Tope Abiara, a marriage and family counsellor, and president of Love & Family Foundation, also known as Love Clinic, is one of the Vice Chairmen of CCC (Community Chest Council), an umbrella body of all NGOs in Oyo State. In this interview by SAM NWAOKO, the daughter in-law of Prophet Dr. S.K. Abiara, speaks on a number of issues about her job and the country.
Did you set out to be a counsellor or something made you to veer into it?
No, I didn’t initially set out to be a counsellor. I was actually a third year medical school student before I felt within me that I wasn’t on the right path. I prayed then the Holy Spirit revealed my call to me as a counsellor. I changed my course the following day, graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Georgia State University and went ahead to obtain my Masters in Counseling from Liberty University in Virginia, USA.
What are some of those things that inspired this journey into marriage/family counselling, etc? Is it a full time job?
I have a passion for it, an in-born passion. When I was no longer feeling right about my chosen major as a medical student, I tried to think of a different career path but I had a hard time doing so, because I grew up being called a medical doctor by family members and friends, even school mates; there was no one that wouldn’t call me by Dr, including all of my Dad’s friends. It was a stressful time for me and my close friends, we tried to figure out what other profession would fit my personality, there was none we could come up with. Then I had THE dream, I woke up with excitement because that fits perfectly into who I am; I told my friends and they all exclaimed, “Oh, that is definitely you!” I’ve been the one everyone feels comfortable talking to, about what they’re going through, since I was young; even adults, I was always easy to talk to and give you the perfect counsel. Yes, it is a full time job.
What has the experience been like? Could you share one or two remarkable ones?
It’s been great, because it’s a call of God, therefore I have His backing. I have a mentorship program for young ladies called Exemplary Ladies, with focus on self-esteem, relationships, sexuality, career-choice, and achieving goals/dreams. The impact is enormous, the change of life’s perspectives for these ladies after becoming mentees are amazing to me. It fills my heart with great joy. There was once a woman who contacted me and said her husband wasn’t a good man, rarely comes home, doesn’t help out with the kids. The way she kept complaining, I had to interrupt and asked her if her husband was a quiet man, she said yes. I told her to try to be quieter at home and show more appreciation. She didn’t really like what I said but she said okay. Two months later, she contacted me and was so appreciative, saying after following my counsel, her husband’s attitude has changed and he was more present in the house, helping her and there was more affection in the home. This is without her husband knowing she sought counseling.
Another one, I hardly comment on social media pages but I saw an anonymous post about someone asking for marital advice, there were several responses, they were all negative. I couldn’t help but post a comment. Less than 12 hours later, I received a private message in my inbox from someone, thanking me for posting a comment on a page and how I saved her marriage. The joy within me that night was immeasurable. I have many testimonies of such nature, instant turnaround in the marriage after having a contact with me.
How long have you been married? Do you use yourself/marriage as example?
By the grace of God, I’ve been married for more than 14 yrs to an amazing man of God. Yes, I use my marriage as an example; it has to be, I see my marriage as a role model, so I definitely use it to walk the walk and talk the talk.
In Nigeria, culture makes discussing romance and sex a kind of no-go area. How do you handle it whenever these are the issue?
Thank God I have the best of two cultures, I’m very liberal about my talk about romance and sex. I talk about them with little reservation, especially with married couples, because many marriages are suffering from the effect of no-go area from our Nigerian culture. If you are married, why can’t we talk about whether you’re enjoying it or if there’s room for improvement or how it could be better?
If you approach me for counseling services, then you should expect me to ask questions and touch several areas. Therefore, you have to make yourself comfortable. Talking about sex is not hard for me to do, as I have married men that do talk to me about desiring more sex from their wives. The only challenge is when I try to talk to their wives about it, based on request, the wife may not be comfortable and I’m very big on respect, I expect respect as much as I give it so if I sense a discomfort, I step away.
What does the name ‘Abiara’ do to your business, anything special?
I bless God for the name ‘Abiara’ through the grace given to Prophet Dr. S.K. Abiara. The name adds credibility and integrity to what I have to offer, there’s a trust that has been built with the name, therefore people hold my views at high-esteem based on that. The name also holds me accountable, because I know I have to live up to expectation and hold up the family legacy.
Some people met their husbands/wives in church choir or some other form of church work. Some meets were awkward, including love at first sight… How did you meet your husband?
This story still melts my heart till date, even 16 years later. I met my husband at his twin’s wedding in New York. My husband is Taiye, his twin was getting married to one of my close friends’ sister and I was one of the bridesmaids, he was the best man. He approached me and we exchanged numbers, we later danced together on the dance floor that night. As soon as I left the wedding, I deleted his number off of my mobile phone because I knew I liked him a lot and didn’t want to be tempted to be the one to call first. This guy didn’t call me for a whole week. It seemed like the longest week of my life and I made him pay for it afterwards.
On how couples met, which were the most awkward meetings you have encountered in your career?
The most awkward meetings are those from social media. In my opinion, those meetings are very risky and at the same time, you don’t want to miss out on what could be the real thing but till date, social media meetings amaze me and I definitely find them awkward.
Families are a huge factor in marriages… in Africa and especially Nigeria. You must have seen some marriages impacted by family. Where do you think a line should be drawn?
In history, the interference of families poses the biggest challenge to marriages. It’s very hard to process and most couples don’t know where to draw the line. What makes it very challenging, is the loyalty to your biological family; trying to be loyal to your parents who gave birth to you and raised you, also your siblings with whom you grew up together and share a bond. Meanwhile, you have your own family that you have started and your spouse, whom you love. The family interference puts you in the middle, almost as if you have to choose between the two parties and this is a dangerous position for anyone to ever find themselves in. It could pose a health risk, mental health challenges and/or loss of life. If you love your child/sibling and there seems to be a situation in which you feel there’s a need for you to interfere, do it respectfully without imposing anything on them, then resort to prayers. There is nothing prayers cannot do, prayers can have mightier effects than your interference. For married couples that are faced with such challenges, try to find a balance without disrespecting your family; protect your spouse, protect your mental health and try to avoid anything that can sever your relationship with your family.
What is your commonest advice to couples?
There’s more than one. 1. Communicate a lot, don’t assume anything, if you’re not clear, ask questions; leave no room for misunderstanding. 2. Understand that you’re on the same team, working towards the same goal, see each other as teammates, not opposing mates. 3. Don’t underestimate the power of prayers, pray together always; don’t be too busy to pray.
In Nigeria, have you heard or seen what poverty can do to marriages? How do you meander through that?
I’ve seen what poverty can do to lives, not marriages alone and it breaks my heart greatly. A marriage suffering from poverty can never be enjoyed. I’m an advocate for skill learning, no matter how educated you are, make sure you acquire knowledge of a skill that is marketable anytime any day anywhere, as you never know where you could find yourself.
No condition is permanent, while you’re waiting on God for breakthrough, use your acquired skill to generate some income and you never know, it can be an avenue God can use to alleviate your family from poverty status and not having to look unto man for help.
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