Generally speaking, the concept of what an African marriage looks like brings to mind certain clichés. African men are encouraged to avoid marriage for as long as possible for the benefit of seeking fortune, while African girls are instructed to make marriage their end goal in life. There are strict gender roles that govern the dynamics of the typical “successful” union. Women are expected – or at least have knowledge of how to cook and clean on a daily basis (even if that woman in a PhD holder or CEO of a multinational conglomerate). A man comes home from work, throws his feet on the ottoman and waits for his dinner. Thrice a week he goes out to have sexual intercourse with his mistress because his wife has become dull, moody and unattractive…presumably from all the extra duties she’s expected to carry out in order to be a “good African” wife.
By all indications, marriage is something that modern African women of means ought to avoid at all costs. Culturally, African women are not expected to excel beyond a certain level and/or are expected to stifle their achievements for the sake of their husbands’ reputation. This can only lead to discontentment in a woman, which then transfers into the marriage: Miserable wife, miserable life.
There are no concrete numbers on how many marriages on the Continent end in divorce, but in the US, divorce records are packed with Nigerian surnames. If Twitter and the comment section of the typical Afro-centered blog provide any clue, it’s not difficult to understand why. It amazes me that the concept and workings of marriage between people who identify as African have not evolved with the times. Men no longer run into the bush to hunt game, so why this obsession about tying a woman’s worth to her ability to pound yam and make soup? Why aren’t more men and women of African descent focusing more energy into building stronger, better, faster, smarter women? The evidence is clear: when women are given the opportunity to flourish, uninhibited, the benefits ripple throughout society.
It’s easy to get caught up in the negative aspects of marriage that eventually lead to an African divorce, (ooo! That sounds like a book title!) because we dedicate more time to assessing why marriages fail instead of why they succeed. That’s why it is such a treat to be able to share the unconventional way this Nigerian couple have built a strong(er) marriage by incorporating strength training into their union and busting all those cliches mentioned previously.
Funmi and Ugo have three children celebrate ten years of marriage this year. Devoted to their faith, they serve in a number of their church’s ministries, including the choir, media and renew marriage ministry. Church duties aside, the couple found a new way to connect with one another through metal and floor mats in the gym.
Funmi and I were in the same dorm at Hampton University our freshman year, so when we reconnected on Facebook many years later I was shocked to discover that the smiling girl who went to school on a golf scholarship had earned a Taekwondo black belt and was a former instructor. Perpetually smiling Funmi had also married a perpetually smiling man named Ugo and they have birth three perpetually smiling children. It’s really amazing to see – but what’s even more amazing is the high praise Ugo always has for his wife. In one of his posts, he bragged about how physically strong he knows his wife is, despite her doubts. It was a sentiment he repeated when I asked him about his motivation for pushing his wife and vice versa in the gym.
It took a while but it finally happened. My stomach was pressing on my belt and hurting me. I had to tuck my belly away.
Now I know I was overweight but I didn’t think it was much of an issue but my belly touching my belt? This is a problem. I am a vain man.
Time to hit the GYM.
It took a lot of false running starts but I figured out my issue: I would go to the gym and lift heavy weights as much as possible and then spend the next 5 days in pain from my muscles responding to the workout.
I finally happened upon 5×5 Starting Strength. 3-5 simple compound exercises that you start at low weights. I did it for 3 months sporadically but it allowed me to get used to working out for longer periods. I enjoyed putting on more weight on the bar to show improvement.
I was getting strong but not thinner. I figured I could jog. I declared to my wife that I will job 2 miles today! She gently suggested that I only run 1 mile since I hardly jog. She is a wise woman. I returned drenched in sweat and hyperventilating. I knew I was out of cardiovascular shape but this tired from 1 measly mile? Like I said, I am a vain guy so I started running in earnest. 1 mile, 1.5, 2 miles then 3 miles and now and then 3.5 miles. Great way to get away and challenge yourself.
I love running and hearing my lungs breathe normally. It makes me feel like I am doing push-ups for my lungs.
I work out for mainly vain reasons. I want to look good without a shirt. The health benefits are a great bonus but I want to be able to remove my shirt and have to fend off ladies that want to lick the sweat off my pectorals. (Don’t judge me, I am a vain man.)
