It’s a long way from Valentine’s Day, but love is already in the air in Rockford. In a city struggling with high rates of domestic violence, WNIJ set out to learn more about the ingredients of a healthy relationship.
The rate of violent crimes involving intimate partners remains disproportionately high in Rockford compared with the national average. According to the Mayor’s Office On Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking Prevention, it makes up 30% of Rockford’s violent crime.
Why? That’s a question for Becky Winstead. She’s the Vice President of Remedies Renewing Lives in Rockford, a domestic violence shelter serving Winnebago and Boone County.
“Well, it is a societal issue,” said Winstead. “This isn't only an issue against women or about women, but the vast majority of victims of domestic violence are female. And we still live in a society where there are some things that support, sometimes, feelings of entitlement or power and control over women, and so that supports those situations."
City officials and service agency leaders have taken steps to address it. They’re developing a one stop shop for survivors called the Family Peace Center. The Peace Center directs people to a national 24 hour hotline.
Winstead agrees it’s up to the community to work on solutions.
“If there isn't that awareness there, that allows for a lot of shame and stigma to continue and people are afraid to come forward and don't know where to go for help,” she said.
Winstead said people with healthy relationships can also set an example for others.
Down the road from Remedies, there’s a couple who mix business and marriage. Mobility Connections is a mobility equipment store, locally owned and operated by Roger and Becky Lichty. Becky said they’ve both been married twice before:
“Third time's a charm,” she said, laughing.
They used to work together professionally before getting together.
“It was a little difficult to talk at first,” said Becky.
The accessibility business has linked the two together ever since. Becky even has a commitment ring to Mobility Connections she wears on her left ring finger.
“I moved my commitment ring from the business with my wedding rings. So it's all together there,” said Becky.
Off the clock, they can be found in their home on the east side of the river with a few dogs, where Becky has run the ORCHiD Neighborhood Association for more than a decade. She said she’s one of Rockford’s biggest cheerleaders.
“I've been involved with other stuff besides just the neighborhood group, you know, and he's always very supportive of anything that I can do to try and help out the community,” she said.
The pair said healthy parts of a relationship include dialogue, demonstrating support for each other’s interests, and respect for family ties:
“And we have a little sign in the bedroom that says 'Always kissing good night,' and we do and I mean, that helps a lot,” said Becky.
They said there’s a connection between the health of their business and how they return to each other once the workday wraps up.
“Yeah, I guess less pressure it actually means… we can relate to each other more easily. Yes, I see that,” said Roger.
Once the 9-5 workday ends, Marcos and Willie Mae Lara’s main gig that day might be just beginning. Marcos Lara runs regular comedy shows throughout the Rockford area. Willie Mae’s always there behind the scenes filming sets or organizing the night.
The jokes aren’t always family friendly but the audience feels like a family of comedic friends to the married couple. The two share this scene together along with things like comic books, which they usually pick up regularly from Clyde’s Comics in downtown Rockford.
“I really feel like comic books helped our relationship,” said Willie Mae.
They dated long distance for a while in the beginning, and have been together for nearly 12 years. Marcos said they’re a "united front" and Willie Mae said they’re best friends.
“He'll dress up, he'll be silly with me. He's willing to do stuff. Sometimes I'm not in the mood for it but he's usually in the mood to be perky and upbeat, and like dance,” said Willie Mae.
Willie Mae said despite their commonalities, there are still challenges. She said she sometimes has to readjust the way she expresses what she sees as problems to make sure Marcos understands in the same way.
“It’s not great at all times,” she said. “You have to argue a little bit, you have to talk about stuff, you have to talk about the hard stuff. You have to get in there and be vulnerable with each other, you know?”
The two joke a lot but they said making sure their jokes don’t turn insensitive is imperative. And there’s not a secret formula to what builds a foolproof partnership according to Marcos. Pick your battles, he said.
“Everyone's gonna have something that they love about a relationship, even the most toxic relationship. Do the math. If the good outweighs the bad, keep working at it. When the bad outweighs the good, recognize it and then part ways before you hurt each other any worse,” said Marcos.
That dose of reality resonates with other Rockford-area couples too:
“I always say that I thought I knew what love was, until I met Kristin. And then I really found out...because I was stuck in a Hallmark movie,” said Megan Hastings. “It's nothing like that. It's so much better though. And so much more real.”
Kristin is Megan’s wife. “Then we can watch the Hallmark movies together and just laugh at them,” said Kristin.
Megan manages a local gym, which sits down the street from Rockford Art Deli, where the two met through friends years ago. Megan said she and Kristin have a quicker love story than most: “We've been married for just about two years. So from dating to marriage was 48 days for us.”
But Megan said that’s because she knew what she wanted -- to be a wife and to help Kristin raise her two young daughters.
“You also want to want it -- you have to want to want it,” said Megan.
Kristin said connecting with Megan felt easy.
“There was just comfort level with anything. I felt like I could completely like and it wasn't like I wasn't myself in front of other people, but I was the person that I am by myself. But also with her,” she said.
Kristin said a long lasting relationship takes humility:
“You have to almost say your feelings don't matter in some situations. Even though they do, but the only way you're going to hear your partner is if you take your feelings and sort of like put them aside. Otherwise, all you're concerned about is yourself,” she said.
Right now, they’re focused on the start of a formal adoption process to officially connect Megan and Kristin’s kids.
Megan said ongoing community support and personal empathy is making a difference in their marriage. “We have to remind ourselves sometimes, like, ‘Oh yeah, we're doing this like huge thing. We should be stressed to a certain extent, [and] give each other a little bit of a break,’” she said.
Becky Winstead with Remedies said if someone feels that parts of their relationship is unhealthy, it's "absolutely okay" to reach out for help.
“Maybe something just doesn't quite feel right with their relationship and they want to talk about it. And something is just -- they feel unsettled. Something doesn't -- they feel uneasy,” she said.
She said they’ve got a 24 hour hotline and it’s open for people to have just a simple conversation.
Winstead said when it comes to considering the realities of a relationship and calling, just trust your gut -- and share your story.
Remedies Renewing Lives' hotline can be reached at (815) 962-6102.
Want to share your own love story, or thoughts on what makes a healthy relationship? Join us at a community storytelling event on December 20.