A professor of political economy and management expert, Pat Utomi and his wife, Ifeoma, talk about their 31-year-old marriage.
What exactly has kept your marriage going?
Ifeoma: If a woman knows what she wants in a man, her choice would be streamlined based on her principles. I always tell young ladies that they have to accept the package (man) they started out with. After you wed a man, whatever personality or character he displays in marriage, is yours. Women have to learn to deal with things. Marriage is about self-giving and being tolerant. It is about ‘us’ and not ‘I.’ Sometimes, we need to subsume our ambitions and ideals for the other person. One needs to be accommodating; one has to do certain things out of love, not necessarily because one wants to do them.
Was he everything you wanted in a man when you first met?
Ifeoma: One cannot determine how a man would turn out, only God knows. But from the period we started courting, I knew we had a future together and that he was somebody I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I was sure he was going to love me and treat me right.
How did you propose to her?
Utomi: There are romantic western ideals (proposals) that are nice. But I think for us, we just connected. We both knew that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. In terms of the formal ‘will you marry me proposal,’ that eventually happened but it was clear from the outset of our courtship that the proposal already took place before the formal proposal happened. I keep celebrating the fact that she agreed to be my wife.
Why do you do that?
Utomi: Marriage is a gift to your partner when you agree to be his or her wife or husband. You give up so many things. I think people do not realise how important that ‘value’ is. Being a young lady, she could have chosen to travel abroad or pursue something else, but here she is. It is definitely a gift. Gratitude is the most important thing in a relationship. We recently celebrated her birthday in a unique way. People thought it was her 40th or 50th birthday. Every year comes with one type of game, which keeps our marriage fresh. We love playing games.
Did you ever think you would be married for this long?
Ifeoma: I did not think otherwise. I expected to spend the rest of my life with him.
You have been married for 31 years. What is the secret?
Utomi: Is there a secret? I think that marriage is first and foremost a gift from God. If you accept this fact, it makes it easy to sail through. Marriage is a covenant, not an agreement. God is the third party. His spirit is one of love and sharing. That is fundamentally what there is to marriage.
What challenges did you face in marriage and how did you overcome them?
Ifeoma: Generally, we have had an unchallenging life. But I think the area of politics was a challenge for me. Though, when I met my husband, I knew he had an out-going personality. He likes to try out new things. He loves variety, which is his trademark and I like that. But politics, exposure and being in the limelight, was a challenge for me. I was more concerned about him getting into politics (which many describe as a dirty game) with the type of integrity and persona he possesses. But I was able to deal with it. I had to change my orientation.
Utomi: I must say that my wife braced herself for the challenge fast.
Who is the first to apologise when you have misunderstandings?
Utomi: It depends on the issue. Typically, if I am upset, I walk away. But three minutes later, I have forgotten about everything and we continue talking as if nothing happened. We do not allow ourselves to be caught in misunderstandings.
How do you handle female admirers?
Ifeoma: I think he has always been a ladies’ man. Back in the university, he had quite a number of female admirers. Even after we got married, some of his university female friends tarried. It has been a familiar terrain for him. He grew up in a house full of girls and that explains my conclusion that it is a familiar terrain for him.
What are his weaknesses?
Ifeoma: He has difficulty saying no. I would not call the other a weakness, in fact, I consider it a strength – my husband loves to help people. Sometimes, this could be to his detriment. Aside that, he is perfect to me.
How often do you take her out?
Ifeoma: We travel a lot and during our trips, we go on one romantic date or the other. We also go out quite often in Lagos. Once, we went to a night club. When I told my friends, they were surprised; they wondered who I went with. I have an image problem; people think I go to bed wearing a suit. Once I told a group of youths that if I had not been an academician, I would have been a comedian. I like to make people laugh. My classes are always exciting.
Some men are of the view that a woman’s place is in the kitchen. What is you view about this?
