Late last month, Ronnie and Shamari DeVoe took a walk, hand in hand, with some 300 other couples to Kennesaw Mountain National Park.
The 2-mile Married 4 Life Walk, the brainchild of Martez and Woodrina Layton, from Grace Community Church in Marietta was both symbolic and sincere.
Married couples willing to prayerfully stand together will be stronger for it. Not only will their ability to communicate with each other improve, they will rekindle their love for one another and enjoy increased intimacy.
That isn’t just something the DeVoes learned through coaching counseling sessions, exercises they strongly recommend for couples, they’ve lived it.
After nearly a decade together, the couple found themselves in such a place, unable to come to any resolution for the problems they faced.
In addition to being workaholics, it had become nearly impossible to talk with each other. Added to that was the often harsh glare that came with being celebrities. Ronnie DeVoe is a member of the R&B/pop group New Edition and Bell Biv DeVoe, and Shamari is a member of the R&B/pop group Blaque.
In the winter of 2014, while collaborating on an album, the relationship was starting to crack again.
“He wasn’t listening to me,” Shamari remembered recently. “He was having meetings without me. I felt like I didn’t have a voice.”
Shamari moved out.
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She was visiting the wife of one of her husband’s bandmates and her friend Amy Bell when the pain of her marriage bubbled up.
Amy Bell, she said, prayed with her, took her to church, gave her a Bible and books about marriage. Something started to shift in Shamari.
“I realized I needed to honor our marriage vows,” she said.
She also realized she couldn’t do it alone. She returned to Atlanta and after trolling the internet for help, convinced Ronnie to see a marriage coach she’d found on a message board.
Martez Layton and Woodrina Layton, owners of Dream Builders Professional Coaching, had weathered one of the most common causes of marital discord — infidelity — and managed to get to the other side.
Their triumph over their struggle, detailed in “A Blessed Affair: Be Careful What You Curse — Your Curse Could Be Your Blessing,” might not have been, they acknowledge, without their faith, the foundation of everything they do.
If you’re among those who believe Christians divorce at roughly the same rate as the world, that might not be that reassuring. But even sociologists say that those who take their faith seriously — pray and attend church regularly — are 35 percent less likely to divorce compared to those who have no religious affiliation.
And so according to Martez, a certified professional life and marriage coach, and Woodrina, a licensed therapist, their first goal is to make sure husbands and wives are aligned in their God-given destiny and purpose.
That includes helping them to become better communicators, recognize one another’s love language, and be more aware of the traps and pitfalls that can destroy marriages and thus families and communities.
Slowly the DeVoes’ perspective about marriage began to change, and forgiveness was in sight.
The Laytons walked them through their two- to three-month Marriage Enrichment Program, which included weekly assignments focused on improving all aspects of the marriage relationship. They helped them to reconnect spiritually with each other by helping them to create daily marital affirmations and marriage-focused prayers.
“They were both busy, but they put in a lot of work,” Martez Layton said. “We first met them in January. By March, they were like a resurrected couple. They were really in a good place.”
On March 10, 2016, their 10th wedding anniversary, the couple renewed their vows.
By then, the DeVoes had claimed a special place in their coaches’ hearts. They felt more like family than clients.
The feeling was mutual. The DeVoes didn’t just like the Laytons, they were beginning to embrace their vision to strengthen and build healthy marriages. Rather than couples running at the first sign of trouble, they wanted to encourage them to commit to building stronger, healthier marriages and to “never let go of the hand” they were holding.
They signed on to co-host the Laytons’ annual Married 4 Life Walk held in April.
The idea, Ronnie DeVoe said, is that simple gestures such as walking together and holding hands help to build relationships while demonstrating love for each other.
“Knowing what we had gone through and being able to break through the challenges, we saw this as an opportunity to shine a light on their vision,” Ronnie DeVoe said. “We felt like it should be part of our mission.”
In the years since they started to see the Laytons, they said they’ve learned marriage isn’t rosy all the time.
“But if you stick together, there will be blessings on the other side,” they said.
For the DeVoes, that so far has added up to a triple blessing — a stronger marriage and beautiful twin boys.
“One looks like Ronnie,” Shamari said, “and the other one looks like me.”