Recently, while catching up with one of my male friends on the phone, I teased him about how much he's been going out to restaurants for lunch, being that there's a pandemic 'n all (because Google links alert us to where it's easier to catch COVID-19. Two places are restaurants and, well, church; you're a whopping 16 times more likely to get it there!). Since I'm well aware of the fact that he and his wife have been working at home, pretty much since quarantine began, the marriage life coach in me just had to ask—"Are you out so much because you're sick of being at home with your wife all day?" He didn't even hesitate when he said, "ABSOLUTELY!". And shoot, they have a pretty healthy relationship. Imagine how all of the couples who don't have one are feeling right about now.
Actually—and on some levels, unfortunately—you don't have to wonder. According to a lot of data that I've checked out, even since the pandemic hit, the uptick on divorces has jumped—catch it—34 freakin' percent since March, with 31 percent of the couples directly citing COVID-19 (and quarantining because of it) as the cause.
To be fair, even though the pandemic has tap danced on the very last nerve of basically all of us, at one point or another, I've been in the marriage counseling game long enough to know that just one thing doesn't attribute to a marriage falling apart. Even if infidelity comes into play, oftentimes the cheating happens because a whole lot of other "snowflakes" were ignored before that "avalanche" occurred.
So, why is it that so many folks are jumping the Love Boat ship right now? And, more importantly, what are some steps that you can take to ensure that you and yours can avoid becoming a pandemic divorce statistic? I'm so glad you asked. Here are eight safeguarding tips that I hope can help you out.
1. What Was the State of Your Marriage Prior to COVID-19?
Trial by fire. I'm pretty sure that a lot of you have heard that phrase before. If there's one thing that something like this pandemic does is, it tends to bring things to the surface that might have been ignored or even overlooked before. For instance, did you know that, on average, a lot of couples only spend two hours a day together? And that includes the weekends! This means that, whatever pet peeves, communication issues or straight-up incompatibilities that two people may have, for the most part, they can avoid it getting too much to them if they are only dealing with their spouse, about as long as their favorite movie lasts, once a day.
Oh, but then came along COVID-19 to blow all of that selective avoidance totally out of the water! Now husbands and wives have to directly deal on a whole 'nother level—and many aren't hanging in very well. While it's easy to simply chalk it up to the pandemic, it's important to be more realistic than that.
Take a moment to ask yourself how your marriage was before January (when we found out that COVID-19 was headed our way) and March (when we started quarantining due to the pandemic). Were there issues that you were having way before then that you just weren't dealing with? Because I'm willing to bet that if things were good prior to this pandemic, while stress-filled at times, it would not be what suddenly made you want to call it quits.
2. Try Not to Unfairly Transfer Your Stress
One of the clear signs that we've matured into emotionally healthy and responsible individuals is when we know that we've mastered the art of not transferring stress onto people or situations that don't deserve it. What I mean by that is, say that your boss has become the absolute most (when it comes to making demands), ever since the pandemic started and that has added some additional stress and anxiety into your world. If you're working from home and your spouse is too, it can be easy to take out your irritation or frustration on them (after all, they don't sign your paycheck, so you tend to be more "reckless" with them). Be careful. If you do that long enough, it can be easy for them to start getting pissed because they're sick and tired of being your emotional punching bag. Now, all of a sudden, the two of you are thinking that your marriage is the problem when really, it's your sucky boss.
If there was ever a time when people need to learn how to make self-care a top priority, this would be it. Meditating. Praying. Going for walks. Turning off your devices after a certain time. Vegging out and watching something totally stupid on television. Video chatting with some of your friends. Having wine on your back deck. Having sex with your spouse. These are all things that can help to decrease the mental tension that you've got going on. Plus, as an added benefit, the less stressed you are, the easier it is to get to the root of what is truly bothering you, so that you can put the energy towards where it needs to actually go, rather than the closest source in your space—which could very well be your partner.
3. Remember Why You Married Your Spouse in the First Place
Listen, if y'all didn't catch a peak of Lenny Kravitz in Men's Health magazine, do yourself a big ole' favor and click right here. Anyway, one of the things that he talks about in his interview is his endearing bromance with his ex-wife Lisa Bonet's current husband Jason Momoa. Well, as I was reading another article about Jason's take on how he and Lisa are handling this time of quarantine, after 14 years of marriage, I like that he said that it's given them time to really work on them as a couple.
