Dr. Thomas Achia’s marriage to his wife of 19 years Dorine Katiba Achia, an event planner, is the archetype of a successful marriage in every sense of the word. The 44-year-old mathematician and his 43-year-old wife have known each other for the last two-and-a-half decades but their love for each other is still fresh. The couple, who are also singers/songwriters, has settled into a steady rhythm refusing to be rocked by challenges that have presented themselves along the way. They gave ESTHER AKELLO an insight into what makes marriage successful.
How did you meet?
Dorine: We both grew up in Frere Town Mombasa. I didn’t like Thomas much though. I assumed he was a snob because of our different backgrounds – he lived by the beach with his parents while my family lived within the prison quarters.
Thomas: In my defence: I am not a snob, just an introvert. One day I met her along the street and invited her for choir practice and that is how we got to know each other. We were teenagers then.
So how did this move from an aloof relationship to marriage?
Dorine: After four months, I went and told my friends that I had feelings for him and was even planning on ways to avoid him. Unfortunately, that same week, he handed me a one-line letter that read, “Will you be my girl?” He had been walking with it for almost a week!
Thomas: (Laughing) I’m a man of few words! Dorine: We courted for seven years and despite a few hitches, we got hitched in 1997.
What do you love most about each other; then and now?
Dorine: I talk a lot so I love his quiet nature. Thomas is also a gentleman, loves God and is generous to a fault.
Thomas: (Smiling), She is a TPP: tiny, pretty and portable! Nineteen years down the line we still get along famously. She is also God fearing and a wonderful mother.
Dorine: (Quipping) Amen! Was it easy to jell as a couple?
Dorine: Yes. We always had an open and take-me-as-I-am kind of relationship. We presented ourselves to each other without pretense. We also did a lot of things together.
Thomas: We are friends and still do a lot of things together. Friends meet us in the supermarket and look surprised even as they ask incredulously, “Are you always together?”
Some people may find that annoying and even overprotective to some extent.
Dorine: It’s important to have your own hobbies and friends. Sometimes I need to detox from him. For instance, when I see him on his laptop, I busy myself because I know I cannot get his attention. However, I read a lot and have come to understand his nature. I give him his space because I know even if I complain, I will not accomplish much.
Thomas: I am a leader in my field hence very busy running between several universities across Africa. Between that, church and my family, I rarely have time for my pals aka ‘my boys’ and given my quiet nature, I am quite okay with that.
Dorine: He has infected me. I have learnt to be on my own and satisfied.
You travel a lot Thomas due to the nature of your work. How has that affected your family then and even now?
Thomas: I currently do not travel for more than a week at most. However, in 2010, we ended up moving to South Africa when I was pursuing my post graduate studies. I had travelled by myself the year before but being an introvert in a foreign country was unbearable and I became a workaholic. I insisted that Dorine and my son Daniel move the next year. (Chuckling) She wasn’t happy about that!
Dorine: I didn’t want to move because I wanted him here. Besides, my business had picked up. As much as I kept myself extremely busy, I felt lonely, almost as if he had died. Sometimes, however, you base your decision on the long-term benefits and since I valued my relationship and I wanted it to thrive, I went.
Thomas: (Interjecting) She is strong and independent minded.
Dorine: It’s my weakness.
The society stereotype is that an independent woman is unappealing, especially for marriage. What’s your take?
Thomas: I don’t have a problem with it. I support her endevours, for example, I write her music and her event planning business. I may not always be there and I would like to know that in the event something happens, my wife can look after our kids. Let’s face it; I need her.
Dorine: (Interjecting while chuckling) I need him too. Confident women, who are often mistaken to be disobedient, intimidate a lot of men. Do you feel intimidated?
Thomas: No. I saw how affectionately my father treated my mother and I learnt to respect women. Quite often, Dorine’s voice carries the day!
Dorine: (Cheekily) Because I am always right!
You seem so in sync. Do you guys ever quarrel?
Thomas: Yes. Heated exchanges even. But at the end of the day we aim for consensus building and joint decisions provided it is aimed towards our overall goals and vision. We also don’t quarrel in front of the kids.
Dorine: I’m a skeptic. I always question why we are doing what we are doing the way we are doing it. When it comes to quarrels, if I am not happy about something, I voice it and I do not carry grudges. Once I have spoken my mind on a matter I move past it.
What is your attitude towards money as a couple?
Thomas: We struggled when starting out. I was earning Ksh12,000 and Dorine Ksh 4,000. Often times, we could not even afford bus fare and I would walk from work at Chiromo, pick her up from her workplace along Baricho road. Then we would walk home to our one- roomed house in Umoja.
Dorine: Thomas is sufficiently philanthropic meaning I have to handle the financial aspects of our assets. We are aware of each other’s income and pin numbers and we can access them whenever we want.
Thomas: Our philosophy, however, is money is supposed to change lives for good. We do not live a lavish lifestyle and we support ministries. We also invest. For me my biggest investment has been in academics.
There’s a lot of disconnect between the sexes when it comes to marriage. Some people believe a man has to have achieved certain financial and career goals before settling down. What’s your take?
