By Christy Anyanwu
Modupe Ehirim is a Yoruba woman from Ogbomosho, Oyo State married to a man from Ikeduru, Imo State. Like the wife of the Ondo State governor, Mrs. Betty Akeredolu, she is unquestionably proof that with commitment of both spouses, inter-tribal marriages produce excellent outcomes. Among her Igbo friends, she is admired for the tenacity she has shown in faithfully travelling to the Southeast to attend regular home and abroad women community meetings. Her strong passion to keep marriages healthy led her establish The Right Fit Marriage Academy (TRFMA). In this interview, she sheds light on how it all started five years ago and explains the impact being made by the academy.
Right from the Bible, God considered marriage so important that it is mentioned in the second chapter of Genesis in verse 18. The marriage institution has been under severe strain. Is the emerging trend of sharing marital issues on the social media alright?
Why not, if not? People are afraid to share their marriage stories because they feel marriage is perfect and has no troubles. There is no marriage in this world that does not have trouble; trouble happens because people are different. Now because of the negativity and bias that have been so implanted in our minds, when we put a good story on the platform, people think it is a lie. When we look behind the scene, you will see something. The second reason for sharing our stories is that we learn by modelling. The third reason is that when somebody grows up in a home where the marital experience was not good, how will such a person have a proper picture of what they are aspiring for in marriage? For many years, I kept publishing the photographs of my parents as they celebrated their anniversary. If these stories are not shared people will begin to think that marriage is vain.
What exactly is TRFMA?
It is a community of people who believe that marriage can be beautiful. These people are open to learning and ready to change. We believe that marriage education is a lifelong matter and one can never know enough about marriage. The ‘community’ basically provides an enabling environment. In our online community on Facebook, we hold monthly events where we invite speakers to discuss topical marital issues. Marriage is a private decision between a man and woman but it has a lot of implications for people who are not a party to that decision. The ideal way for one to be prepared for marriage is to grow up in a home where one’s parents had a healthy relationship. That would shape the child to be a better person in society. We expose our members to this reality and it broadens their awareness about marriage and its implication on others. As we were planning for the 5th anniversary, we were not sure how COVID was going to turn out. We did not plan a physical celebration. Also, our members are in different places. In Nigeria, we have people in Port Harcourt, Abuja, Jalingo, and so. We decided to do an online programme, which ran from May 1 to 21. We asked our members of the academy to share their stories on social media.
What motivated you to go into this?
I have always been excited about marriage, primarily because I wanted my own marriage to be good. But overtime, in my conversation with people, I found out that not everybody understood marriage the way I did. Then I had the opportunity in church to be in the pre-marital counselling unit and it was 14 hours for every couple that was planning to get married. I found out that there were many things people didn’t know. I realised that a lot more people needed to know and understand more about marriage. So, in 2012 I told myself that social media is a good opportunity. I already saw people using it. I saw people come to social media with their questions and the answers people would give were likely to create more problems. So, I told myself I could do this differently, and help people know that there are good marriages just as we have bad marriages. So, you need to look out for good marriages and have a model of what you want. Then secondly, we could have a community that actually looks as if we are in a village. Here we are just interacting normally and in the course of our interactions, we are changing paradigms. I just wanted to help people to get a positive perspective about marriage.
Why are you so passionate about this?
My parents had a perfect marriage. But I am probably more blessed more than 99.9 per cent of the people. My mother died at 60 years and four months after she married my father. I lived with them and saw them live together, relating in healthy ways with one another. Relating with their in-laws properly and influencing other people around them. Then my husband also influences me. When I met him and we married, his parents had lived together for a long time, they had a long distance relationship and they related so well. For me I always knew marriage could be done well and enjoyed. Of course, I also know marriages that are not doing well. What concerned me was that the media was showcasing the negative stories and negative bias was taking over. So when you share five bad marriage stories and there is no good marriage story; everybody would begin to think that marriage is a bad thing. When couples have problems, even if the wife or husband has not done anything based on the things people read on social media, they would begin to think that perhaps what my husband is doing now is the kind of thing I read. There was a story I read when the US Federal Reserve wanted to train cashiers to recognise a fake note; they didn’t give them the fake note. Instead they give them the real note to handle over a period of time. The idea is that if someone knows the real note very well immediately they pick up a fake note they will recognise it. So, I thought that this is the way we should look at marriage, show people what marriage is and how healthy it can be and what makes it to be healthy. Once they see things that would not make it healthy they would be able to identify such things.
Could it be that the feeling is driven by the frequent break-up of celebrity marriages?
It is not even celebrity marriage that is the issue. I read stories from the Magistrate Court every day in the newspapers or may have stories of spousal abuse and infidelity. In the same way, the newspapers promote and project older people who have been married for 50 or 60 years. Generally people just assume from such story that those are the people who have good marriages. A lot people believe that things have fallen apart.
Isn’t this true?
No it isn’t. I say that based on research, even though we don’t have reliable statistics in Nigeria, the truth is that things are the same all over the world. We have access to research done in North America, and Asia. When we look at our own local situation and compare, you will see that marriages are not breaking down more. What is just happening is that there is better report and greater awareness. The second reason it seems as if there is a lot more bad marriages is the fact that the environment in which people marry has changed and we are all not aware of it. About 60 or 70 years ago, people got married in the same village. What that means is that from birth till they got married, they shared the same perspective in life, same paradigm and same beliefs. So when they got married, there won’t be too much difference. All of the things that create issues were not there. By the time you are 17 years or 18 years, your father would show you a plot of land, community would help you to build a home and so the question of being afraid to look after your wife does not come up. However, in today’s world, the structures that were there for what I call informed marriage education are not serving us now. The reason is simple: we are all living in our compounds, we are all living in the cities and we don’t really interact in such a way that we learn all of these relationship matters. Secondly, there is a lot more education and exposure. Questions are asked and usual responses are not given to explain the principles behind what we do. We are just told that it is the way we do it.