What's interesting about that is, the married couples I personally know who have always, for the most part, been in sync, this pandemic has caused them to come to a similar conclusion as Jason. It's not that this season hasn't come with its challenges—but divorcing? That has been the last thing on their mind. If anything, they've been trying to figure out how to make their union stronger.
If you just read that and were like, "That's sweet but I am nowhere close to feeling that way right now," take a moment to reflect on why you married your spouse in the first place. Sometimes, in order to get a grasp on how to handle the hard times, it's beneficial to reflect on some happy memories. By the way, this tip isn't just so that you can "feel better". Sometimes, after some years have passed, the very thing that once attracted you to your partner can be the very thing that makes you want to totally lose it. But if you put that "thing" into perspective, it might be just what you need to balance you out and help you grow.
So if your spouse is so much on your nerves right now that you can't see one good thing about them or staying with them, reflect on back when you were dating and what made you agree to marry them in the first place. If they're still that person, be intentional about focusing on the good. It'll pay off in the long run.
4. Be Honest with Your Partner About How You’re Feeling
It's kinda crazy that, the two people who folks seem to be the least forthcoming with, are their spouse and their therapist (if they've got one). The reason why I say that is, I can't tell you how many times I've sat in a session and one of the spouses has said something that completely blindsided the other. That's why Luther Vandross' songs "A House Is Not a Home" and Tamia's "Stranger in My House" have so much truth to them. Sharing the same roof with someone doesn't mean you are actually connecting with them. Quality time, dates, pillow talk, conversations when all electronic devices are off—all of these moments are needed in order for two people to feel emotionally close to one another.
I can't tell you how many spouses (usually, it's husbands; I'm just gonna be real with y'all) are constantly penalized for not picking up on their partner's passive aggressive behavior or hints. When your partner said, "for better or for worse" on your wedding day, a part of what they were signing up for is being able to handle your feelings, your frustrations and your fears. It's not fair to you or your spouse to suppress your thoughts and emotions. While timing and delivery are important, you'd be amazed how much can be resolved by being transparent—and then allowing your partner to do the same.
5. Minimize Your Time with Debbie (or Donnie) Downers
Any time I hear someone say, "Never take marital advice from single people", like it's a blanket rule or something, the first thing that comes to my mind (other than the fact that, other than Moses, Christ and Paul spoke the most on marriage in the Bible and they weren't married) is that the divorce rate sits at around 50/50. This means that if you're married, you probably need to be more concerned about that 50 percent of folks who are divorced and what they've got to say; marital status does not automatically make someone a great example or teacher on the topic (just sayin'). The far better resolve is to listen to people who are advocates of marriage and, more specifically, YOUR MARRIAGE. Single people read. Single people have insights on love and relationships. Single people are capable of offering up perspectives that you may have never considered before. Don't miss out because you're currently subscribing to a saying that is nowhere close to being totally accurate or reliable.
That said, whether the person is single, married or divorced, definitely make sure that they speak positivity into your life. I've got a newly divorced friend who, honestly, is more peace-filled now than he was in his marriage. However, what I've had to do is encourage him to stop rolling up in his barbershop every week, on a mission to get single men to never marry. Just because his wife was totally off-the-chain (and she really was), that doesn't mean that no one else should jump the broom.
Marriage isn't ever the problem. Choosing the right (or not-so-right) person is what poses the challenges that so many couples have.
During the trying times of your relationship, the last thing you need is bitter people, bad energy or tainted advice being constantly spoken into your space. So, if you must talk about what's going on in your relationship, speak with those who are rallying for you to stay with your partner; not those who can't wait for you and yours to break-up. Especially if it's for no other reason than misery loves company. SMDH.
6. Apply Some Real Thought to the “It’s Cheaper to Keep” Saying
Listen, sometimes you really have to take the "How can I gas myself up until these feelings pass?" approach to honoring your commitment. And divorces? They ain't cheap, chile. I know some husbands who are pushing through because they don't wanna pay alimony and child support. I know some wives who are pushing through because their state says that whoever leaves first, they end up walking away from their property (like their house).
While staying with someone because you don't want the financial stress and strain of leaving might sound shallow or even unimaginable to some, to me, serves for two great points. If you're a single person reading this, remember that marriage is a business; one that comes with a contract known as a marriage license. A HUGE part of what makes divorces messy isn't so much the feelings as the finances. And two, if you are married, one way to make sure that you're not simply emotionally jumping the gun by threatening divorce is to think about how it will affect your livelihood once you actually do. A part of the reason why I wrote the article, "What Some People Regret About Their Divorce" for this platform is because there are A LOT of people who think that getting divorced is a simple solution to a marital problem when, oftentimes, it is anything but.
