes all it takes is a saucy text to set the mood. I also do not use intimacy as a weapon of punishment in my marriage.
I look at it as my companionship with my husband. I also learnt early on to make time for my children and my husband. We are just guardians and at some point the kids will leave the nest so if I do not work on my relationship with my husband, then when the kids leave, it will be difficult to connect. I also try to keep myself attractive, dress well and work out just to keep fit.
John: Where children are concerned, they always sleep in their room and if they need any of us, we go to them; they do not come to our bedroom. Additionally, as a man, I am aware that sex is not a one-sided affair. I always strive to make sure that she also gets what she wants and enjoys it too! Sometimes we also do random sleepovers and check into hotels and go home the next morning.
How do you deal with untoward attraction from members of the opposite sex?
Ann: It’s about trust. Additionally, when the communication is right, everything else flows. So much so that when someone makes a pass at me, I’m comfortable enough to let John know it happened. Additionally, I do not dictate the kind of friends he should have, however, we are each aware of what crossing the boundaries entails. We also have mutual friends but in the event I make a new friend, I always try to make sure they meet him.
John: We don’t police each other. I admit sometimes I do not disclose that I met so and so but not because I am trying to hide anything. We could even decide to go through each other’s phones, both of which have no passwords but we do not find it necessary. Moreover, at the end of the day, you gauge the consequences of an untoward relationship and when someone crosses the line, I set them straight.
With three children and demanding careers, how do you make sure that each part of your life is balanced?
Ann: My career as a businesswoman means my schedule is a bit flexible. I purposed early on that unless I have a really pressing issue, I would be home early and be there for our children. Additionally, I try to create time for my husband, therefore, by 7:30pm, the kids are in bed and he and I can bond. I also enrolled for a degree in psychology and I worked out a system where my schedule is not so intensive hence I spend minimal time in class.
John: My work can be intense but I realised that it is not worth losing my relationship with my family. At the end of the day, it’s relationships that matter not material accumulations. So sometimes I will simply close a file and just go home. We like to visit places and people and the children also provide a good reason for all of us to spend time together.
Are there any major challenges that you have faced in your marriage?
Ann: Weathering financial storms have been a challenge. Not that we fought over money, but lack of it or cutting down on luxuries and wants was a major turn around for us. When we got married, we really tried to keep up with the Joneses but we soon realised it’s not worth it, especially if material gain was at the expense of our relationship.
John: Ann’s second pregnancy with the twins was difficult so we eventually decided that it was better if she quit her job.
Ann: When he suggested I quit my job, I realised just how much John cares for my welfare. Additionally, for the duration I stayed home, three years to be precise, John provided for my needs without complaining.
Speaking of finances, some people believe in secret stashes, while others have joint accounts. What works for you?
Ann: Some people just do joint accounts for the sake of it. I think it is okay to have both joint and personal accounts provided you are transparent. I do not believe in secret stashes because they break trust. Surprisingly, when I started my business, John told me the earnings were mine to keep and that he had no qualms over maintaining overall responsibility for the family’s needs. This only further encouraged me to chip in because we are one unit.
John: Ann is particularly transparent when it comes to the financial aspect of our relationship and will always share whatever earnings she gets. We have a joint account from which anybody can withdraw. The only challenge we face is writing a budget and sticking to it.
Do you love parenting?
Ann: Yes. Our first-born, Imani Ochola, is nine years old. The twins, Zawadi and Baraka, turn five this year. John was very supportive during both pregnancies and would help me to soothe and lull the babies. Sometimes, he would even insist on taking them off my hands so that I could have some personal time. I used to panic thinking he would be overwhelmed but he did just fine.
John: (Chuckling) I love children. They are far less complicated compared to adults. If I had my way, I would spend the whole day with them.
How are you raising your children to find their voice in such a crowded world?
Ann: Being there for one’s children is important just as learning what makes them
happy or drives them. Imani, for instance, dreams of becoming a news anchor and she loves to read so we encourage her to improve her language all the time. Currently she studies at the Kid Palace Grade School and is in grade four while the twins are in the same school but at the kindergarten level.
John: The twins are at that stage where whatever they want goes but we hope to
learn their interests with time. Additionally, we have decided not to force them to be anything they do not want.
How do you enhance your parenting skills?
Ann: Our church sometimes organises trainings, which we attend. We also read some books. In such cases, I pick what works
for my family and leave the rest. I am also a psychology student and that has helped me to learn key things about children. For instance, provided there are boundaries and guidelines, it is important to allow children to experience every stage of their childhood without being rushed.
John: Ensure children are also aware that actions have consequences and whenever they break the rules there will be disciplinary action. We also encourage them to interact with other children as it helps them to see how other people live and maybe that way, they can appreciate the privileges they are given.
What are the greatest lessons you have learnt about marriage and yourselves?
Ann: Communicate constantly, have an open mind and allow your partner their personal space.
John: Responsibility, accountability, friendship and making decisions as a single unit helps to make the marriage work.
Published April 2016