Mr. Alexander Iwuanyanwu and his wife, Agnes, both from Idem Ogwa in Mbaitoli Local Government Area of Imo State, have been happily married for 36 years. The husband, a businessman, married his wife, at the age of 24, in short, few years after he graduated from secondary school. By then, Agnes was still in secondary school. In this interview with TONY JOHN in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, the couple who are blessed with eight children (six female and two male) and many grandchildren, tell the captivating story of their love journey. Excerpt.
Could you, please, tell us how, where and when you met your wife?
Husband: My family and my wife’s families were friends. But my marrying her was as a result of her elder cousin. She was very young then and very quiet. I was not thinking of marriage. But one fateful day, I met her elder cousin who was my friend. His name is Ndubuisi. He told me that he had a sister and if it were possible for him to marry her, he would have done that. I asked him who she was. He mentioned Agnes. I said: “That girl who does not mix with people, who does her things alone?” My friend said I should see her. I said no problem. That Christmas, 1983, she came to our house. She was about moving to Class 3. But I had just finished secondary school and was about to start work. That say, she came to our house and we met briefly I had told her that she would be my wife. It looked like a child’s play. Then, we had a brief courtship that lasted for about three years, from 1983 to 1986. On March 27, 1986, we had our traditional wedding. But before then I had an agreement with my father. Because I was about 24 years old, I told him that if I got married, my wife would not live with me until after three years. He father agreed. So after our traditional wedding, she stayed in their house for about three years and six months before we had our English wedding, on December 3, 1989.
Wife: I have something to add. It was his mother that pushed me to go to their house in the village. She came to our house one day to see us and when she was going she approached me where I was sitting outside and said: “my friend, when will you visit me”? I promised to do that. But I didn›t initially. For two days after that, something kept reminding me that I made a promise to an elderly woman and that I need to fulfill it. I didn›t know their house. So, as the voice continued to trouble me, I told myself that any compound I entered, and it turned out not to be their house, I would go back home. But when I entered a particular compound and asked a little boy about Peter’s (my husband’s immediate younger brother) compound, he said it was there. I was surprised and began to wonder why God brought me there. In fact, it was Peter that came out to receive me. He took me to a room and told me to wait. His mother was not around, but he said other members of the family were around. Before that time, it was his immediate elder brother that I knew because he used to visit our house. Shortly, he came in and was surprised to see me. I told him I came to see his mother because I promised her I would come. That was how we met one-on-one for the first time. He asked me when next I would visit. I told him I would be travelling back to Aba where we lived. He told me to write him a letter. But while he was seeing me off, he told me he would want to marry me, that I should bear that in mind. I didn’t respond. When I travelled back to Aba, the same voice kept on troubling me to write him since I had promised. I was afraid because of one of my elder sisters. Eventually he wrote first and the letter got into the hands of that my sister I was afraid of. Things I didn’t like happened as a result of the letter. So, I told him not to write me again. Instead, he should come and tell my family. He did, and that was how the relationship started.
As a young man, what made you to pick her out of other eligible young ladies?
Husband: In Christmas of 1982, some ladies came to our house to celebrate the period with us. And because of that I vacated my room for them. My father saw what happened and kept quiet. But after they had left between December 28 and 31, my father asked us at the family meeting which we usually hold every January 1 who the girls came to visit. All of us, including my elder brothers, denied that it wasn’t any of us. My father said I was the one they came to visit and cautioned me to be very careful with women. I believe that was his major reason for urging me to marry. That year, I prayed to God to show me the woman he would like me to marry. So, it was God’s arrangement, not mine.
As a young girl then, you must have had several suitors. Why did you choose him?
Wife: Though I was very young, men were coming to ask my hand in marriage. And, I was running away from them. The way they were coming, I was afraid that they might harm me one day if I continue to reject their proposal. Because of that, I never came out, laughed or talked with anybody. Suitors were too many but I would always find one or two faults in them. In fact, it got to a point that one of my brothers felt that a charm had been used on me and he threatened to beat it out of me. But in his case, I tried to end the relationship but a force inside me didn›t agree. Initially, I didn›t love him. I did not like to hear men’s voices. But once I hear his, I would be happy. So, when I noticed that there was something inside pushing me, I developed the interest. I prayed and asked that the will of God be done. After I prayed, everything I hated about him, I began to like. I started seeing our relationship grow with love. When one of my cousins came from Aba, she wanted to cut the relationship. I told her to forget it. At a time, the relationship affected my education. I couldn’t concentrate on my studies.
What’s the most memorable thing about your wedding, traditional or English?