Divorces tend to take a real financial toll on people, even before COVID-19 hit. If you're thinking about leaving your spouse, simply because they are "getting on your nerves", you might wanna revisit that strategy. Being financially strapped, for who knows how long, could be what ends up stressing you TF out a helluva lot more.
7. Zoom with a Therapist (If Necessary)
While I'm sure that a part of the reason why I feel this way is because I am a marriage life coach, I continue to be floored by the amount of married couples who will separate and/or divorce without getting ANY kind of counseling beforehand. When your marriage is in trouble or turmoil, it can be difficult to see things from any perspective other than "I hate this" and "I'm out". Whether it's a reputable counselor, therapist or relationship coach, oftentimes, they are able to offer up angles, tips and tools that can help you to 1) more effectively communicate with your partner; 2) figure out how to stick it out and 3) improve your relationship so that, not only do you avoid getting a divorce but you can be better than you've ever been.
Divorce is serious. It's life-altering as well. Not only that, but on your wedding day, you and your spouse took vows and vows are promises. If you love your partner but you need some help either seeing why staying is worth it or how to make your relationship elevate out of the mere "survival mode" level of things, seek out a professional. There are plenty who are willing to have Zoom meetings. It could very well be the best investment that you've ever made, marriage wise.
8. Never Forget: Seasons Do Pass
Isn't it interesting that, we learn to accept seasons? Whether you hate winter and adore summer, winter is gonna come, like clockwork; the best thing that you can do is prepare and adjust. Same thing applies to marriage. Sometimes things are gonna be awesome. Other times, eh, not so much. Yet if you know this and make peace with it, being thrilled during the good times and patient during the challenging ones can also be a real key to your marriage's longevity.
And if it's the season of COVID-19 that's testing you to no end, resolve to stay positive, knowing that this too shall pass. And if you and your spouse are committed to having each other's back rather than pushing each other away—you very well could come outta this thing with a stronger marriage rather than a pandemic divorce. Hang in there, y'all. More times than not, it's worth it if you do.
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After being a regular contributor for about four years and being (eh hem) MIA in 2022, Shellie is back penning for the platform (did you miss her? LOL).
In some ways, nothing has changed and in others, everything has. For now, she'll just say that she's working on the 20th anniversary edition of her first book, she's in school to take life coaching to another level and she's putting together a platform that supports and encourages Black men because she loves them from head to toe.
Other than that, she still works with couples, she's still a doula, she's still not on social media and her email contact (email@example.com) still hasn't changed (neither has her request to contact her ONLY for personal reasons; pitch to the platform if you have story ideas).
Life is a funny thing but if you stay calm, moments can come full circle and this is one of them. No doubt about it.
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Here's Why Very Few Relationships Can Actually Be 'Platonic'
Recently, while in an interview, someone asked me if I think that men and women can be just friends. I didn’t even hesitate to answer; my response was immediate, “Absolutely.” What I followed that up with is what intrigued them — “Life has taught me that not a lot of male/female dynamics are ‘platonic,’ though.” When they asked me to expound, the interview ended up taking a whole ‘nother turn.
As a writer who really pays attention to word meanings, something that can be a bit frustrating about our culture is the fact that based on whatever is popular at the time, folks will just up and change the original definitions of words to suit a particular agenda or whim — and the word “platonic” 1000 percent fits into this category. And perhaps that’s why we seem to continue to go in circles about whether or not people of the opposite sex can (and should) be friends and what that even can (and should) look like.
Let’s talk about it for a bit. Because as a word-literal type of individual, while again, I absolutely believe that men and women can be friends, at the same time, I think it’s about as rare as a red diamond to truly find yourself in a friendship that is…platonic.
It’s Time (More) Folks Knew What ‘Platonic’ LITERALLY MeansGiphy
So, let's do first things first — let's define what it literally means for something to be platonic. If you go to your favorite search engine and put something along the lines of "What does platonic mean?", the first thing that you're (probably) going to see is a ton of dictionary definitions that say something along the lines of "of, relating to, or being a relationship marked by the absence of romance or sex" (Merriam-Webster), "designating or of a relationship, or love, between a man and a woman that is purely spiritual or intellectual and without sexual activity" (Your Dictionary) and, my personal favorite, "purely spiritual; free from sensual desire, especially in a relationship between two persons of different sexes" (Dictionary). Yeah, bookmark that last one; I'll be circling back.
