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No topic was off limits at the 2021 ESSENCE Festival of Culture Virtual Wellness House this year, including the realities behind the work that it takes to strengthen our marriages.

New Orleans based couplepreneurs Mark and Tammy Armour sat down with ESSENCE to get real about how to make a modern blended family work and share their own secrets. The couple each brought a son into their marriage and have been working diligently at building up their new family structure while still being sensitive to their roles as stepparents and spouses.

It starts with compromise and truly embracing a new beginning, says the couple, who each have a teenage son from a previous relationship.

“When you blend your family, break down what you did before, what you thought before, how you went about discipline and ways of working in the house, and then rebuild it together,” shares Tammy.

It’s also a good idea to be aware of how your actions and words can affect your children, especially when they’re getting used to a new family structure in the home.

“It’s like building a home, it’s going to take some time, but it’s worth it when you take it slow and do it the right way,” explains Mark. “We really had to find out what our kids triggers were. We had to really learn then, and they had to learn us. It was like putting together a big jigsaw puzzle.”

New traditions can also help create a safe space to air out family grievances.

“Our most favorite tradition is table talk Tuesdays, which is our dinner around the table. Everybody knows, you already know on Tuesdays, don’t make plans, you don’t have anything going on outside of what’s going on at the house. We have dinner together. We have conversations. We kind of go around the table and check your head, check your heart. Tell me what’s going on with your friends.”

“Those uncomfortable conversations,” injects Mark.

“Sometimes uncomfortable conversations,” continues Tammy. “We have teenagers, so you know we’re sexing and girlfriends and relationships now too.”

“Sometimes we don’t know what to talk about it and we need a little boost,” explains Mark. “We got a deck of cards. You can find them in stores and their conversation starters. Everybody will pull a card and we’ll talk about ‘em because it touches past present and future. Then we’ll learn more about each other, even stuff that don’t know. And inevitably we’ll get stuck on something, and it’s like, oh this is what we need to talk about for the day.”

“A lot of times you don’t know where to start, especially as you’re still learning things about each other,” adds Tammy.

The couple also goes to church together on Sundays,

“We couldn’t have gotten through it without God,” added Mark.

But what about the ex-factor? The other parents always matter too. “The ex-factor can be extremely difficult, and we have to understand and give each other grace, give ourselves grace,” explains Mark. “I’m not going to be doing everything right all the time. The other parents aren’t going to be doing everything right all the time, and don’t have all the answers, but the important part is that it’s in the best interest of the child. Try to come to some common ground and just figure it out.

“Choose your battles and choose them wisely,” added Tammy. “Not every argument is worth having.”

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