These College Sweethearts Share Why Speaking Each Other's Love Languages Is Vital To Their Marriage
In xoNecole's Our First Year series, we take an in-depth look at love and relationships between couples with an emphasis on what their first year of marriage was like.
Longtime loves Mychael and Rhonda met as college students at the University of Michigan, started dating in April 2007, and have been truly, madly, deeply in love ever since. Her first impression had everything to do with his height, as he towered over her at 6'7''. According to her, he had "the confidence and the swag to match." According to him, she was "the most beautiful person he had ever seen."
In addition to a shared alma mater and an affinity for the Michigan Fight Song (it was a song sang by guests during their 2013 nuptials!), Rhonda and Mychael, whom she affectionately calls Myke, also dedicated significant time to color the world with their mark in the form of travel. In the years following their wedding, they went to Napa Valley, New York, Cape Town, Amsterdam, and more.
This year marks six years in the game for Rhonda and Mychael as husband and wife, and 12 years altogether. And as of January, they've welcomed a new addition to their family, a beautiful baby girl. "We're learning to navigate what it means to be a couple for over 10+ years and what that looks like," Rhonda explained. "What do we want our legacy to be? What do we want our relationship to look like with a child?"
In this installment of xoNecole's Our First Year, Rhonda and Mychael breakdown how they knew they were the one, love languages, and their mentors in marriage. Here's their story:
How did you know she/he was the one? Did you approach your courtship as if marriage was going to be the natural next step?
Mychael: I knew Rhonda was the one immediately and I was very direct in expressing this to her. Her being tall, gorgeous, intelligent, driven, family-oriented, charismatic, and genuinely fun (the list can go on) were qualities that I hoped for in a significant other. Because of this, I was comfortable with voicing that I love her after a few weeks of dating and then approached our courtship as if marriage was inevitable.
Rhonda: I knew Mychael was the one because he was very upfront and direct about our relationship, he didn't play games and was very confident when approaching me. I've never had to question his affection or love for me. Initially, I didn't approach our courtship as if marriage was the natural next step because we were so young (I was 19, he was 18) but as the years progressed, I couldn't imagine being with anyone else.
Courtesy of Mychael & Rhonda
"I was comfortable with voicing that I love her after a few weeks of dating and then approached our courtship as if marriage was inevitable."
What was your biggest fear walking into marriage? How did you let go of those fears to enter into a union and that commitment you saw for one another?
Rhonda: My biggest fear was that we would fall into a rut and not keep the excitement and fun we had while dating. I let go of those fears through communicating with Myke and both of us agreeing that we never wanted to stop having fun together, whether we were traveling the world or sitting on the couch eating take out for the fifth day in a row.
Mychael: My biggest fear entering into marriage was the fear of the unknown. I had never been married before and dedicated myself to something as long term and permanent as marriage. Would I be the perfect husband? Would I be the perfect father? Would I be the perfect spiritual leader for my family? However, after dating for 6 years, the one thing I did know is that I loved this woman and that we would continue to grow together. Whether or not our marriage is actually perfect to the world, it's comforting to have faith that in hindsight, our marriage will be perfect for us.
What were some of the early challenges that came with merging your lives together under one roof? What was the thing you learned you liked most about your partner, and the thing you noticed you liked the least?
Mychael: My biggest challenge that came with merging our lives together was me being an extrovert and my wife being an introvert. Spending full weekends in the house watching movies and eating takeout while enjoying our personal time without our phones, was an adjustment for me. But I understood that marriage would involve compromises, and I found that I've enjoyed creating our own traditions and habits together.
I like most that Rhonda is willing to support and fight for me no matter what. Life comes with ups and downs, and Rhonda has been there in my corner through any and every adversity. The thing I like the least is her propensity to overthink things and overstress.
"I like to believe that I'm easy like Sunday morning...my cool breeze will always be good for her."
Rhonda: Some of the early challenges that came were often as a result of unspoken expectations. For example, the first few years of marriage, Myke worked at a different company and put in 60+ hour work weeks. It was difficult for me to come home and not have the opportunity to hang out with him because he was working so hard in the evening and up so early in the morning. I think this is where we started implementing our Sunday Funday of Nothingness where after church, we do nothing but hang out with each other at home, watch TV, and snack on any and everything! It was also helpful that we discovered for both of us, quality time was one of our love languages so to have that in common and know that we needed that from each other was important.
As a result of marriage, I learned that I loved Myke's enthusiasm and passion for life and people. When Myke is excited about something, you will know! This has also been difficult for me because when he's excited at 9am for the weekend, I'm not able to always share in his enthusiasm. Additionally, I'm not as vocal about my feelings so it can be difficult for me to share in his enthusiasm or passion even though I feel the same way.
How did you navigate through one another’s baggage individually and as a couple? What were some bad behaviors you had to unlearn in order to learn how to have a healthier, more stable and fulfilling marriage?
Mychael: Empathy helped me navigate through any of our baggage. I was fully aware of any baggage she brought but it was not a deterrent to us growing together. One bad behavior I had to unlearn was self-gratification (i.e. doing things I like to do when I want to do them) and by compromising with my wife, it made me and my spouse happier and as a result, made situations better. Empathy is a virtue and having faith and knowing that God is on our side alleviates any stresses that we have. The stressors will always be minor, so keep moving forward.
