Sixty-seven-year-old Charles Wainaina and his wife, Agnes Wainaina, also 67, tied the knot as teenagers when they were both 17. Over the years and despite changing trends, the couple has weathered the storms, sifting wheat from the chaff and picking life’s lessons along the way. They have held steadfastly to their vows culminating in 50 years of marriage. ESTHER AKELLO spoke with the down-to-earth couple and unearthed their secrets to a long and healthy marriage.
You have been in a relationship for over fifty years, 44 of those in marriage. That is quite an achievement. Has your marriage turned out to be all you thought it would be?
Charles: One hundred per cent and more. We have known Since childhood. Not only were we neighbours, but we also attended the same primary school the then Muguga Forest Primary School in Kinoo, Kiambu County. By the time I finished high school, I was ready to settle down and I knew who I wanted to settle down with. Fifty years on and we have never looked back.
Agnes: (Emphatically) Yes. Charles is the love of my life. We have sieved each other, learnt the good and the bad about each other and managed to have a lasting and enjoyable marriage out of it.
How long did you court before you tied the knot?
Charles: For six years, since the age of 17. Back then, age was not such a big factor with regard to marriage and besides, I already had a job as a lab technician at the East African Agricultural and Forestry Research Organisation in Muguga, Kiambu County. Getting married and settling was the next logical thing
Agnes: (Chuckling) I was doing well until Charles came along and confused me with all this love business! When he proposed, I said yes and quit my secretarial college studies.
Charles: It was never my intention to destabilise her studies. However, as soon as we got married, she enrolled for a tailoring course.
While our generation suffers from the mpango wa kando craze, your generation was more open to the idea of polygamy. Did you ever discuss whether it was an option in your marital journey?
Charles: A friend once ridiculed me for not indulging in extra-marital affairs. I responded with a question, which still guides me to date: “What more could any woman out there give me that my wife already wasn’t?” Moreover, my father had three wives and I realised that at times conflicts with my stepsiblings would escalate for no good reason, prompting unnecessary tension and hostilities in the different homesteads. I did not want my children to go through the same thing so polygamy was out of the question.
Agnes: We are also born again Christians and the Bible has been our moral compass. With regard to sexuality, one must be willing and ready to fulfill their duties within marriage. That being said, intimacy between one and their partner is key regardless of age. Just because we are old does not mean we have to stop being intimate. It just means the pace and frequency is less.
Did you have difficulties navigating your way through marriage considering the age you got married at?
Charles: We decided from the word go that if our marriage was to work, then the effort must really come from us, not outsiders. Up to this day, we have never felt the need to have anyone intervene to help us settle our differences. We talk about everything openly and that has helped us. There is a trend where in the name of revenge, couples start reneging on their duties such as withholding conjugal rights from each other or failing to provide for their families. Conflict is no basis for spouses to forego their duties. Look for another way to get your point across.
Agnes: Understanding each other is key for a fruitful marriage. Of course, it took us a while to get our footing but one needs to be patient to get the hang of it. Women are lucky because we tend to have an innate wisdom and intuition regarding how to deal with men. Cultivate that intuition; learn your man and you have the formula for a successful marriage. Note, however, that it is a two way street. You both need to make an effort for it to work.
So an argument has never gotten out of hand; regrettable words and deeds exchanged? Ever?
Charles: Well one time I lost my temper and slapped her.
Agnes: He is overly sensitive and can get worked up quite easily.
What was the argument about?
Charles: I can’t really recall the specifics around it. All I know is that we had just settled the argument or at least that is what I thought but she kept bringing it up. That irritated me and before I knew it, I slapped her. It’s one of my biggest regrets in my marriage.
Agnes: I was so angry I demanded he let me out of the car. What ensued wasn’t pretty. We had quite a heated exchange, complete with insults.
Some women would leave their marriage in a heartbeat if their spouse became violent. Obviously that wasn’t you. Were you not scared he might do it again?
