In 2019, a year after their marriage, Toni-Ann Craft, 37, and Kenneth Craft Jr., 42, moved out of their spacious two–One bedroom condo in Washington to a smaller two bedroom apartment in Brooklyn where Mrs. Craft grew up.
“We wanted to feel more grounded and closer to family,” she said of her decision to move. But the couple “didn’t really have married friends” in Brooklyn – and didn’t have a chance to find them after arriving. “We both started new jobs and suddenly the quarantine came,” said Mrs Craft, who got Covid in April 2020.
She was stuck at home, without fellowship and in a marriage that became a challenge during the quarantine. “Lockdown has been tough for us,” she said. “We argued about little things. Probably because we were there for each other 24/7 at that point.”
Ms. Craft, Senior Manager of Brand Marketing and Communications at Amplify, a Brooklyn-based educational technology company, has a background in marketing, communications and membership administration. She’s always wanted to start a business, but said it was “one thing to find this thing.” The “thing” was friends with rings, a virtual membership network she launched last year for engaged and married couples like herself and Mr. Craft who want to build healthy, successful relationships and a diverse community.
What inspired the idea for Friends with Rings?
Through our church in Washington, Kenneth and I were part of a ministry group of 12 couples who met weekly at a host’s home for dinner and formed a bond. I lost that when we moved to Brooklyn. One night I googled if there was a marriage community I could join but I couldn’t find anything. I wanted to start a fellowship and start a marriage support group, but one that is not affiliated with any church because that can exclude people who could benefit from this ministry. I wanted to make friends and also address couples’ issues; Kenneth and I had communication issues and I knew it was something other couples needed.
It took a year to build the company and form a board of directors and specialists who deal specifically with marriage and relationship issues. We started in April 2021 with 15 people on our board and 15 coaches, consultants and specialists.
How does it work?
We host monthly virtual events, panels, and group coaching sessions with licensed marriage professionals and counselors. I curate a list of topics for the year by going through what my consultants and coaches specialize in and building content around them. There is also a private Facebook group where members support each other by asking questions and letting other couples respond.
We open our membership program twice a year, in April and October. Fees range from $35 per month to $175 every six months to $300 per year per couple. We currently have 48 linked members. Members get access to monthly events and educational resources that can help strengthen their relationship, as well as discounted coaching and counseling services.
What events and programs did you offer?
We’ve hosted virtual events that include topics like setting boundaries to protect your marriage, led by relationship coaches DeVon and Danah Artis; Understanding your partner’s temperament to encourage better communication, guided by a relationship coach Keith Dent; and how to develop strategies and solutions to better connect with your spouse, moderated by relationship expert Shaquan Grove, who is stopping by Coach Shaquan. Coaches and specialists are found through recommendations or have an excellent reputation online and in the industry.
What do people gain by joining the community?
Membership helps couples keep their marriages alive and gives them the tools and tips to do so. Through the live Q. and A. parts of the panels and coaching sessions, couples learn from specialists and from each other by having the opportunity to hear what others are struggling with. This transparency helps to create bonds. I see a community of couples supporting each other and building relationships with each other. It is about people who are actively working to build or rebuild their marriage.
What is one of the biggest lessons members have learned?
In the question-and-answer sessions, I hear couples comment on what is at stake Communication. Any problem can be boiled down to communication, how you share your information and whether you say something at once and in a way that your spouse can hear or receive. Just because you shared something doesn’t mean your partner will understand it or that you will communicate it positively.
What do couples struggle with the most these days?
The pandemic has forced couples to be together all the time, so they’re struggling to understand the difference between spending quality time together to nurture their marriage and just being together. They also struggle to understand that marriage is work, but it’s also about working on yourself.
Many grow up with an attitude that you don’t share your problems. They want to protect their marriage but are unhappy or feel things are not working. You want to create a stable, healthy relationship and home environment, but you don’t know how. And they want to learn how to collaborate and communicate better, but feel embarrassed, overwhelmed, or not heard.
What didn’t you expect?
We haven’t had a lot of people drop out, but we have people who say they want to join and don’t. Our waiting list consists of 65 couples. Last time we opened it, only three couples came in.
Many couples are on autopilot in their relationship. They want things to improve, but they don’t want to invest in it financially or put in the time and effort it takes to make it work. They don’t want to use the tools and specialists we offer. It’s like a gym membership. Those who go will see the results. The ones that show up occasionally won’t.
What have you learned about your marriage since starting Friends with Rings?
That my marriage isn’t perfect. That our problems are not just ours; they happen to everyone. I thought we bickered more than others; We did not do it. I’ve learned to let Kenneth be who he is and to express his individuality. I wanted him to do things the way I did them. But I’ve learned that we grew up differently – I came from a two-parent household; he didn’t, and that we need to create our own traditions instead of living with the ones I grew up with. I’m learning to embrace our differences. We learn to think beyond ourselves, to respect and understand each other.
What has been your happiest moment since starting Friends with Rings?
reading the testimonials. I put a lot of work into finding the speakers, preparing for the monthly events, and finalizing our calendar. Then I ask myself, “Is this helping people?” Couples email me or post an Instagram message telling me how much they get for being groundbreaking for their marriage. We had a couple who, during our bedroom chats with a panel of three sex experts, shared that they had been trying to conceive for 15 years. They took counseling and announced a few months later that they were expecting their first child. Knowing that this really helps people drives me forward.