Gospel powerhouse J.J. Hairston and his wife Trina had just finished having a heated discussion in their bedroom when I called them for our afternoon interview. After being together for 25 years, the couple recently added full-time business partners to their busy lineup, alongside being full-time parents and lovers, and the transition required ironing out some kinks.
“Well, one thing we’ve always agreed to do is try to hear each other out without making it about what we feel,” J.J. tells ESSENCE. “So this was one of those cases where I was telling Trina how I felt. And it’s kind of hard to receive that without trying to argue your point.”
Trina adds, “We still have to remember that we’re married first. And we have to make sure that even in our business interactions, we are still respecting each other as husband and wife.”
J.J. and Trina offer a rare peek inside the mirage of Christian marriage perfectionism, bravely showing their scars in an effort to heal others in their book, A Miracle Marriage. During the more than two decades they’ve spent together, J..J rocketed to superstardom, with his breakout hit “You Deserve It” racking up numerous awards, including a Grammy nod for Best Gospel Performance in 2017.
While their gospel world domination is admirable, what is equally impressive is how their relationship survived betrayal, heartache and distrust. The pair admit they rushed into marriage, motivated by young love and not wanting to have premarital sex.
“We started going together when we were all like 15, 16 years old. One of our major components is that we didn’t know who we were. And I think some of the mistakes that we made [involved] trying to figure out who we were as individuals,” Trina says.
Those mistakes included infidelity, which brought the couple to the brink of divorce. Trina openly details that rocky time in their book.
“Being honest, the hardest part for me to write was the part where I messed up because I was like, I’m a pastor’s daughter, and I just felt like I had such a clean slate. The perception was out there that, you know, ‘Trina was the clean one,’ so for me to admit that I had messed up, that that part was really difficult for me,” she explains.
For J.J., his stronghold was his personal commitment to unforgiveness as a way to feel empowered after being hurt.
“I think it was hardest for me to recognize and own up to the fact that I loved that I was not able to forgive,” he says. “I was proud of the fact that I would not forgive you because my family was known for holding grudges. I was proud of it. And I realized how selfish that was. Being the recipient of forgiveness, not only from my wife, but also from God. How could I be so proud of the fact that I would not forgive others?”
Church shame left both Trina and J.J. isolated in their pain–too afraid to ask for help. But eventually, their failing marriage became obvious and the cracks in their commitment grew too large to hide.
“Once people started finding out how much trouble our marriage was in, most of the people around us were just saying, ‘Well, you just need to divorce.’ And I found some contradiction in that because we were in church,” Trina says.
“We were singing about how God is a healer; how He’s a provider; how He’s a miracle worker. And I refused to believe that the same God that was doing all those things could not help my marriage.”
The two made a decision in faith that a miracle was possible in their connection, and with prayer, counseling and brutal honesty, they slowly put the pieces back together. Now armed with new relational tools, the couple wrote their book to share their wealth of experiences with the world—including insight on when to stick out a rough patch in a marriage and when to quit.
“I strongly believe there’s a difference between a mistake and a behavior. Someone makes a mistake maybe once or twice, whereas behavior is something that they’re expecting you to accept,” J.J. explains. “And there’s nothing that you should have to accept that’s putting you in emotional or physical disadvantage. So physical abuse, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, those are all behaviors.”
In the absence of abusive tendencies and in instances where both parties are willing to do the work, the Hairstons believe reconciliation and healing is possible for dedicated couples.
“Just because you disagree on some things, it doesn’t mean that it has to end up in divorce. And it was out of that that I said, you know what, I want to tell our story. Everyone didn’t know all of the intricate details because we did everything behind closed doors. But now that we’re a better place, let’s tell our story,” Trina says of their book.
“Let’s see how many people may be in the same situation that we’re in and can actually work it out.”
“Working it out” is a forever job in marriage, and in this chapter of their love, Trina and J.J. are mastering communication and fun.
“It’s always a journey. And right now, we’re still working on the most effective way to communicate with each other,” J.J. says.
“We’re also learning how to make each other happy. I think that we tend to shy away from the word happiness in marriage these days. People want to just be satisfied or, you know, they think that marriage can feel secure, but not happy. We want to still have a happy marriage. We want to laugh. We want to have joy. We dance in the house and we hug a lot. Those are the things that we’ve learned to do a lot more. And we’re still working on it.”
J.J. and Trina Hairston’s new book A Miracle Marriage is available now on amazon.com. The album Miracle Worker is available now wherever music is sold and streamed digitally.