Agnes: Well after the initial reaction, we had a good talk about it. He apologised and promised not to do it again. While some scenarios have played out otherwise with reports of people suffering horrific things at the hands of their spouses, in my heart I did not want this to be Charles’ defining moment in our marriage. I wanted to give him a chance to prove himself a better man. It was a one-time incident and to this day he still remains the best man for me.
Would you advise women to stay put?
Agnes: I would not be quick to give blanket advice but with regard to our marriage, we have what we like to call shock absorbers. We give each other a chance to show our best sides in spite of challenges and conflicts, which are normal in any healthy marriage. We also strive to put each first and subscribe to the saying, “Do unto others as you would want done unto you.” If you always put your partner first, you are unlikely to do something that will hurt them.
Speaking of duties, did you have a hard time defining each other’s roles in marriage?
Charles: Not really. We never had a discussion around it. We were all pretty hands on when it came duties and whenever someone got overwhelmed, the other picked up the slack. That means sometimes I would cook, while sometimes Agnes would carry the bulk of our financial burdens. In fact, while we do not share a joint account we normally split our financial burdens. Agnes used to handle the educational needs of the children such as school fees, purchasing uniforms, books and so on. I shouldered all the other bills such as the utilities, rent, and medical among others. We also planned and prioritised on future projects together.
Agnes: We have never really fought over money because when we started out, we didn’t have much. We decided to build our fortune together. We started with a small tailoring business, which matured into a mini-supermarket and eventually, a hardware shop. For us, lack of finances was a fortune, not a challenge. It forced us to live within our means. If we survived without the excesses then, why can’t we survive now?
While couples may mean well, sometimes things don’t just work out and marriages end. Have you had discussion with regard to property rights?
Charles: Not really. All the properties are under my name. Additionally, I am very clear with my family that Agnes comes first in my life. If worse comes to the worst, we have our marriage license which she can use in court to prove she is the next of kin.
Agnes: Even if we (God forbid) separate, I am not scared of losing any property. My comfort is in knowing it is still my children who will inherit the property. How many children do you have?
Charles: Six. Our children are predominantly business people. The first-born, David Wainaina, is 47 years old. Ayub Kanithi, 42, follows him. The third-born and only girl is Susan Nduta, 40, and Fredrick Ngugi, 38, follows her; and then Ken Ng’ang’a, 35. Our last-born, Kevin Mburu, is 32.
Agnes: We are also grandparents to many grandchildren. They keep us young and we try to see them as often as we can and have family gatherings quite often. How has your experience been with regard to parenting?
Charles: I have always aspired to be the best parent I could ever be for my children whether financially, intellectually or otherwise. In fact, I remember when the boys started getting older and restless, I built a small guest wing with five rooms on our property, just so they could have enough privacy and independence but still be close enough for me to get them back in line in case they thought of getting into any mischief.
Agnes: Our desire has always been to raise independent and responsible children in keeping with Christian values. However, the secret to raising good children is through example. Every man subconsciously wants to be like his father while every woman wants to be like her mother. If you live good lives, that is what they will pick up and the reverse is also true.
Being parents to six children means you get six new people in your family upon your children’s marriages. How would you rate yourselves as parents-in-law?
Charles: We accept all our children’s spouses as our own children and treat them accordingly.
Agnes: I have five daughters-in-law and I like to refer to myself as their mother-in-love, not mother-in-law. I make myself available to them, not so that I can keep tabs on my sons but to advise them on how to keep their marriages strong. We pray for them as well. I often tell other women not to be a stumbling block in their children’s marriages; instead, they should be a positive influence.
To what would you owe to the longevity of your marriage?
Charles: Trust and understanding. You would be surprised to find out that there are couples who have been together as long as we have and yet even after all those years, they still find a reason to separate from each other.
It is simply lack of understanding. It is not something unique to young people only.
Agnes: Respect and selflessness. There is no reason why someone should think that they are more deserving in a marriage than their spouse. For instance, when a man leaves his wife for a considerably younger woman, is the effort to start afresh really worth it? Are you going to do anything differently? You cannot reverse time so do your best with the present.
After 50 years, what would you say is the best thing about your spouse?
Charles: That she has accepted to live with me and love me.
Agnes: That he loves me.
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