My Funmi is a strong woman but I soon realized that she is stronger than she thinks she is. I push her to remind her that the weights she does are too little for her. I want to push her boundaries. I never told her the squat bar already had 45 lbs. I slapped on 25 lbs. on both sides and told her to lift. She did easily. So my job is to push her. Make her lift that heavy weight. She is stronger than she thinks she is.
I want a woman with curves and muscles so the best way to do that is develop my own muscles. Going to the gym with Funmi used to be boring. She had her own routines and she would be in there for 2 hours. Now that I know more of what exercises to do, we are working out together and it is fun.
My favorite workout day with Funmi is leg day. She wears those sexy spandex and does squats and I like to be there supporting her all the way down and back.
I love working out with my husband.
Back in the day when we first got married, I was really into it, worked out 3-4 days a week, 2 hours per workout. Back then, he hated working out with me. (She laughs) He didn’t think that we needed to stay that long and would often be done in less than an hour and sit in the front waiting for me, until he just decided that he wasn’t with my long gym stints, and started going on his own.
Too much wahala.
Too long a commute, etc.
Then all of a sudden my hubby became Mr. Workout King. He started running, started lifting and I started seeing a change in his body. I used to be the one that was motivated, but now he was trying to push me!
My brother and sister-in-law went on a trip a few months ago; I saw how hard they worked leading up to it and how great they looked in their pictures and I wanted that.
Now I am motivated. Interspersed in these last few months, Ugo and I have worked out together, but it’s harder to do with the kiddos. Whenever we have gotten the chance, I’ve loved it. Now that hubby is somewhat of a gym head, he can stay there for two hours.
I had gone from being confident in the weigh room to being intimidated. It’s weird.
I think it’s from years of not lifting and then going to a boot camp place that only used resistance band training for strength training. Either way, I’m learning weights again and Ugo is my teacher.
He is knowledgeable about a lot of things and does research on things that he wants to learn. Weight training is no exception! Whenever we go and workout together, he takes me to the weight section and having him there makes me more comfortable. He teaches me about what weights I can use for what body parts and helps me figure out what to lift. I err on the side of weight that I can comfortably lift with 3 sets and 12-13 sets. Ugo’s not with that. He says: “You are stronger than you think you are!”
Let me be clear, I’m stronger than the average woman… I’ve always been…I was stronger that the average girl when I was growing up and that’s never changed. I used to challenge and often beat boys in arm wrestling from elementary to junior high. At that point the boys started getting bigger and stronger and I retired my arm wrestling ways!
As a martial artist for most of my life, I can do push-ups. ( Real ones…not girly ones. I can even do them on my knuckles.) As a golfer (I went to college on a golf scholarship) I hit the long ball!! If I play from the ladies tee box, I can easily out-drive most guys. When I play from the men’s tee box, I’m right there with them.
Needless to say, Ugo knows these things about me, and really knows me better than anybody. So he knows when I’m taking it easy, even when I don’t realize that I am. So, whatever I tell him what I want to lift, he adds 5lbs to it.
I groan, he ignores my protests, and makes me at least try to lift it, if I can lift it at least 5-6 times, he spots me until I get to 8-10. Only when I can barely lift it once or twice, does he remove some of the weight.
It pushes me to try harder and to try and lift more. He values my physical strength and loves it, wants to see my muscle definition again, and is not intimidated by it! He sees my muscles as sexy.
Funmi’s current weights:
115 lbs squats
40 lb barbell bicep curls
70 lb incline press
70 lb wide chest press
30 lb triceps pull-downs
So now, when I’m by myself, I walk into the weight area with more confidence. The big dudes and ladies in there don’t intimate me. I have a clearer idea of what to do and how to do it.
We won’t necessarily get a chance to work out together consistently, but I love it when we do. He’s my stud and I love seeing his chest pump out when he does his curls, and his triceps flex when does pull-downs. He’s strong and I like it!
There are so many lessons to be gleaned from Funmi, Ugo and their fitness journey. For me, it’s important to note two things: 1) They did not start out on the same page as for as their health goals but they eventually got into sync. 2) In a time where women are competing in sports that require intense strength like MMA or Cross Fit, but are still having their body images policed, it’s refreshing to hear a woman say that she knows her man is not intimidated by her muscles.
Swoop into the comments and tell me all the reasons you adore them too! 🙂