Rhonda: We've been together for so long that any baggage that we brought into the relationship was probably a result of each other (laughs). Some bad behaviors that I had to unlearn was that Myke is a natural provider and nurturer and me leaning on him for support in any way does not negate my independence as a woman. It's me and him versus any issue that arises not me vs. him vs. the issue. We're a team and we have to tackle any challenges as a team.
Courtesy of Mychael & Rhonda
"Empathy is a virtue and having faith and knowing that God is on our side alleviates any stresses that we have. The stressors will always be minor, so keep moving forward."
What was it like learning to speak each other’s love language? Was it easy to become fluent and well-versed right away or did it take time to learn how the other gives and receives love?
Rhonda: It was not easy for me to speak his main love languages of touch and words of affirmation. I'm an introvert and the last person to show any physical form of affection to anyone but can always notice a difference in him when he receives his love language. It's still something I have to remind myself to do on occasion because it doesn't come naturally to me but I love seeing him feel loved so it's worth it.
Mychael: It was easy because we actively sought ways to satisfy one another and because of that, I was able to find that the things that made her feel loved may be slightly different than mine. Because I was able to find that knowledge, it made it easier for me to speak her love language, acts of service, properly.
Who is that person you call when you need to confide in someone about happenings in your marriage or if you need some sage advice? Is there anyone that was your go-to person during your first year of marriage? Why or why not?
Mychael: If there was anyone, it would be my brother-in-law, Leon. I often didn't confide in people because my marriage is between me, Rhonda, and God. Additionally, every marriage is different so I struggled with confiding in others because their marriage is different than ours.
Rhonda: I have a few go-to friends that are in amazing relationships of their own that I feel comfortable venting about small issues (i.e. Myke didn't wash the dishes or pick up his socks) but for bigger issues, it's important for us to talk to each other first and then when needed, our therapist. We started seeing therapists together this year and it has been helpful to have someone who doesn't know anything about us talk us through any major issues that may arise as well as remain confidential.
Courtesy of Mychael & Rhonda
You’ve been married for almost six years, but what’s the best advice that you’ve received about marriage during your first year?
Mychael: As a man, you're not here to satisfy yourself...you're put on this earth to satisfy your family. And because you are the head of that family, you will ultimately be satisfied as well.
Rhonda: Marriage is a humbling experience. Sometimes you have to apologize when you don't feel like it, be vulnerable when you're scared, or grow when it's uncomfortable. However when you're with the right person, as I'm so blessed to be, it's worth every moment!
Featured image courtesy of Mychael & Rhonda.
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Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Janelle Monáe's Reveals The Real Reason Why She Stopped Wearing Her Signature Tuxedos
Singer and actress Janelle Monáe exemplifies how change can be a powerful catalyst for growth and transformation.
Monáe, who rose to fame in 2010 following the release of her debut album, The ArchAndroid, captivated fans' hearts with her powerful vocals, catchy tunes, and style. Around that time period, when various female artists were known to wear provocative ensembles on stage, the "Tightrope" songstress set herself apart by wearing her signature black and white suits and continued to do so for almost a decade.
In the later years of her career, after the release of her studio albums The Electric Lady in 2013 and 2018's Dirty Computer, many began to notice the shift in Monáe's artistry and fashion, which some widely praised.
Although the now 37-year-old rarely addressed the reason behind the transformation over the years, that would all change when Monáe sat down with radio personality Angie Martinez on her IRL podcast earlier this month.
During the interview, Monáe --who was promoting her latest album, "The Age of Pleasure"-- opened up about her mental health struggles, how she would cope, and why she chose to live in freedom.
Janelle On Why She Stopped Wearing Her Signature Suits All the Time
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
In the May discussion, the "I Like That" vocalist revealed she suffers from anxiety, which she claimed would occur around "winter to spring."
Monáe added that when she has her bouts with anxiety, she tends to turn to food as a coping mechanism. Further in the interview, the "Lipstick Lover" singer disclosed that her emotional eating habits caused a weight fluctuation and that she could no longer fit into the suits she once wore earlier in her career.
Monáe explained that even though she tried to diet and exercise to return to her smaller figure, she ultimately stopped and made peace with herself with the help of therapy because she acknowledged that she isn't the same person she was nearly a decade ago and shouldn't try to be even if it was a highly "celebrated" version.
"I'm petite, but it can get thick... When I couldn't fit them suits anymore, and I was like, 'Oh my God, what is going on?' I would be dieting, running, or exercising, trying to fit into [it]. I'm just like, 'No. No, we're here. This is where we are.' We [are] not about to be utilizing life trying to be an old version of ourselves. No matter how celebrated that version of me was. I'm here. I'm here," she said.
Janelle On Freedom
As the topic shifted to freedom and what that meant to Monáe, the "Primetime" vocalist shared that in this new era of her life, she enjoys it because she can boldly express herself however she wants and honor who she is as a person right now.
Monáe also revealed that she had found ways to become a better artist and the best version of herself because of her freedom.
"What is the new version of freedom? What does that feel like? That's usually when I feel the most free is when artistically, I can honor exactly who I am right now," she stated. "I feel most free as a human when I can honor exactly who I am right now."
Monáe's fourth studio album, The Age of Pleasure, is set to be released on June 9.
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