When Lamar met Ronnie, they were literally heading in opposite directions. “He had just sold his townhouse in Prince George County, Maryland, and was getting ready to move to Atlanta. And I had just left Atlanta and moved to Newport News, Virginia,” recalls Ronnie, who along with Lamar founded the popular award-wining site, BlackandMarriedwithKids.com.

Both were in the midst of transitional stages in their lives when a mutual friend introduced them back in 2004. As faith would have it, their conflicting paths would converge and forever change their future.

Their journey began one night over dinner at a soul food restaurant in Norfolk, Virginia, 40 minutes away from Newport News. While the mutual attraction between these two IT specialists was palatable on their first date, Lamar’s staunch rule of not dating anyone outside a 20-mile-radius was a deal-breaker. A two-and-half hour drive stretched between them.

“I loved everything about her but I thought, ‘damn, she lives far!’ That was a hurdle for me,” he admits. But after a couple of weeks of reflecting on their date, he stepped out of his comfort zone and decided to go for it. 

Ironically, it was the distance that solidified their relationship. Endless phone conversations about their lives, their pasts and their goals for the future allowed them to focus on getting to know each other. “Our first date was in January and our second one was in March. I really enjoyed our conversations on the phone,” says Ronnie. “I believe it helped advance our relationship in a way that may not have been possible if we were in each other’s presence all the time, consumed by different activities,” Lamar adds.

At the time, 30-year-old Ronnie was fresh out of an unfulfilled 10-year relationship (with the father of her two children) that spanned most of her 20s. Ty was 10 and Zahra was 2. Twenty-six-year-old Lamar possessed all the qualities Ronnie coveted in a partner: independent, mature, kind and religious. The age difference was never an issue for the couple.

“He treated me really well and that’s what was most important. I’d dated older men who expected to live off of me. Lamar was responsible. He was also very involved in my life with my kids and my parents. That was 100% refreshing from my past relationship,” explains Ronnie.

Her drive, determination and great mothering skills are what attracted Lamar to Ronnie. “It was obvious there was something special about her that made me go above and beyond for her,” Lamar says. Not only was he willing to travel every other week to see her, but he put his plans to move to Atlanta on hold indefinitely to remain closer to her.

After dating for 11 months, Ronnie and Lamar got married and moved in together in D.C. In 2006 and then in 2008, the Tylers welcomed two baby girls, Janelle and Jodi, into their family.

Raising a blended family wasn’t always easy but through an emphasis on “communication, respect and patience,” they learned to work at it. “Anything you invest in—from a car to a home—calls for maintenance. But when it comes to marriage, people don’t understand that it requires the same kind of time and energy,” says Lamar, who grew up in a single-parent home with his mom and two older brothers. Ronnie’s parents have been married for over 40 years, with a brief breakup in between.

Marriage and parenthood come with some challenging personal growth. For Ronnie, learning to say “I’m sorry” was an instrumental part of her evolution. “I never had to apologize growing up in my family. If you made each other mad, you just moved on and got over it. You are not going anywhere; we’re family,” she says.

This coping method wasn’t translating well into her marriage.

“That just doesn’t work here, because it builds resentment and destroys intimacy. You need to address issues right on.” As for Lamar, their four children were the catalysts for him to take better care of himself to ensure he would be around for them. “They made me more aware of life,” he points out. Modeling non-dysfunctional Black love for their children is also key. “We want them to know what love looks like, and they can take that into their own future relationships,” says Lamar.

Their unfailing commitment to nurturing a healthy Black family has extended beyond their unit. Fed up with the unfavorable media coverage surrounding the plight of Black marriages, in 2007 Lamar and Ronnie launched the Black Married With Children site to add balance to the conversation and promote Black love and parenting. What first started out as a blog featuring Ronnie and Lamar opening up about their personal experiences (touching on everything from disciplining kids to the best ways to listen to your partner) has grown into an international brand under their own Tyler New Media umbrella.

“We want to empower other married couples and singles in our community. If you don’t have images of healthy marriages in your family, then you’ll never think it’s possible to achieve. It’s important that we know a healthy marriage is a real option,” says Ronnie. The success of the site has catapulted the couple to relationship expert status. In November 2012, they made it onto EBONY magazine’s Power 100 list. In addition to their site, they work to empower married couples through speaking engagements, TV appearances such as their weekly segment on HLN’s Raising America, and their self-produced documentaries.

While their large following turns to them for guidance, Lamar and Ronnie stress that their family unit benefits from their fans’ feedback, failures and success stories.

“Between the people we talk to, the ones who comment on the site, our Facebook family and the subjects we interview for our films, we pick up so many tools to apply to our own relationship,” explains Lamar. “The site has helped us strengthen our relationship. I’m not sure we would have gone out to get these tools otherwise,” adds Ronnie.

Educating themselves on ways to continue thriving as a family is vital to their happiness. “Every year we attend one relationship conference or workshop that focuses on us,” says Lamar. As Henry Ford once said about marriage: Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.

Words to live by for the Tyler family.

The Coolest Black Family in America is an EBONY.com original series: an ongoing look at the intricacies, layers and compelling beauty of African-American family life. Of course, The Coolest Black Family is not one family but many. In fact, we’ve found that there are as many Coolest Black Families as there are versions of cool. Also consider: family doesn’t always mean mother + father + kids. What defines family is connected hearts and supported souls. Ride with us weekly as we crisscross the country in search of kinfolk whose cool is so palpable and real, it comes second only to their love. Think your cool fam qualifies? Email us at digitalpi[email protected] (with Coolest Black Family in the subject line)!

Alexandra Phanor-Faury is a Haitian-American writer living in Brooklyn, New York with a slight (OK, major) addiction to fashion and pop culture. When she’s not up in the middle of the night filling her online shopping carts and catching up on style blogs, she’s writing about fashion and entertainment for a number of websites and her blog, Fringueuse.com.