Every time someone interviews me on what I find to be essential to a relationship, the first word that I bring up isn't love, respect or reciprocity. Through personal experience, observation of friends and couples I've worked with, and just life in general, I think what is most important is safety. It's essential that all of us make sure that we are with someone who is safe and that we are someone who another could consider safe to be with.
I'm telling you, "safe" is the kind of word that is totally underrated. I think a part of it is because, whenever it comes up, physical safety is what tends to come to mind. And so, to hear me say that you should look for someone who doesn't put your physical safety in jeopardy, an immediate "duh" is the response (or, at least I hope that it is). But hear me when I say this—I have never had a man even raise his hand to me; that doesn't mean that I haven't been with someone who isn't unsafe before. Know what else? I've never raised my hand to a man either. I can still admit that I've been an unsafe woman, though—just in a different kind of way.
To be safe is to be "secure from liability to harm, injury, danger, or risk". To be safe is about "involving little or no risk of mishap, error, etc." too. And while no one is perfect—not by a long shot—we all should strive to be the kind of individuals who aren't out here hurting someone or constantly causing errors that end up putting others in harm's way.
That's why I think it's imperative that, when it comes to discussing what it means to be and feel safe in a relationship, the definitions need to go way beyond the physical. Today, I'm tackling the importance of emotional safety. If you're curious about what an emotionally safe relationship should look like, here is a pretty good place to start.
You Listen to Each Other
I promise you, the older (and hopefully wiser) that I get, the more a quote by a theologian named Paul Tillich resonates—"The first duty of love is to listen." I think it means a lot to me because listening isn't just hearing what someone is saying. A good listener listens without giving into distractions. A good listener doesn't interrupt while you're talking. A good listener asks questions for the sake of getting clarity. A good listener retains what is said. A good listener doesn't derail or deflect. A good listener stays on topic until the matter is resolved. A good listener will strive to sympathize and, when necessary, empathize with where you are coming from. A good listener pays close attention and is extremely attentive.
The reason why, above all else, I choose to share that listening is a sign of being emotionally safe is because, when two people make a point to fully engage one another by listening, they show that they deeply care about each other's thoughts, needs and emotions. Personally, I'm not sure if it gets any safer than that.
What You Both Share Remains Between the Two of You
Proverbs 17:9 (NKJV) says "He who covers a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates friends." What's dope about this particular Scripture is it doesn't say that keeping stuff to one's self keeps the drama down (although it does). No, it states that when you're not out here putting things on blast, the motive is really about love. I totally agree because something I have learned to give more and expect more is confidentiality. My relationships are safer, both ways, because of it.
When you are in a relationship with someone (especially if it's serious), they should be able to feel like they can come to you with all of who they are. They should also believe that they can come to you with just about anything without having to worry about your friends knowing, your mama (or their mama) finding out or that some slick version of what was shared will show up in a Facebook group or sub-tweeted on Twitter. Also, if two people are really respectful of one another, this will remain the case, even if they should happen to part ways at some point.
To be accepted is beautiful. To know that you've got a safe place to share all of who you are is rare, sacred and something to profoundly cherish. It's one of the best types of safeness. It really and truly is.
Dependence Trumps Vulnerability
Whenever I'm in a session with a couple, something that I share with them is I'm actually not a huge fan of the word "vulnerable". Meaning, I don't think it's something that should apply to two people who have been in a platonic or romantic situation for a while; I think it's more appropriate for new situations and circumstances. The reason why I say that is because vulnerable means "capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt, as by a weapon" and "open to moral attack, criticism, temptation, etc." Although none of us are perfect and we do run the risk of these things happening with just about anyone, who wants to be in a long-term relationship when you're worried that you'll be wounded or hurt or attacked and criticized all of the time?
That's why I encourage couples to go with the word "dependent" more often. To be dependent is to "rely on someone or something else for aid, support, etc." Hey, if you've got a problem relying on your partner to have your back, I've gotta wonder why you're in the relationship in the first place.
