The words “reality TV” used to make me cringe when they were used to describe the docuseries, Couples Therapy on Showtime, that my husband Dale and I took part in. I’m no reality television star. I’ve never thrown a drink in the face of an associate called ‘friend’ or confessed my disdain for another person during a pre-taped confessional. No, I’m just a woman, a mother, a wife – and ultimately a person that was desperate to have a positive impact on my marriage by any means possible.
To some it may be "entertainment," but for us, it is quite actually our reality that just so happens to be on TV, and without it, I am not sure where we would be today had we not taken this unconventional journey towards our healing and understanding. No, we are not "fixed," but we are fixated on being a better version of ourselves for the betterment of our marriage, ourselves, and our family.
When COVID-19 reared its ugly head and the world seemed to shut down all around us, my husband and I found ourselves left with the responsibility of looking within our relationship and making some difficult assertions. The fighting, the bickering, the misunderstandings – they all became too much and one day I found myself Googling in desperation for info on a therapist who could come to our aid. Because of the circumstances that we all found ourselves in with the lockdowns, that task proved to be impossible, and we were left to figure out things on our own; for better or for worse.
That’s when we learned about the docuseries project, Couples Therapy. It was advertised as an in-depth look into the relationship dynamics of several couples, with a seasoned, licensed professional at the helm, guiding them to their collective healing.
At the time we had tried relationship therapy a couple of times before to not much success, but we knew that we needed some form of intervention to help guide us out of our own heads and emotions, and this program, though not specific to us at the time, seemed the best tool available to help us along our journey.
We both quickly became fans of the show, and more importantly, fans of psychologist and psychoanalyst Dr. Orna Guralnik, who seemed both patient and wise, as she offered insight and guidance to the couple on the show who seemed to be as much in crisis as Dale and I were at the time. Certain aspects of the show really hit home and before you knew it we were actually taking notes and engrossed in the show in a way that I hadn’t expected.
Courtesy of SHOWTIME
One day while perusing the internet an ad popped up, informing me that Showtime was on the hunt for participants for the third season of Couples Therapy.
Blame it on algorithms. Call it fate. Even regulate it to just dumb luck, but I took that as a sign that I should apply – and I did. Within a couple of weeks, we were contacted by someone on the production team for the show and after an arduous application process, we were finally chosen as one of the season’s featured couples and before you knew it, we were laying our entire relationship on display for the world to consume.
Though I naturally had a bit of apprehension about what we were about to get ourselves into, I was ready to try anything to be the version of ourselves that we were when we said “I do” a mere year prior. We dove headfirst into the process and were open and honest in a way that genuinely surprised me, as did the result.
And what was that result?
For starters, I went into the process not knowing just how much work would be needed to be done on myself by myself. I tell people all the time that relationship therapy is 80% individual work and 20% couples therapy. You must commit to working on yourself and identifying the unhealthy patterns and traumas that have created what are now your personality traits. The coping mechanisms that we form due to the unaddressed issues that we hold on to from within are evident in everything that we do – from our relationships to how we view ourselves.
I knew that there were aspects of my personality that were a direct result of the experiences I’ve encountered throughout my life, but I never knew how profound the trauma response was when it came to who we are as people. I didn’t consider many of the things that I went through as being traumatic, but that was simply because we were trained to normalize these occurrences and not give them the proper contextualization that they deserved. I learned how they not only impacted me but also how it impacted my husband and as a result, our marriage.
I also learned that you have to go into therapy with the goal of connecting with your spouse in a manner that is mutually beneficial and honest. At the time, I so wanted to be heard that I often found myself waiting for Dale to finish his thought just so I could defend myself or make my point. I wasn’t listening, and neither was he and we played the tit-for-tat game mercilessly until Dr. Guralnik redirected our communication efforts and showed us how to speak and listen with intent and focus.