Husband: In my traditional wedding, it was something that the people that believe in superstition would have said that this marriage would not work. This is because on the day of the ceremony, her grandmother who had been ill before then, suddenly died. In fact, immediately my people got to their compound, the woman passed on. According to people, before she died, she was always asking them: “when would my in-laws come?” It was later that we realised that her grandmother did not want her first son to suffer for her funeral. She wanted whatever came in for the traditional wedding to be used for her burial. And that was what happened. The old woman’s death did not stop the wedding. When she gave up the ghost, they covered her body up and the ceremony continued. On my wedding day, it was something very spectacular because I pulled men and women that matter in the society. The chairman of my reception could not hold himself. In his speech which I did not forget till date, he said: “If this young boy and young girl can pull this kind of crowd, give them five more years and they will move the world.”
Wife: God confirmed His presence during our traditional wedding and English weddings. Before the traditional wedding, I had a dream in which I saw an obstacle. But I kept it to myself. During the marriage, somebody told me that my grandmother might die because of the way she was breathing. It was then I told them about my dream and they confirmed that it was what was about to happen. People were cooking in the compound. But when the stage was set, my grandmother gave up the ghost. They said I was lucky that those cooking had already finished doing so. Otherwise, they would have cancelled it. In fact, the incident occurred immediately the would-be in-laws entered our compound. On the English wedding, at a particular point, I was taken away. A message came that some visitors wanted to carry out an evil plot. I was whisked away.
How did you settle your first misunderstanding?
Husband: Misunderstanding in marriage can come in two ways – physical and spiritual. The physical has to do with human action. But the spiritual type is what you cannot tell because it is manipulated in the spiritual realm. At such a time, it is only perseverance that will help. But the one that happens by man’s action can be controlled by man through self-advice: ‘I will not do this again’, and you maintain it. But the spiritual aspect is something that is being influenced by manipulations. That was what I experienced mostly in my marriage. I was being manipulated by an unconscious situation, while my wife was consciously controlling that situation by being prayerful and persevering. She persevered in it. She didn’t act based on my reaction. My reaction may be too hot but she would cool down. Later, I would understand myself and pretend to reconcile by trying to be generous.
Wife: During our marriage counselling, we were advised not to allow people settle our misunderstanding. I picked up that word. I can keep something within me. The first problem that entered my marriage, I had to keep it secret and entered my room and communicated with God. I went on my knees before God because I love the things of God. In fact, God is the One that has kept my marriage. Before any problem occurs, He would reveal it to me and I would start working on it.
What is your advice for bachelors intending to marry?
Husband: My advice is: one, early marriage is good. Why we have many problems in child-bearing is as a result of late marriage. At young age, all your body systems are functional. Number two is love. Don’t marry because of life necessities, in the sense that you met a woman that has money and proposed to her. Tomorrow, you become a slave and quarrels would start. But, if you apply love, you marry naturally. Don’t go for an “already-made woman”. Also, don’t wait until you have the whole world before you start to plan for marriage. I married at the age of 24. Now, I am a grandfather. You marry when your wife is healthy and you are also healthy. Late marriage doesn’t help.
What is your advice for spinsters?
Wife: If you want to succeed in marriage, you must acknowledge God and obey Him. There is no marriage without challenges. They should depend on God and allow Him to direct their steps as they go into marriage. Any marriage that gets the third party involved, if care is not taken, it will scatter. So, they should hand over their marriage proposals to God. They should follow the footsteps of godly couples whose marriages are worthy of emulation.
In the face of rampant marriage break-ups in the society, what advice do you have for young couples to make their marriage lasts as long as yours?
Husband: Number one thing that makes marriage to be strong is the ability to communicate. Communication in the sense that when you come back home, you would be able to tell your wife the situation outside. Two, when things are not working well, don›t pretend. Some people claim what they are not in marriage. It is wrong. Listen, if you start wrongly, you will end up wrongly. Also, sex of the children should not be an issue in marriage. Even where there is no child, it should not destroy the marriage. If your marriage is based on God, you would be able to overcome whatever challenge: be it health, finance that confronts you.
Wife: For those who are already married, and perhaps have challenges in the marriage, they should always pray together, eat together. As a woman, if your husband is tired because of the day’s hustling, pray by his bedside. Take whatever challenge you have to God. Go on your knees. Don’t fight your husband. God is greater than the challenge. Believe in God. If there is an issue, don’t tackle it with confrontation. In all that I passed through in my marriage, I never told anyone in my family. I kept everything to myself. I never went to anybody. I tabled it before God and He saw us through.