“Why did I get married?”
It’s a question many married couples ask themselves as they deal with the various hardships that come with marriage. Made into a Tyler Perry movie, the question is often said exasperatedly but as Perry and now Cory and Tanishia Johnson know, it can also be the start of deep reflection and introspection.
The two are the founders of LOVE (Living Our Vows Everyday) Marriage Ministries and they seek to “support, uplift and celebrate black marriages.” They don’t want people to just be married though, they want these marriages to be healthy, to thrive and to be everlasting.
Every month the two host discussions, focusing on strengthening the bond between partners and working through common issues. Now, they’ve taken it a step further with the “Why did I get Married” weekend-long conference, this weekend, which is targeted at married couples hoping to improve their relationship; whether through communication, finances or intimacy. Attendants will be able to watch speakers and presentations, check out workshops on communication, intimacy and on blended families. There will also be a viewing of the documentary Still Standing about married couples who overcame significant challenges in their marriage and the Johnsons promised a huge surprise at the end of the weekend. Though they’re not willing to reveal it yet, they promised the secret ending will allow couples to leave even more refreshed, connected and committed. They said they’re hoping to turn this into an annual conference.
Open Mic Rochester got the chance to ask the Johnsons a few questions. Some responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.
OM: So tell us about the conference. What’s the goal of that weekend?
CTJ: The goal of the weekend is to provide couples with an opportunity to restore and refresh their relationships. We want them to walk away with a tool kit that will help them in their fight against life issues, so that at the end of the day, every day, their marriage WINS! We decided to open this up to engaged couples as well as couples in committed relationships, in preparedness for what they will experience once they are married. If we can prepare them now, we are hoping it will contribute to their long term success in marriage.
OM: Have you ever done anything like this before?
CTJ: Each month we have our LOVE Marriage ministries gatherings where we discuss various topics as they relate to marriage, and we also have LOVE couple outings throughout the year, including a couple getaway in August . However, this is our 1st conference and we are excited to bring this to Rochester because it’s something that we have not had in our community before.
OM: What do you think are the biggest contributors to divorce?
CTJ: The big ones are money, infidelity and communication but we believe it goes much deeper than that. Marriage, being in covenant, is about fighting for that covenant each and every day! Life is going to throw things at your relationship on a daily basis and oftentimes couples retreat on their own instead of turning to each other and making a decision, that no matter what, we are in this together. As each day goes by and stress piles up, it’s easy for couples to start to feel disillusioned, that “this” is not what they signed up for, they get bored, they get overwhelmed, there are extended family and blended family challenges for many couples and then once you add the fact that many couples struggle financially,taking care of their families, it all becomes too much for some. We have seen the best of couples not make it and they fought hard. Love is also an action word, it’s a decision and sometimes as much as you love a person, it takes so much hard work, and in many of those cases sometimes couples fall out of love, never realizing that they can learn to love one another again. We also believe that there are so many distractions couples faces: limited communication with your spouse, can cause distractions at work with another person (which is why most affairs begin in one of the spouse’s work places), add to that social media and its influence (for better but in many cases for worse) and you have a couple that succumbs to those issues. We have also seen many couples separate bc of the lack of support from a village of other couples (an area we feel is important for couples to have), in addition to getting caught up with life and forgetting the real important tools of communication and staying connected. So while the above mentioned are the top three, each one has so many different layers that contribute significantly to couples deciding to divorce.
OM: It seems to many like good true love is just out of reach nowadays, can you discuss the idea that finding true love was only possible back in the days?
CTJ: We don’t believe that. We believe in love. We believe true love really exists and will always exist, but that it takes work. We also believe that true love happens when each person comes to the relationship/marriage having a true sense of self, not wanting to “change” the other person and understanding that marriage does not mean that everything will come easy. In fact, it means that things will be tougher. When 2 imperfect people come together, it is with the understanding that they are going to be growing together and may face some tough things, also understanding that there are individual things that we will experience in marriage. We also believe that it is critical that couples have a shared spiritual foundation, a sense of faith. Our individual belief when we came to our marriage was that the covenant was between us and our higher power first (God), and that the next covenant is between each other; understanding that God is the 3rd thread in our relationship. While we respect other couples’ views on spirituality, this is what we have been able to contribute to our success in nearly 17 years of marriage.
OM: How have you two been successful in marriage?
CTJ: Faith is definitely a contributor. While our marriage is not perfect, we contribute its success to hard work on both of us. Not a 50/50 but we are both all in 100/100 in making it work..making it built to last. We also attended Marriage Encounter in our 3rd year of marriage where we began to struggle.; through learning many tools, presenting to couples and working with couples, we are still standing and still in love. We also think knowing each other’s area of superiority (every couple has this!) (and working on that), knowing where we feel we are superior in the relationship and doing some self work around that, has greatly helped us (and kept us humble and vulnerable to each other in our marriage) We struggled with communication and other issues many couples face, raising 5 children along the way and needing to ensure that while we wanted to maintain a healthy and vibrant marriage, through those challenges, we had to maintain healthy parenting as well. I think our success has also been that we are able to recognize when we are starting to get into that downward spiral (it is easy to recognize once you have been doing work on your marriage) so even if one of us doesn’t recognize that something is rearing its ugly head again, or something new has changed the way we are connecting, the other always does and then we bring it to the forefront, and as difficult as it is, we work through it. The other factor (and many will find this hard to believe but it actually works) is that we made a decision that no matter what, we are all in for each other and with each other, no matter what, there is no divorce as an option for us-EVER.
OM: What’s something every person can do today to improve their relationship?
CTJ: If each couple took time every single day (for more than 10 minutes a day), close their door, close out the world and spend time together talking, being intimately close, just “being”, its a step toward building a stronger bond and connection. When we are in tune with each other, its harder to allow days, weeks and months to pile on without noticing the impact of not being connected. If distance (due to work a spouse travels frequently or in military) makes it hard, maybe its daily phone conversation but not conversations solely on schedules, but about one another. There are so many studies that show on average couples spend less than 30 minutes a week on actual quality time (that most time is spent living as roommates, raising children, discussing jobs and work roles, extended family drama, social media, etc.) Intimacy is important and takes work bc of the “adulting” we all engage in on a daily basis and not getting that important connection time in. Laugh alot, find something to laugh and smile about together on a daily basis (it’s healing), keep your relationship a priority and it will indeed reap the benefits; see where your partner is struggling and provide support. It goes a long way when we know our partner genuinely cares about our wellbeing outside of the relationship. In other words, be each other’s best friend and confidant.
OM: Let’s talk about divorce quickly; do you have advice for couples on the brink of divorce who may feel there is no going back?
CTJ: We are not experts and every couple is different but we will say this, as long as no one is deemed unsafe (them or their children), as long as they WANT to make it work, a true desire to want to remain together, than just about anything can be worked through, through hard work, commitment and a huge pillar: FORGIVENESS. Forgiveness being requested and given by both couples. Accountability for the fact that in many (not all cases) they each contributed to the relationship getting to where it is, and that it may even take involving an outside mediator, counselor or pastor to get to a place of mutual understanding. Before heading to divorce court, is there mutual ground that can be agreed upon?, is there still love?, can you accept where you are and set goals as to where you want to be? if the love isn’t felt are both open to rediscovering each other understanding that the relationship may look very different than how it used to? (or it may never be the way it was when they were in love in the beginning of their relationship), but that it may still be able to be maintained. LOVE is work..but it’s worth it!