Couples Therapy showed me that as imperfect as my marriage is, it’s mine and is something that I am proud of and am willing to fight for. No, we are not “healed,” and no, all of our problems did not magically vanish from our union, but we left that experience with a new appreciation for each other and an understanding of how we may have gotten to the point that we found ourselves in, in the first place. Therapy changed the dynamics of who we individually were and as a result, our marriage and our family benefited greatly.
As Black folks, we tend to shun therapy and look at it as a process that would demonize and label us, instead of the life-changing, helpful tactic that it is. It’s always frowned upon to “put your business out there” to be judged and criticized, and oftentimes we are left trying to figure things out on our own, bumbling around with no real direction when real help is only a phone call away.
Would I do it all over again if ever given the chance? Heck yeah! I walked out of that situation with a renewed, optimistic viewpoint of my marriage, and with the tools necessary to make it everything it was destined to be. Do we use those tools effectively daily? I would have to admit that we don’t. But we are constantly growing and morphing into better versions of ourselves.
For that, I am thankful.
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Featured image courtesy of SHOWTIME
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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Can’t Stop Seeing 333?: Uncover What The Universe Is Guiding You To Do
Have you ever needed a sign from God or the universe to just drop out of the sky? Then, before you can recognize the coincidence, you start seeing angel numbers like 333 on your microwave clock, gas prices, or even as the total on your receipt. Numbers hold a special type of significance and influence in our lives, cultures, and spiritual beliefs and are known to hold hidden meanings, serve as guides, and act as messengers from the spiritual realm.
And one particular number that has captured the imagination of so many of us is the angel number 333.
Breaking Down the Meaning of Angel Number 333
Believed to be a divine message from the angels, this numerical sequence carries profound significance and offers guidance, reassurance, and encouragement to those who encounter it.
The angel number 333 is composed of the energy and vibrations of the number 3, which appears three times in a row, magnifying its influence.
When we look into the power of the number 3 in numerology, it’s typically associated with creativity, self-expression, communication, growth, expansion, optimism, joy, and the Trinity, representing mind, body, and spirit. Thus, when encountered in triplicate, it intensifies the message and significance conveyed by the number 3.
The Angel Number 333 Meaning: Spiritual Awakening and Alignment
The angel number 333 often appears during moments of spiritual awakening or when an individual is on the path of growth and change. It serves as a gentle reminder that you are divinely supported and encouraged to align your thoughts, actions, and intentions with your higher self and spiritual purpose. The angels are signaling that you are on the right track and should continue to cultivate your spiritual growth in a way that’s in harmony with your higher self and purpose.
The Angel Number 333 Meaning: Embracing Creativity and Self-Expression
A major theme with the number 3 is its connection to creativity and imagination. The presence of angel number 333 is a call to embrace your creative abilities and express your authentic self. Whether it is through art, writing, a new project or hobby you’ve been looking to explore, or any other form of self-expression, your guardian angels are nudging you to tap into your full creative potential. By doing so, you can inspire others and bring joy and positivity into the world, and even uncover a new level of self-actualization.
The Angel Number 333 Meaning: Reclaiming Balance and Spiritual Harmony
What’s special about 333 is how it highlights the importance of balance and harmony in your life and that you have full access to it. It’s your own personal sign to prioritize your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being despite the speed and hustle-centric of the world we live in. Your angels are tapping you on the shoulder to encourage you to maintain balance in order to live a more fulfilling and harmonious existence with yourself, your loved ones, and your purpose. So take it as a gentle reminder to seek moderation over the extremes in life, or if you need to add a little more play where there’s rigidity, allow it to flow.
What Should You Do When You Encounter the Angel Number 333?
Remember that you have help outside of what you can see with your physical eyes. And while this angel number might hold different meanings for everyone and each stage of life, the thread that connects 333’s meaning is harmony, the divine support that surrounds you, and a license to tap into your inner creativity.
If you happen to come across 333 on your path today, pause and make note of the crossroads or rumination that’s been on your mind. 333 is a powerful number for manifestation, so take a moment to speak out or write down your intentions. You have the power to bring your thoughts and desires into reality, and your angel number and guides are here to remind you of that.
Trust that the answer you seek is within your reach.
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