The love story of Chris Hart & Caroline Tolo

We have always had a very calm and nice relationship, even if we disagree on things from time to time Photo: Courtesy

Chris Hart, renowned psychologist and relationship guru, has been married twice. He first married at 21 years, and had a very happy marriage that lasted for over 20 years, before his wife and mother of his children left him for another woman, who she still lives with. The divorce was devastating for him. "It all came apart one horrendous summer," he says. "And then I went into the wilderness for a few years." He eventually moved on and dated for a while before meeting the woman of his dreams here in Kenya.

A smile lights up his face when he talks about his wife, Caroline Tolo, a Black Belt martial arts trainer, who gives classes in self-defense. "She is quite something," he says.

Chris and Caroline met online in 2004. "Not on a dating site. I had written something in the newspaper and she sent me an email about it," he says.

That was not odd. He had a column in the newspaper then and people often wrote back, but those conversations rarely went beyond his one reply back. With Caroline, however, the conversation kept going. For months.

It started out as very formal but it slowly became more casual, though neither of them were looking for anything more. He was in Nairobi and she was in Kisumu.

"And then I had an excuse to be in Kisumu one day," he says. He convinced her to meet him at the Imperial Hotel in Kisumu where they chatted for about half an hour. "I wouldn't say there was anything there at that point, no intention to start a relationship," he says.

He found reasons to go over to Kisumu more often and every time he visited, they would have lunch. Caroline would also visit Nairobi often with the Karate team for training camps, as they were training for the national team.

"One time I went over to Kisumu for a week. I was doing a job over there, so I arranged with a local taxi lady called Halima to be carrying me all day, to and from the hotel. She would come and fetch me for lunch and I would meet up with Caroline. Halfway through the week, Halima cheekily whispered into Caroline's ear, "aahh you two!" That would be the first suggestion that there was something a little more than friendship between them.

A month or two afterwards, Chris was running a course in Kisumu and invited her over for supper at a hotel. "We were just sitting at the bar and we looked at one another and something changed," he says, laughing cheekily. "It is very hard to say quite why, but suddenly the conversation was different." They had known each other for about 18 months by then.

After that magical moment, they started making deliberate efforts to get together. "About a fortnight later, I had an opportunity to go to a place at the coast for work and I took her with me," he says. They still do things like that even now, going on work trips together.

Three or four months later, they were living together.

"We talked to the families and had a wedding ceremony in church recently, but we have considered ourselves married since 2006," he says. No pictures were taken during that ceremony.

Since he is known as a relationship expert, does he follow his own advice in his marriage? "We obey a lot of the relationship rules. For example, we are very open and honest with one another. We have no problem talking to each other about anything. I cannot think of a subject that we do not talk about," he says.

They also have a few ground rules that apply to their daughters, Maia and Teresa. "For example, if one comes to me and says, 'Can I tell you something and you mustn't tell mum', I always say, 'That's not how it works. Anything you tell me, I will tell Caroline.' That means that the children cannot drive a little wedge between us," he says.

Their marriage seems pretty ideal. "We have always had a very calm and nice relationship, even if we disagree on things from time to time. If someone had asked me 25 years ago about marriage and relationships, I would have given a fairly theoretical line about how it is pretty tough but since I have been with Caroline, knowing her for 13 years, I have realized that relationships can be much nicer than I imagined then.

"It has forced me to change my views on marriage. Marriage to me was always a perpetual negotiation, that there were inevitably tensions, clashing and expectations. But with Caroline and I, we have been very successful at merging our lives, so that she does what she wants and I do what I want and yet we help each other," he says.