You Each Take Ownership for Your Own Actions
Here is one of the most underrated indications of being in an emotionally safe relationship. If you are someone (or you're with someone) who can always point out others' issues, faults and areas of weakness but somehow, you are never able to see your own, you are an unsafe individual. Why do I say that? Because someone who is self-aware enough to take responsibility for their downfalls or offenses, is personally accountable enough to acknowledge how they can better themselves and grow, and is willing to hear you out when you bring certain issues to their attention—they are someone who is constantly on the path of personal growth and evolution.
Meanwhile, someone who is always defensive, finds a way to play the victim and/or somehow turns everything that they do wrong into being everyone else's fault (including yours)—they are emotionally immature, highly-manipulative and, quite frankly, not even close to being ready for a grown-folks type of relationship. And a healthy adult who is trying to make it work with an immature, insecure and potentially toxic one? C'mon now. Y'all already know that's the perfect recipe for an unsafe situation.
Love Languages Are Spoken Fluently
The picture right above this point breaks down what the five love languages are. The reason why they make the list is because anyone who knows their partner's primary love language, they are someone who really wants their partner to feel loved by them in the most impactful way possible. That kind of laser focus should get major props from us all.
Along these lines, two synonyms for the word "safe" are "preserved" and "maintained". I know quite a few people who claim to love one another. Still, they're constantly complaining about their needs not being met. When your partner knows how to make you feel loved and then they actually put that knowledge into action, they are basically saying "I love you so much that I want to do all that I can to preserve and maintain our relationship." Someone who loves like this is someone you can feel truly safe with, don't you think?
Apologies Aren't a Problem
I'm just gonna shoot this one straight.
Someone who refuses to apologize for what they've done wrong is someone who is mad prideful. How can you truly feel safe with an individual who isn't the opposite of prideful which is humble?
Because just think about it, it really does take some heartfelt humility to admit when you've messed up and then to apologize for it. Actually, not just apologize, but to then put forth some real effort to not do what you needed to apologize for again in the future.
While we're on the topic of pride, prideful people aren't emotionally safe individuals across the board because that trait tends to spill over into other areas and situations. A prideful person thinks they are always right. A prideful person isn't good at taking advice or asking for help. A prideful person tends to be quite critical while, at the same time, abhors constructive criticism. A prideful person has authority issues. A prideful person justifies everything they do—even when it is dead wrong. A prideful person wants fans more than true friends. Please tell me how in the world you can feel emotionally safe with someone like this?
Positive Energy Is Consistent
I remember watching a throwback episode of Beverly Hills, 90210 and one of the characters saying, "My mom always said that if you're always up, you must be on something." To a large extent, I agree. It's important to say that out the gate because it's darn near impossible to have positive energy all of the time. But what you can do is not be on an emotional roller coaster of pessimism and doom—or allow someone else to put you on one. You can choose to be the kind of person who is more optimistic than not, who is more solutions-oriented than problems-driven, and who tries to bring more joy and peace into your relationship than sadness and stress.
In the article "11 Ways To Bring Positive Energy Into Your Life", the author talks about the fact that positive energy has a direct impact on our health, the quality of our relationships and our ability to reach our personal goals. They also shared that some of the ways to go about harnessing positive energy is to let go of the past, to live in a spirit of gratitude, to love and accept yourself, to not dwell on negative stuff (something that I'll add here is also not to dwell on stuff that you can't change as well) and to laugh as often as possible.
Two people who are intentional about living their life this way? Not only are they an emotionally safe haven for one another, they are pretty close to being an unstoppable pair too.
Love and Respect Go Hand in Hand
If you are currently engaged, a book that I recommend adding to your couple's collection isLove & Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs. There's a Scripture in the Bible that says, "Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband." (Ephesians 5:33—NKJV) How this all breaks down is pretty much an article on its own.
For now, I'll say that it's a reminder that women are more "wired" to feel loved; men are more "wired" to feel respected. This and love languages have something in common. When it comes to both, where a lot of us mess up is we give more of what we want than what our partner actually needs.