Keeping this in mind (and please do), where does the word "platonic" actually come from? From what I've researched, the philosopher Plato once penned something entitled "Symposium." In it, he addressed the topic of two people sharing the kind of love that is free of any type of sensual desire, one that is based on divine love alone. An author from the 1800s broke it down this way: "Platonic love meant ideal sympathy; it now means the love of a sentimental young gentleman for a woman he cannot or will not marry." A write-up on Merriam-Webster's site stated that "The term platonic was initially used to mock non-sexual relationships, as it was considered ridiculous to separate love and sex, but eventually this connotation faded away leaving us with today's notion of close friendships." Yeah, we used to live in a culture where love and sex were not separated. Hmph, that's another article for another time, though (check out "We Should Really Rethink The Term' Casual Sex'").
Anyway, as with many things (especially in our culture), the word "platonic" is kind of used in "broad strokes" these days (bromances, female friendships, etc.). However, because there continues to be this forever discussion — and oftentimes debate — about whether or not men and women can be "just friends," I'm going to tackle this topic strictly from that angle — from the place where platonic actually originated.
Yes, Men and Women Can Be Just Friends. But…Giphy
At this stage in my life, I'm pretty sure that I have more male friends than female ones. There are layers of reasons why, yet I think a huge one is because I like the balance that masculinity brings to my femininity (especially as I'm learning to embrace different aspects of my femininity, intentionally even more). And while every single one of my male friends is respectful and is a super safe space in my world on every single level that I can imagine (and have been for years now), there are probably only a couple who I would say 100 percent qualify as being…trulyplatonic.
Why would I say that? Well, I'll illustrate this point with something that one of my male friends once said to me. He's super cute. He can sing his ass off (and definitely has one of my favorite speaking voices). People see us out together often, and some have told us that they assume that we've had something going on at some point. Anyway, after hearing someone share their theory about us, I told it to him.
Me: "I told him, 'He's my brother. We would never mess around.'"
My Friend: "Correction, you are like a sister. You are not my sister, though. Under the right conditions, you could still get it."
When I shared that exchange with another male friend of mine, he basically cosigned on the sentiment: "Shellie, I have never approached you like that because I really respect you. I want to be good for you for the rest of our lives." (That reminds me: check out "Question: Is The Man In Your Life Good 'TO' You? Good 'FOR' You? Or...Both?" when you get a chance.)
Then I went to one more guy homie and ran both statements by him: "Girl, yeah. If I didn't want to keep you in my life long-term, I would've tried to holla a long time ago!" And he and I have been friends for almost 20 years at this point. When did he get around to telling me this? Eh, maybe two years ago. LOL.
So, my takeaway from all of these "for real?!" exchanges is even though men and women can be just friends, there is a certain level of intention, self-control, and ability to see into the future (on some level) that must go into account — because, just because something more-than-friends-like may not have gone down, that doesn't mean there isn't a "dormant seed" lying around somewhere…whether it's one-sided or on both sides of the friendship dynamic.
As you can see, I just provided you with three instances where the male friends in my life; we've had nothing sexual or even physically intimate beyond a hug when we greet each other in nature — although things aren't exactly platonic if there is some sort of attraction or sexual/romantic curiosity that simply never got explored. Because again, according to Plato, a platonic relationship is free from all of that kind of…tension — or possibilities. Zero. Nada. Zilch.
And now you probably get why I entitled this article in the way that I did…right? I mean, just think about it — out of your male friendships, where is there NO sensual desire or dormant romantic interest…on your side and/or on his? If you're not sure about "his"…have you ever asked him? Or them? Because again, once I really let the definition of platonic sink in, I think maybe two guys in my life totally fit the bill.
This brings me to my next point.
Are You Platonic? Or Are You Friend-Zoning?Giphy
Now that you know that probably 70 percent of the people you know (both online and off) have been using the true meaning of platonic all the way wrong, let’s go about deeper: when it comes to your friendships with men, are they genuinely platonic or…is it more like you’re friend-zoning them?
A few years ago, I penned an article on the topic entitled, “Before You 'Friend Zone' Someone, Read This.” If you’re skimming this on your lunch break, I’ll summarize friend-zoning as knowing that a guy has so-much-more-than-platonic feelings for you, yet because you basically want to keep the benefits of the friendship or even his emotions around, you will string him along on some level.
Personally, I can’t stand friend-zoning. I think it’s selfish, with some sprinkles of manipulation and wasting someone’s time. Don’t agree? How would you feel if a guy was friend-zoning you? (Yeah…exactly.)