Thomas: Not really. As aforementioned, when we started out, our income was not substantive but we made do with what we had. But look where are now! Additionally for me, getting married at a later age, wouldn’t have worked because I am the first-born in our family and there are certain expectations.
Dorine: There were people who wanted to offer me more but I believed in Thomas and where we were headed. (Giggling) He used to tell me he was going to make me a star!
So many relationships have failed to weather financial storms especially in terms of income and spending. How do you maintain sobriety?
Dorine: We don’t have secret stashes. What I know is enough. Any other money is none of my business.
Thomas: Every once in a while Dorine can really spoil herself with an expensive shoe or dress and I challenge whether it is necessary but I am okay with it most times. Besides, I am proud to look after my family. I often tell her her money is hers.
The ‘her money is hers and your money is ours’ has driven many a wedge between couples. How do you make it work?
Thomas: I learnt from my father that it’s the responsibility of men to spoil their wives and the Bible demands that we love them so it’s not a burden to me. I also learnt from the South African communities especially the whites who fend for their families while their wives are housewives. Nobody can shape the mind of a child like a mother and there’s no responsibility more glamorous. I wouldn’t change it for anything. Additionally, once the kids grow up, women can return to the job market if they want. It’s possible.
Dorine: (Raises hand for a high five) Yeah! My income varies, as getting event jobs can be irregular. Whatever little I earn though, I always table and use it for household needs.
What has been the biggest challenge to your marriage?
Dorine: At one point his family did not think I was good enough for him because I did not get a university education. That affected me as I started feeling less worthy. I tried to keep up and enrolled for an information systems class but it just wasn’t me. So I changed and did event management and beauty.
Thomas: I am now, as I was then, satisfied. She is my first and only girlfriend.
Staying put and parenting…
What do you think has made your marriage so successful?
Dorine: There’s something good about us. There are times I want to give up but after I sober up, I still feel he is the best for me.
Thomas: All men are the same; you just need to know how to take care of yours. If you leave one man before you solve the reason why you left, then you carry that baggage into your next relationship. Temptations will always present themselves but with all the investment you have made in the prior relationship, is it worth it?
Dorine: Even if I were to try with another person, there is no time to build up to where Thomas and I have reached. (Smiling) People love him. So I sit back and let them enjoy their 15 minutes of fame because at the end of the day, we are going home together.
Thomas: Sometimes when we quarrel, she says she can always leave me. I tell her there is nowhere she is going. Not because I am forcing her to stay but because I do not want to break her heart. We also have children and their emotional intelligence is dependent on our relationship. A healthy marriage gives children one less thing to worry about and that is why we do things together as a family. All of us.
Your teenage and pre-teen son must find hanging out with their parents ‘uncool’.
Dorine: (Laughing) Do they have a choice? Whenever our 18-year-old wants to make plans, he has to ask us first so that his schedule can be in sync with ours.
Thomas: We also learnt from white South Africans never to give our children space. While in South Africa, I would pick them from school, have lunch and play with them. It made it easy to assess their development. In Nairobi, maneuvering the traffic has made it difficult to spend more time with them!
You are parents to three boys. Are they a lot of work?
Dorine: Not in the slightest. Our first-born, 18-year-old Darryl Joshua, and the second- born, 12-year-old Daniel Denzel, are quiet introverts just like their father. Darryl, is studying commerce at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa while Daniel and our last-born, four-year-old David Dylan Faraja, are at Maxwell Adventist Academy here in Nairobi.
Thomas: They are pretty smart. I tried to get Darryl to study actuarial science at the university but no such luck. He loves football and Real Madrid is his team. Daniel is book smart and sporty though quiet and excels at pretty much everything he tries his hands on. Faraja on the other hand is feisty.
How is your relationship with them?
Dorine: Our children are like our brothers. We treat them like mature people and we are friends. Recently when my son had a date, he came to me for advice.
Thomas: When the boys were younger, I was their darling and mom the disciplinarian. Now, however, it’s vice versa because we talk man to man and I set them straight. We are also keen that they have the values we consider to be right while growing up. That is why we opted for a Christian school.
How do you keep your passion alive?
Thomas: We have dreams that bind us together such as our music. We minister together especially in schools through our choir and motivational talks ministries and many young people look up to us. Our relationship with God also impacts how we relate. Dorine has a Facebook page called Just the two of us where she talks about how we keep our relationship fresh and many people have reached out to us as a result.
How big of a role is intimacy in your relationship?
Dorine: Easy. It’s a big part. I love being intimate with my husband and because it’s a two-way street, I also read books to enhance it for both our enjoyment.
Thomas: (Smiling) We’ve only just began! I always tease my colleagues who get to work early if they had their morning manna! On a more serious note however, sex is mental. If your mind isn’t positive about your spouse it becomes a burden.
How would you encourage other couples?
Thomas: Marriage may not be easy but its benefits outweigh the challenges. At the end of the day, people don’t remember how much money you had, but how good a family you raised.
Dorine: Put God first then take care of yourself. You can’t take care of others if you can’t even take care of yourself. Bring your best to the table and don’t wait for your partner to do it first. That is the only way you can experience a beautiful marriage.
Published in July 2016