As far as respecting men goes, respect is about esteem. When I think about what our Black men go through on a daily basis, simply because of the color of their skin, that is enough to motivate me to esteem and affirm them any and every chance that I get. Because if there is any place where they should feel safe, seen and acknowledged (in public and in private), it's from a sistah. Black men feel our love by how we respect (esteem) them.
And fellas, if you're looking in on this, if you're a Black man—your mama's a Black woman. That should be enough of a reason to treat Black women, especially the one you are seeing, like she is to be honored, cherished and adored. We as Black women feel respected by how well we are loved.
Two people who have love and respect constantly present in the life that they share with one another—they are the poster children for what it means to be in a truly emotionally safe relationship. If that is you, congrats. Please hold on to what you've got. It's super special. Safe relationships always are. If that's not you, well, you've got some serious stuff to think about, don't you? You are far too precious to not be in a safe relationship; emotionally safe included.
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Different puzzle pieces are creating bigger pictures these days. 2024 will mark a milestone on a few different levels, including the release of my third book next June (yay!).
I am also a Professional Certified Coach. My main mission for attaining that particular goal is to use my formal credentials to help people navigate through the sometimes tumultuous waters, both on and offline, when it comes to information about marriage, sex and relationships that is oftentimes misinformation (because "coach" is a word that gets thrown around a lot, oftentimes quite poorly).
I am also still super devoted to helping to bring life into this world as a doula, marriage life coaching will always be my first love (next to writing, of course), a platform that advocates for good Black men is currently in the works and my keystrokes continue to be devoted to HEALTHY over HAPPY in the areas of holistic intimacy, spiritual evolution, purpose manifestation and self-love...because maturity teaches that it's impossible to be happy all of the time when it comes to reaching goals yet healthy is a choice that can be made on a daily basis (amen?).
If you have any PERSONAL QUESTIONS (please do not contact me with any story pitches; that is an *editorial* need), feel free to reach out at email@example.com. A sistah will certainly do what she can. ;)
Exclusive: Gabrielle Union On Radical Transparency, Being Diagnosed With Perimenopause And Embracing What’s Next
Whenever Gabrielle Union graces the movie screen, she immediately commands attention. From her unforgettable scenes in films like Bring It On and Two Can Play That Game to her most recent film, in which she stars and produces Netflix’s The Perfect Find, there’s no denying that she is that girl.
Off-screen, she uses that power for good by sharing her trials and tribulations with other women in hopes of helping those who may be going through the same things or preventing them from experiencing them altogether. Recently, the Flawless by Gabrielle Union founder partnered with Clearblue to speak at the launch of their Menopause Stage Indicator, where she also shared her experience with being perimenopausal.
In a xoNecoleexclusive, the iconic actress opens up about embracing this season of her life, new projects, and overall being a “bad motherfucker.” Gabrielle reveals that she was 37 years old when she was diagnosed with perimenopause and is still going through it at 51 years old. Mayo Clinic says perimenopause “refers to the time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause, marking the end of the reproductive years.”
“I haven't crossed over the next phase just yet, but I think part of it is when you hear any form of menopause, you automatically think of your mother or grandmother. It feels like an old-person thing, but for me, I was 37 and like not understanding what that really meant for me. And I don't think we focus so much on the word menopause without understanding that perimenopause is just the time before menopause,” she tells us.
Photo by Brian Thomas
"But you can experience a lot of the same things during that period that people talk about, that they experienced during menopause. So you could get a hot flash, you could get the weight gain, the hair loss, depression, anxiety, like all of it, mental health challenges, all of that can come, you know, at any stage of the menopausal journey and like for me, I've been in perimenopause like 13, 14 years. When you know, most doctors are like, ‘Oh, but it's usually about ten years, and I'm like, ‘Uhh, I’m still going (laughs).’”
Conversations about perimenopause, fibroids, and all the things that are associated with women’s bodies have often been considered taboo and thus not discussed publicly. However, times are changing, and thanks to the Gabrielle’s and the Tia Mowry’s, more women are having an authentic discourse about women’s health. These open discussions lead to the creation of more safe spaces and support for one another.
