The two met as freshmen at the University of Mount Union and dated for about a year, then Tonja moved back to her hometown to have their son and attended Ursuline College, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in public relations. Marcus continued his sports management studies at Mount Union.
Along the way, the two rekindled their romance.
“Being apart made me realize what I wanted,” Marcus, 34, explained.
“I feel like going through those challenges early on kind of prepped us to know we could get through things together and deal with challenges together,” Tonja, 33, said.
When Marcus graduated from Mount Union in 2003, the self-described “running rebel” had an epiphany. He decided “I’m done with school, now it’s time to be an adult” and proposed to Tonja in front of all of his friends and family at his graduation party.
That grown-up attitude stuck—the couple celebrated 10 years of marriage in June, and they now have three children: Jordan, 14; Janiya, 9; and Marcus Jr., 5.
Having a family of five adds to the couple’s already busy lives—Tonja is director of sports tourism for the Canton/Stark County Convention & Visitors’ Bureau, and Marcus is the athletic director and programs coordinator for the Boys and Girls Club in Massillon. Marcus gets home from work after the others have eaten and the children are going to bed. Although the schedule leaves some alone time for the couple, often they’re busy running from one of the children’s activities to another or spending time working. That’s when the couple’s date nights come in to help them reconnect.
“We keep it romantic,” Tonja said. “It doesn’t have to be anything big and fancy. It’s usually just the two of us going out and having dinner alone together. When you have three kids, that’s a big deal.”
Shared goals and common interests also are critical to a couple’s happiness, Marcus suggests. The Marshalls discovered one common interest after buying a rental property, something they believe has helped them to strengthen their relationship.
“It forces us to communicate, whether it’s during the week looking online or going out looking on the weekends when we’re both not working,” he said. “We’re together and looking.”
“It’s just one more common goal,” Tonja added. “When you’re working toward the same thing, you grow together.”
When asked what advice they would give new couples about marriage—before the marriage—Tonja and Marcus boiled it down to two important themes: communication and expectations.
“I think sometimes that people go into it with an expectation that it’s going to be paved with gold from here on out, and it’s not reality,” Tonja said. “As long as you love each other, you’ve just got to be committed to working through whatever comes your way, because life is gonna come your way.”
“It’s like she said, pick your battles and realize that every battle is not a war,” he said. “There is no perfect relationship. Everybody goes through some kind of adversity. … No matter what, at the end of the day, you’re going to love that person and make it work.”