Helping Marriages Go The Distance

The new book, 'I Do ... Every Day: Words of Wisdom for Newlyweds, and Not So Newlyweds' offers common sense advice and surprising tips for maintaining healthy marriages. Journalist Cynthia Bond Hopson and Reverend Roger Hopson write from experience — they've been happily married for 35 years, with two children and four grandchildren. They speak with host Michel Martin about their book, marriage and advice for couples.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host: Now we thought it would be nice to move from this conversation about whether black marriage is on the rocks or not, to advice about how to keep any marriage healthy. Now there are any number of people who want to give advice on marriage. But we decided to call on Cynthia Bond Hopson and Roger Hopson because they've been happily married for 35 years.

They have two children and four grandchildren. But they are also people who've done all this while practicing two professions that are sometimes very hard on relationships: journalism and ministry. And probably because of that they decided they wanted to do more than just celebrate their own happy union, they want to help other couples experience that same joy, so they wrote a book together that spills some common sense and surprising tips for keeping that newlywed glow for decades into your marriage. It's called "I Do ... Every Day: Words of Wisdom for Newlyweds and Not So Newlyweds."

And Roger Hopson, he is the Reverend Roger Hopson, by the way, and Cynthia Bond Hopson join us now from Nashville, Tennessee. Welcome to you both. Thank you both so much for joining us.

The Reverend ROGER HOPSON: Thank you. Honored to be here.

CYNTHIA BOND HOPSON: Thank you so much for having us here.

MARTIN: I did want to start by just asking you about the conversation that we just had about the way marriage, particularly black marriage, is sort of portrayed in the media. I wanted to ask if any of that resonates with you. Our guest specifically feels that he thinks there's kind of a negative narrative around black marriage and he just doesn't think that that's warranted. I wanted to ask if you share that thought or not.

HOPSON: I think he's correct. Growing up, I saw bad marriages and good marriages but the greater number were good marriages. And I think with us as African-Americans, it's like we don't brag ourselves about the good marriages. It's the ones that don't last long that get all the media attention.

HOPSON: I think the ones that are lethal get a whole lot more play than the ones that are positive. I'm thinking about Cliff and Clair Huxtable, they really loved and cared about each other and they got along. And since "The Cosby Show" went off the air, I don't think we've had that many other images that are kind of like that, that said, yes, they have careers, they have children who are not in prison. And I just think the images are lopsided, if anything.

MARTIN: Well, there are the Obamas.

HOPSON: I love them.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Well?

HOPSON: When he looks at her, I mean you know that this man is in love with this woman, and no matter whatever else comes that's not going to change. And so, yes, absolutely, Michelle and Barack Obama are an important role model for African-American women and men, and particularly for black marriage.

MARTIN: But to that end though, is that in part what you were hoping to accomplish with this book, to let people know that happy marriage over time is possible and also how to do it? I guess what I'm asking is in part you want to be role models for people even if people don't know you.

HOPSON: Absolutely.

HOPSON: I think one of my main goals is to help men understand they need to talk, to communicate. You know, don't think we'll socialize to give ourselves to talk much and to let our feelings come out. It's almost like we have to be guarded and I think a lot of racism and things that happen in the world cause us to be guarded and to show that strong image. But there's times to be tough and there are times to be tender and you have to know the difference.

MARTIN: How did you learn that for yourself?

HOPSON: I grew up, my mother, she cleaned houses and my father worked at a cleaners. And my father was pretty distant and cold but my grandfather was as affectionate. He would give you a hug and a kiss but when he needed to be firm in business or whatever, he knew how to be firm. And so I decided that I kind of liked my grandfather's image of being strong but knowing - being able to say to other men I love you, I care about you. And I didn't like my father's image who was just a strong man who just couldn't give himself.

MARTIN: Professor Hopson, I'll ask you, what about women? What are some of the things you think that women could do to help their marriages?

HOPSON: Stop expecting people to read their minds. If you need some quiet time, if you need some space, you need to say that. You shouldn't expect people to read your mind. You will have to work at that. And that's one of the challenges for us. We work in everything else but we don't work in our marriages.

I went to this workshop and the couple said, you know, how many hours did you work at your job? How many hours did you do this or that or the other? And I'm thinking, well, what did that have to do with anything? And then they asked how many hours did you work on your marriage last week? And I thought, oh, I'm supposed to work on my marriage?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HOPSON: And so it was at that point that I realized that I had to fix myself up and not let myself go so that he would be much more interested in the woman down the street than he would be in the woman who is at his home. And so taking care of yourself, both physically and mentally. You know, there's so many things that we can do to be supportive of one another.

MARTIN: Reverend Hopson, can I ask you this question? It might be a sensitive question.

HOPSON: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: If you're just us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. We're talking about a new guide for keeping a happy marriage. It's called "I Do ... Every Day." I'm speaking with the co-authors. They are the husband and wife team, Roger Hopson, he's the Reverend Hopson; and Cynthia Bond Hopson, she's also Professor Hopson.

And Reverend Hopson, I'm interested in this question of why should people get married?

HOPSON: It's more than just government regulations, it's that we're a part of each other. We've given ourselves to each other. You can live together and make that same commitment. But it is so easy, I think it's so - subconsciously, it's so easy to get your stuff, take your ball and bat and go home. You're not...

MARTIN: And you think marriage is part, marriage is the way that you signal your intention...

HOPSON: Yes. Right.

MARTIN: ...to do the hard thing.

HOPSON: Right.

MARTIN: Professor Hopson, I want to ask you this question. And I think there are some women who might say that part of the reason they might not be as interested in marriage is that they like the freedom, the autonomy, and they don't like the fact that traditionally marriage has meant a sort of subservient role for women where they are expected to kind of put their interests and desires aside and they just don't want to. And what would you say to women who feel well, you know, I just don't, I don't need all that?

HOPSON: I would want to say that if you structure your marriage according to, I think, what God intends then you have all the things that you need. You need the freedom but you also have that freedom if you and your husband or your wife talk about what it is that you need. You have that, that somebody who encourages and allows you the space to grow.

MARTIN: Is there one piece of advice that you wish each of you had been given before you got married that you want to be sure you pass on? And Reverend Hopson, I'll ask you first and then Cynthia, I'll give you the last word.

HOPSON: The first year of my marriage was pretty tough because I wanted to do it in a manly fashion and I wanted to be in control. And fortunately, there were people around me who said the image of marriage that you're looking for is not a nominating kind of thing, it's a partnership. And so I appreciated that.

MARTIN: And Professor Hopson, what about you? Is there one piece of advice you wish someone had told you before you got married?

HOPSON: You don't have to say everything that's on your mind and certainly, that you can choose to be happy. And I thank and praise the Lord for sending me a husband that I can love and admire. And I know that liking him is every bit as is important as loving him, so.

MARTIN: Cynthia Bond Hopson and Roger Hopson are co-authors of the book "I Do ... Every Day: Words of Wisdom for Newlyweds, and Not So Newlyweds." And they were kind enough to join us from Nashville, Tennessee. Thank you both so much for speaking with us.

HOPSON: Thank you.

HOPSON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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