Former Cincinnati Bengals player M.L. Harris and his wife, Dr. Anne Harris, know the secret to a healthy, happy marriage – a strong faith in God. They consider their 22 years of marriage a blessing, and together they run the Outreach Christian Fellowship in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, where they are senior co-pastors. With six kids and an outreach ministry that runs a K-12 school, bible college and counseling center, their plates are full, but their cups runneth over, too.
We sat down with the dynamic duo for a lesson in the faith-based marriage, and what it means to truly share your marriage with God. This is their testimony.
ESSENCE.COM: What’s your secret?
M.L. HARRIS: Having a biblical marriage is what lets me thrive in this relationship. I strive to be the best husband, the best friend and the best lover that I can possibly be. I’ve been taught through the word of God. It keeps me excited, motivated and fresh. It keeps me looking forward to the next day. I had to learn that, but I learned it through the word of God.
DR. ANNE HARRIS: It’s not based on whether it’s your first or your second time around. It’s based on the person you married. I believe in God ordained relationships. You have many people married two, three and four times and still don’t have good marriages. We would love for people to have the right understanding of love and marriage before they get married so that they marry the right person the first time around. It can happen. You don’t have to be divorced. It’s important to understand the importance of what you should be looking for. If more people understood that, I believe it could change a lot of people’s lives.
ESSENCE.COM: You teach couples about the power of love and marriage through your ministries. What are some of the things you hope they learn?
ANNE: Husband and wives should be best friends. It’s not only important to love your mate, but it’s important to like them too. That really strengthens your relationship. Many young people don’t know what the foundation is. You’d be surprised what people think. They don’t realize that they can have a healthy, marriage built on love. A lot of married people are not friends.
M.L.: When a person doesn’t know the purpose of something, they will abuse it. Our clothes have labels inside that tell us how to keep it up. If we don’t read the labels, we ruin our clothes. I think it’s important to have a true understanding of what marriage is really about to have a successful and good marriage.
ESSENCE.COM: How has faith played a strong role in your marriage?
M.L.: Faith is so empowering and it can help you to see things the way they truly are.
ANNE: Faith helps you to stand strong through whatever you’re going through because you believe in the commitment and you believe in the covenant. You trust God because you believe that He put you together. You therefore trust Him.
ESSENCE.COM: What’s your best advice for newlyweds?
M.L.: Before there was a church there was a marriage. God created man and woman and put them together. Without God in the center of your relationship, it will make it much harder to have a successful marriage. That’s one of the things that we try to explain to couples both young and old.
ANNE: It’s really important that they understand that outside of God, there is no other person or thing more important to you than your spouse. So you should do everything you can to please each other, communicated and to be friends. Your job isn’t more important. The church isn’t more important. Don’t let anything come between you. Don’t bring your single’s lifestyle into your marriage. Learn how to become one.
ESSENCE.COM: What challenges have you faced together?
ANNE: You name it, we’ve experienced it.
M.L.: We’re in a sweet spot right now and we thank God for giving us the stamina to come to this point in marriage where we’re able to fully enjoy and understand one another’s differences. Marriage has not been easy, but it’s very rewarding if you’re willing to stick it out. It doesn’t just get better because you want it to; it does because you work at it.
ESSENCE.COM: What do you love most about marriage?
ANNE: After 22 years we still get very excited about seeing each other. We enjoy each other so much – even if we’re just sitting down talking. That’s why the friendship is so important, because you’re always going to enjoy and respect your friend. Our friendship has sustained us.
M.L.: I marvel at the fact that I have such an awesome wife and friend. I still get excited when I see her. She’s gorgeous to me. It’s fresh every day. She’s not a boring person. I love the fact that I can trust her. I trust her with my life and that gives me freedom. I’m free to be able to say, “Honey, I love you” or “Honey, I’m scared or hurting.” I can be transparent with my wife because of the trust and love I have for her.
ANNE: That’s what time does for you.
ESSENCE.COM: Any final thoughts?
ANNE: Never talk about divorce. Never talk about leaving. Never let words like that come out of your mouth because the words we speak are very powerful. We also believe in protecting your marriage and we do our best to teach other men and women how to do that. You can have an awesome marriage.