Utomi: If I had that view, I would not have gone to medical school to meet my wife; I would have gone to my village. But my joy is that from the start, she has been a super performer in the kitchen. After I returned from the United States, my house was a meeting point for young professionals. She used to come and cook various delicious meals. My friends loved her meals. Perhaps, if she could not cook, I might have adjusted somehow. But it was never an issue for us. I found it interesting she could cook, because I too was famous for my cooking skills in graduate school. I used to enjoy cooking.
Who is the better cook between the two of you?
Utomi: She cooks better than I do.
Ifeoma: He cooks very well. During one of my birthday celebrations, he did the cooking.
What are those things you do to look attractive to him?
Ifeoma: I do not eat too much, though he thinks I eat a lot sometimes. I believe in eating small proportions – eating healthily. I would love to exercise more, but I exercise lightly. I think my slim physique is God-given. My family history shows traits of us being on the big side and that is why I watch what I eat.
Utomi: I always talk about my wife’s body features publicly. At one of the lectures held during my 60th birthday celebration, I acknowledged that one of the gifts I have is a wife who looks 35 at 53. What is surprising is that she does not go through an extraordinary regimen of keeping fit. In fact, she exercises lightly.
Would your marriage have lasted this long if your wife earned more than you?
Utomi: In fact, I have been praying for her to have money so I can retire and be pampered. But on a serious note, this mentality of men feeling inferior because their wives have more money than they do is a silly, new phenomenon. My father had a job that had an impressive title; he worked with an oil company. He earned a decent amount. My mother who was a textile merchant had more money than he did. No one outside our family knew who was bringing in the most money. When I wanted to attend graduate school, because I did not want to disturb my father, I told my mother. She immediately walked into her room, tore out a sheet from her cheque book and wrote out an amount that could cover my one-year expenses. It was not an issue in my family. Today, things are different and it is wrong.
Do you operate joint accounts?
Utomi: Yes we do. We also have separate accounts.
What do you think is the cause of divorce among celebrity couples?
Utomi: I believe pride is one of them. There is a lot of quarrel over material things. I think patience and tolerance are increasingly in short supply. Everybody is on the go. We do not get enough time to reflect on little misunderstandings. Very sad, I see many marriages that have broken up and the couples cannot figure out why they broke up.
Ifeoma: I think it also has to do with the value system and the cultural transition we are facing. As there are human rights, there are also women’s rights. Our young ladies sometimes get emerged in these rights. In the past, we were brought up to be submissive. The whole ‘women’s right hype’ has brought about less tolerance and impatience. The term ‘equal right’ is affecting some homes negatively.
Do you disagree on how to discipline your children?
Utomi: Once either of us is disciplining any of our children, the other does not interfere. We do not disagree on how to discipline them. Children are very clever; they can play on their parents’ mentality.
What is the most valuable gift you bought for your wife?
Utomi: We buy ourselves gifts all the time. The most valuable gift we give each other is laughter. We always joke about the term ‘Be My Wife,’ because every couple of her birthday, I buy her the latest BMW as a gift.
Ifeoma: My friends say I am a shareholder in BMW. This year, he gets me a series, the following year, it is another series.
Do you sometimes get carried with the wealth your husband has?
Ifeoma: I do not get carried away with anything; people that know me describe me as being down-to-earth. I do not get carried away with material things.
What are your pet names?
Utomi: If we disclose it to the public, then it is no longer our secret pet names.
Is love the only ingredient to sustain a marriage?
Ifeoma: Yes, if one truly understands what loves means. The problem is that many people do not understand what love means. Patience, tolerance and self-giving describe love.
Utomi: The truth of the matter is that it is not only with marriage. I say to love is to lead and to lead is to love. A person who does not love his people cannot lead his people. Love is the most important ingredient in the social context. Many couples have their foundation built on attraction. Either of them gets attracted to the material things the other partner possesses. When the partner stops being that person or having those things, love dies.
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