Destiny’s Child’s own Michelle Williams and NFL Pastor Chad Johnson are truly a match made in heaven, but that doesn’t mean the betrothed couple haven’t had their share of trials and tribulations. On their new OWN series, Chad Loves Michelle, the two lovebirds share their journey toward marriage through several counseling sessions, in addition to caring for Williams’ mental health.
Here, the soon-to-be newlyweds chat with EBONY about their new show, engagement, shared spirituality and more.
Congrats on the engagement! After playing the dating game, like all of us, what was it about Chad that let you know you could take him seriously as a life partner?
Michelle Williams: Not only him sharing his testimony with me and his commitment to faith, but the fact that he walks it like he talks it; he really does. The assurance I received from so many of his friends, they all said the same great things about him, and I began to experience it in our dating and courting. He truly is a man of his word.
How about you, Chad? What made you want to put a ring on it?
Chad Johnson: As I started learning more about her life, meeting people that were in her world for a long time, they all confirmed the fact that Michelle has always been the same. She’s not putting on a Godly front or anything, she simply is who she is, and to me, that spoke very loudly to her character.
How has your spirituality, both individually and as a couple, helped maintain or improve your relationship?
Williams: In my past relationships, I always felt like the domineering one. Then, I met Chad and was like, ‘Uh oh!’ I met my match. Not in a competitive way, but he was able to tell me, ‘Look, you still have a lot to learn, too!’ He’s helped me increase my walk with God, he encourages me, sometimes he even tells me, ‘You ain’t praying enough,’ and I’ll think, ‘He’s right, I could pray some more,’ you know? We try to match each other spiritually so we can hear each other on the same frequency.
Johnson: For me, the important thing is that we’re both going in the same direction. I would never want her to feel like I’m questioning if she’s far enough in her journey, that doesn’t matter, as long as you are becoming who I think you’ve presented yourself to be. We both have the same constitution in life, which is to love God with all of our hearts, love people, serve people and let the platforms we’ve been given be for service and not for selfishness. Faith has kept us, but it also has given us a rallying point.
Michelle, in the past, you’ve been open about battling mental health issues, but only recently became so courageously transparent about them. What made you decide to show that vulnerability and share your personal struggles with depression?
Williams: The first time I talked about it publicly was in 2013, and it was actually an accident. It was during an interview, and the interview was so conversational, that I guess I just got comfortable and ended up blurting it out. Next thing you know, it’s on the CNN ticker and all these outlets picked it up, and I thought, ‘Oh, my God, what did I just do?’ I wasn’t ready for that.
Then, grown men started pulling me to the side. One man, a television exec, had tears in his eyes, thanking me so much for speaking about it. For men to go get help and talk about it, knowing that men have pride and issues, in general, acknowledging their weaknesses, it meant a lot. You’re not a failure if you seek therapy, and I was happy that message started to sink in.
Fast forward to this year, somehow it leaked that I was seeking treatment, but it was truly a private matter. News spread that I was in a facility, and I decided I needed to say something before the narrative turned into something it wasn’t.
And as her soon-to-be husband, what is your role in supporting her through her battles?
Johnson: To be honest with you, I had to learn, and I’m not saying that I’ve got it all down yet. It’s been a learning process, and I’ve had to exercise and learn a ton of patience. At the same time, I’m asking a lot of questions and educating myself. Our therapist has really been a huge help for me to understand the medical side of depression. It’s truly a mental health disease. I come from the world of sports where you play hurt.
Williams: And in the world of entertainment, you entertain hurt! That’s been the crux of some of the best songs!
Johnson: I really had to learn, and am still learning, how to be the best help I can. I’m Mr. Fix It. I just wanted to fix it for her, but I can’t. That was a real struggle for me, which you guys will see play out on the show.
Williams: I want to touch a little more on what he said about playing hurt. In real life, how many of us are playing hurt? When you play on an injury and they inject it with cortisone, you’re just doing more damage to the injury instead of getting the treatment or doing the surgery to correct it. Surgery don’t feel good, but done right it can actually do some correcting.
With entertainers, we’re taught to use the hurt! Use the hurt to fuel your art! Some of the best comedians have some of the darkest minds. Some of the best songs have been written out of heartbreak. Remember when Mary J. Blige finally got happy? She was making happy music and we were all like, ‘What is this? Where’d sad Mary go?’ Imagine Adele’s next album if she came out dancing and hitting 8 counts, like, ‘Girl, I’m doing great!’ We wouldn’t have that!
Hopefully, the series will let people know it’s OK to let the hurt go and to not romanticize being unhappy or in emotional distress.
How did the idea of doing a show come about?
Williams: Listen, my guilty pleasures are shows like Judge Judy and other reality shows, but not to be on one! But while we were doing engagement counseling, we would share what we learned out of excitement with friends who are married, and they’d say, “Man, we’ve never done counseling.”
How have you never done counseling? There’s always on-the-job training, there’s always a manual. You don’t just walk into IHOP and go straight to the griddle!
We decided that we’ll be on the sofa for other couples, so they can see the real work it takes to build a lasting relationship.
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Love is in the air on OWN! Saturdays are all NEW. #ChadLovesMichelle followed by #ReadyToLove. The night of ❤️ begins at 9p|8c on Saturday! Ps: can someone teach me a cuter way to cry? I have no in between, just a good ole ugly cry! ❤️ @owntv @chadjohnson77 @michellewilliams @releveent @inventtv @willpowerpacker @thenephewtommyexp
Last, how important is it that communities of color be open to the idea of therapy because there’s still a stigma within our culture surrounding mental health and seeking help.
Williams: I grew up in the church, and I’ve been going through depression since the seventh or eighth grade. Didn’t know what to call it, and it wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I put a name to it. That means I went that long with problems being swept under the rug. Also, some people want to keep their health issues private, and I get that, but to tell somebody to just pray about it and that’s it, or that everything they need is in the Bible, is doing them a disservice.
My uncle is an amazing family physician, and just like God gifted him with the discipline and the patience to finish medical school, I think God gifts others to go get their degrees to do therapy. Why do we esteem obstetricians, gynecologists and neurosurgeons, but not the therapist and the psychologist? There’s this horrible notion that they’re for the crazy people. No, the brain is an organ, too, and that’s a fact regardless of your race.
Chad Loves Michelle premieres Saturday, Nov. 3, at 9 p.m. EST on OWN.