“I want to be in community with folks. I don't ever want to feel like I'm on an island about anything. So, if I can help create community where we are lacking, I want to be a part of that,” she says. “So, it's like there's no harm in talking about it. You know what I mean? Like, I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change. I'm just getting better and stronger and more intelligent, more wise, more patient, more compassionate, more empathetic. All of that is very, very welcomed, and none of it should be scary.”
The Being Mary Jane star hasn’t been shy about her stance on therapy. If you don’t know, here’s a hint: she’s all for it, and she encourages others to try it as well. She likens therapy to dating by suggesting that you keep looking for the right therapist to match your needs. Two other essential keys to her growth are radical transparency and radical acceptance (though she admits she is still working on the latter).
"I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change."
Gabrielle Union and Kaavia Union-Wade
Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images
“I hope that a.) you recognize that you're not alone. Seek out help and know that it's okay to be honest about what the hell is happening in your life. That's the only way that you know you can get help, and that's also the only other way that people know that you are in need if there's something going on,” she says, “because we have all these big, very wild, high expectations of people, but if they don't know what they're actually dealing with, they're always going to be failing, and you will always be disappointed. So how about just tell the truth, be transparent, and let people know where you are. So they can be of service, they can be compassionate.”
Gabrielle’s transparency is what makes her so relatable, and has so many people root for her. Whether through her TV and film projects, her memoirs, or her social media, the actress has a knack for making you feel like she’s your homegirl. Scrolling through her Instagram, you see the special moments with her family, exciting new business ventures, and jaw-dropping fashion moments. Throughout her life and career, we’ve seen her evolve in a multitude of ways. From producing films to starting a haircare line to marriage and motherhood, her journey is a story of courage and triumph. And right now, in this season, she’s asking, “What’s next?”
“This is a season of discovery and change. In a billion ways,” says the NAACP Image Award winner. “The notion of like, ‘Oh, so and so changed. They got brand new.’ I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
"I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
She continues, “So I'm just trying to figure out what's next. You know what I mean? I'm jumping into what's next. I'm excited going into what's next and new. I'm just sort of embracing all of what life has to offer.”
Look out for Gabrielle in the upcoming indie film Riff Raff, which is a crime comedy starring her and Jennifer Coolidge, and she will also produce The Idea of You, which stars Anne Hathaway.
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Feature image by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
Victoria Monét has had an incredible year. Thanks to the success of the widely popular “On My Mama” that went viral, the singer/ songwriter’s Jaguar II album debuted in the top 10 of Billboard’s Top R&B Albums chart. She also went on to headline her own sold-out tour. So, when the MTV VMAs happened in September, everyone was surprised to learn that Victoria’s team was told that it was “too early” for the “Smoke” artist to perform at the award show. However, a couple of months later, the mom of one received seven Grammy nominations, including “Best R&B Album” and “Record Of The Year.”
Victoria is currently in London and stopped by The Dotty Show on Apple Music and shared how she feels “validated” after being dismissed by the VMAs.
“It really does feel nice and validating because, in my head, the reason why I wanted to be a performer at the VMAs or award ceremonies like that is because I felt like I am at the place where I should. I would work really hard to put on the best show that I could, and I was excited to do so,” she said.
“And I guess the best way to describe it for me is like when you're like on a sports team, and the coach is like, ‘No, you gotta sit this one out.’ When they finally put you in, and then you score all these points, and it feels like that feeling. You're like, yes, I knew it wasn't tripping, but I knew I worked hard for this, and so it's been super validating to just have these accolades come after a moment like that, and I know the fans feel vindicated for me.
While her fans called the VMAs out on their decision, the “Moment” singer kept it cute and is still open to performing at the iconic award show. “I feel no ill towards them because it's just maybe that's just truly how they felt at the time, but I hope their mind has changed,” she admitted.
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Feature image by Amy Sussman/WireImage for Parkwood