Modupe Ehirim, the founder of The Right Fit Marriage Academy, works with men and women to become persons that their spouses look forward to coming home too. Using her program, Modupe Ehirim guides married people to intentionally design and build healthy and long-lasting marriages.
This certified SYMBIS (Save Your Marriage Before It Starts) Facilitator graduated with First Class Honours in Chemical Engineering from the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) in 1980.
After which she worked with the Central Bank of Nigeria (Building and Engineering Services) for seventeen years before setting up a retail book business that she operated for thirteen years.
Apart from being a certified family Systems Engineering Practitioner, Ehirim has served on the National Executive Committees of two business membership organisations Christian Booksellers Association Nigeria (CBAN) and NECA’s Network of Entrepreneurial Women (NEW), currently she is a member of the board of OASIS International, Publishers of the Africa Study Bible.
In this interview with Esther Onyegbula, she talks about her journey so far, domestic violence, high rate of divorce, factors limiting women from getting to the peak of their careers in corporate organizations and other issues.
With hindsight tell us about your growing up and lessons you think can be drawn?
I was privileged to be born to visionary parents who appreciated the value of education for all children, male and female.
They not only sent me for formal education, but they also modeled for me a love for learning outside of school. My parents nurtured and disciplined my siblings and I using life principles and values.
For example, my mum’s maxim “life has two sides, suffering and enjoyment”, helped us to understand that actions have consequences. As an adult, the only life skills I didn’t have were the ones my parents were not aware of, such as how to network, how to run a business and financial management skills.
The primary lesson from my growing up years is that a person who grows up with parents who have a healthy relationship with one another has a significant advantage over those who didn’t.
Seeing that no one chooses their parents, I understand that people do the best with what they know or were given.
For someone who studied and graduated with a First Class Honours in Chemical Engineering how did you get here?
I arrived here because I had to figure out a lot of things by myself. Unlike today, where internet access and satellite TV gives access to information and opportunities outside of the community you were born into and grew up in, there was not much career guidance available.
In addition, there also weren’t many avenues for young women to be guided in making career decisions in fields that at the time were considered to be solely for men.
When I started work after graduating from university, I was all set to work till the mandatory age for retirement. Midway through my career, I awakened to the knowledge that every human being is personally responsible for their lives and career. I chose to retire early from my job.
To be honest, I didn’t know what I was going to do next but I didn’t want to continue on autopilot.
It was the start of a conscious and intentional life from that point on. I went through a paid career coaching program that showed me many things that I didn’t know about myself.
My subsequent career choices to operate a bookstore for thirteen years and now a Marriage Education business for four years now were conscious ones.
For 17 years you worked in the corporate sector, before becoming an entrepreneur how would you describe both phases?
Working in the corporate sector and being an entrepreneur are both means to an end. The goal of an employee and that of an entrepreneur is to create wealth for themselves and live out their dreams.
In the corporate sector, an employee gets to focus on just a small aspect of the business of the organization they work for.
This sometimes gives a false sense of security because such organizations look like nothing can shake them.
An entrepreneur however has to focus on and take responsibility for the entire business of her organisation. This means that she is more exposed to risks especially in an unstable economy like ours.
One scenario is not better than the other. What is critical is for one to be “present” and personally responsible for everything that involves and affects them.
So far, what can you consider your greatest achievements?
There are two of them. First, nurturing my four children into responsible adults who have lives and careers of their own but still value the healthy and active relationships they have with myself and their dad.
Secondly, creating a community of over 11,000 people in 81 countries on social media and guiding them to become persons who are self-aware and intentional in building healthy and active relationships within their families and at work.
When members of The Right Fit Marriage Community on social media (many of who have never met me in person) share their stories with me, I consider myself really privileged to have such impact.
What is your vision of an ideal what society?
My vision of a healthy society is one in which every child born into a family, into a community has an opportunity to be nurtured and taught the basic life skills and prepared for healthy adult relationships.
We tend to look at society on the macro-scale and that perspective is important. However, a human being is only as good as the community in which he or she is nurtured.
The interactions a child has, the behaviours modelled for them and which they copy, as well as the life skills they are taught in the years before stepping out of the home to go to school, has marked them significantly for life.
Can you tell us about the cherished values that have contributed to making you who you are today?
My personal values are Integrity, Fear of God, Commitment, Love for learning, Accountability, Community
When and why did you establish The Right Fit Marriage Academy?
I established The Right Fit Marriage Academy in May 2016. I found that many people were wary of committed relationships within families and even at work. Many negative stories were portrayed in different media.
The fear was palpable. As I talked with young upwardly mobile young people, I realised that even though they were smart and doing well in their professions, inadvertently they had not been taught relationship skills on their way up in life.
One reason for this, is that their parents grew up in a completely different social context from what we now have so they couldn’t have equipped them with the skills needed in today’s context.
I decided that instead of complaining about the obvious problems, I would be a part of solving them.
That led to establishing The Right Fit Marriage Academy. To fast track the impact of the Academy’s work, I created a Facebook Community which today has over 11,000 members from 81 countries.
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The interaction and discussion in the community have deepened my understanding of the issues underlying the relationship problems and created a platform for shifting long-held paradigms that negatively impact marriage.
I have also authored Marriage is NOT a Trap, a book and workbook which both singles and married people use as a tool to clarify their expectations about marriage and align them with their partner’s expectations.
What are the factors limiting women from getting to the peak of their careers in corporate organisations?
First I must boldly say that although we are not where we want to be, we have made significant progress in this regard.
When I graduated with First Class Honours in Chemical Engineering in 1980, I didn’t know any other woman engineer. In the two or three sets ahead of me there were no women. In three sets after me, there were no women.
This meant that there were no role models and mentors and a young woman like I was at the time had to figure out how to navigate the professional world by themselves. With this experience, I will say that the primary limiting factor is ignorance of what is possible and how to make it happen.
The more that we record and document the experiences of women who have made significant progress, detailing both the obvious steps and the behind the scenes ones – like intentional networking, mentoring, the more that women will aspire to top positions and achieve such positions.
As a professional marriage counselor, what are the factors responsible for the high rate of divorce in the country and what is the way out?
That said, I agree with you that we should look at ways of reducing the rate of divorce in our community. Prevention is always better than cure.
Marriage Education is one preventive tool that has been and is still being used in many countries around the world. Healthy marriage and relationship education is designed to help adults and children develop the skills they need to experience healthy relationships.
Focusing on building skills such as communication, conflict management, parenting, and financial literacy, marriage education doesn’t wait until a couple is married. Starting from teen years, teaching people what marriage is and what it requires will lead to a healthier choice of partners as well as an appreciation of the sacrifice and commitment long term relationships require. Such programs will help to deal with the trauma of adverse childhood experiences long before marriage is contracted.
Is domestic violence and threat to life enough basis to end a marriage?
As a community, we are just beginning to understand the full implications of domestic violence in family relationships in general and marriage in particular.
As the devastating trauma and threat to life that accompanies domestic violence continues to be reported and documented, we are gaining insight into identifying what I call “toxic” marriages.
A toxic marriage is one in which one or both partners is unwilling or unable to do what is required, including seeking professional help to make the relationship healthy and stable. In such a situation, there is enough reason to end the marriage.