Actress Sheryl Lee Ralph and Sen. Vincent Hughes know exactly what it takes to make a marriage work – communication and devotion.
After they both survived failed marriages and painful divorces, God brought them together with a little help from a mutual friend. Instantly smitten, Ralph, who was living in Los Angeles at the time, and Hughes, who is based in Philadelphia, were determined to create a solid foundation for their relationship despite the long distance.
That was 10 years ago, seven of which they’ve been happily married and loving it. We sat down with the power couple to find out how they blended their families (they both had two kids when they meet) with ease and found the secret to a happy marriage in the process.
ESSENCE.com: How would you describe your marriage?
SHERYL LEE RALPH: Great! Like a lot of marriages, you have your ups, your downs, your ins and your outs. But, I love my husband.
SENATOR VINCENT HUGHES: We view our marriage as a blessing. Life could have been very, very different for the both of us. God led us to each other right at the absolute perfect time. Sheryl is a blessing to me. This relationship and this love is a blessing, and I try to treat it that way. We thank God in prayer several times a day, both together and apart in prayer.
ESSENCE.com: What do you love most about being married to each other?
RALPH: I have a great friend and a great partner; somebody that I absolutely trust. I believe that if something awful was to happen to me, that I could trust my husband to do the best for my family and my kids, and to be all the things I would want him to be. He’d be strong enough to carry on.
HUGHES: I love my wife. I trust her, and I trust the integrity that she brings to the relationship and her life.
ESSENCE.com: When it comes to marriage, what are your strengths?
RALPH: You’ve got to be able to laugh together and really, really communicate with each other. Bad communication will mess everything up.
HUGHES: We believe in each other’s mission and each other’s work, and we’re both very focused on our children and our family. I think that really is the foundation. I like what Sheryl’s about. Even when we don’t want to communicate with each other, we do. We pray for the strength to always turn toward each other when we have differences. People have a tendency to turn away. It has worked for us; I can tell you that.
ESSENCE.com: No one ever says marriage is hard, but it is. How do you stay focused on the love?
RALPH: Having a relationship is kind of like birthing a baby. It’s one of the greatest things you’ll do, but, damn, it hurts. People have bumps in the road because they think something has gone wrong, so they figure they’ll just find someone else to figure it out with. Only, they didn’t figure it out, and they didn’t learn anything; they didn’t fix it. If you just spend the same amount of time working it out with the person you’re with, it’s easier, better for you and cheaper.
HUGHES: And it’s an extra stress on your children. When those breakups occur, the ones that usually get hurt the most are the children.
ESSENCE.com: How have you managed to successfully blend your families?
HUGHES: We did counseling.
RALPH: It was because we’ve both been married and divorced before and we had children to think of.
HUGHES: We knew the pain, but we knew we loved and respected each other immensely. We hadn’t even talked about marriage, but we knew we wanted to go to relationship counseling. If you’re honest in your session, you’re leaving everything wide open. It was a way to really reveal ourselves to one another with guidance. It was extremely helpful. I would encourage counseling whether you have a blended family or not.
RALPH: When it comes to blending your family, you have to figure out who you are in the relationship. I’m not trying to be his children’s mother, because they already have a mother, and they love her. Just like Vincent is not trying to be my children’s father.