This all needs to go on record because, knowing that a guy wants to “take it there” with you (whether sexually or romantically), you not full-on addressing it and/or giving him just enough hope to take you out, listen to all of your stories about other men and give you the attention that you need knowing that he doesn’t have a shot in hell — that is NOT a platonic friendship and honestly, you’re not being a good friend at all. Friends protect each other’s hearts, not abuse them.
A platonic friendship means that you both have no interest in each other, and, as Plato put it, while you may have a strong and solid bond, it’s spiritual love that connects you. And what exactly does that mean? Spiritual love also deserves its own article, yet the gist would be that you recognize there is a purpose in your friendship, yet it’s about wanting what’s best for one another and even helping each other to get there.
For instance, a platonic friend of yours may know that you desire to be married one day, so he has no problem setting you up with a good guy in his life. And if things go well, he would have no problem standing up as your own best man (without feeling like he’s dying inside) because he never saw you beyond anything but a friend. A guy in the friend zone doesn’t move like this; he likes you too much to help you move on with someone else. See the difference?
Why Relationships Should Start Off As NON-PLATONIC FriendshipsGiphy
Before I end this with some tips on how to properly care for the few platonic friendships you may actually have, since the use of the word may require a bit of mental reprogramming, I do think we should also address that if you've got a good guy in your life, who right now is a friend and either you've never thought of him in that way or the topic has never come up — he's someone that you may not want to brush off.
What I mean by that is, it's one thing for there to be absolutely no interest in someone vs. never considering it before — and the reason why you might want to give it some thought is because, ask any healthy married couple who's been together for more than five years and I'll bet you my next rent check that they will say that the best relationships are birthed out of friendship (check out "Are You Sure You're Actually FRIENDS With Your Spouse?").
Yeah, just because you've filed someone in the "I see him as a good guy" category, that doesn't automatically mean that y'all's friendship is platonic. For instance, I have a male friend who is fine and I adore on many levels, yet the reason why it would never work on my end is because there are certain relational standards that I have that he does not meet. However, don't get it twisted — I've considered him because, on so many levels, we "fit." So, the mere fact that I ever seriously thought about him on that level means that we are "good friends," yet it's not exactly platonic.
I'm not free of potential sensual desire…I just choose not to act on it. Yet because I get the value of having friendship as the foundation for my own future marriage (should life play out that way), I am wise enough to know that I would've been a fool to not at least…ponder him and the possibilities.
So yeah, if there is a male friend in your life that the thought of dating or having sex with him doesn't make you want to throw up in your mouth, there's a pretty good chance that it's not a classic platonic dynamic — and you might want to consider if it could/should go to the next level — if not immediately, eventually. Because there's a pretty good chance that if you are thinking that way, he probably is as well.
Protect Your Genuine Platonic Friendship(s) At All CostsGiphy
Let me end this with how one of my platonic friendships rolls. We both think that the other is attractive, yet neither of us is attracted. We both give each other opposite-sex insights. We both have said that the mere thought of dating each other makes our noses turn up like there’s an odor in the air. And even when I try to imagine us together, my mind goes blank. I love, love, LOVE this man — oh, but it is absolutely nothing more than platonic — and he feels the same way. It’s as close to familial love without being blood relationships. It’s a rare dynamic, and that is what makes it so special. There is definitely a spiritual type of love there; no more, no less.
If you’ve got someone in your life who you feel the same way about (again, it’s got to be mutual; he must feel that way, too), you’ve got a gem of a situation going on because there is nothing like having the kind of friendship where you and a guy can hang out, exchange perspectives and thoroughly enjoy each other’s company, knowing that’s all it is and will ever be. Things will never get weird. No one’s feelings are gonna get hurt (from the whole friend-zoning thing). You don’t have to walk on eggshells. You can just be.
And that’s why I’m all for platonic friendships. And listen, if you’re blessed enough to have even one in your lifetime, be fiercely protective of it. Don’t take it for granted. Nurture it in a way that your male friend needs (because it probably won’t be the exact same as your female friendships). Y’all, platonic friendships are so bomb because, if it’s honored and protected correctly, it’s the one male friend that you can probably keep for life because even your romantic partner will not find it to be a (true) threat — hell, they honestly could probably end up becoming (some level of) friends with your platonic homie as well.
I hope that I broke this all down enough to where, when you decide to use a word to describe your opposite-sex friendships, perhaps you will pause and ask yourself, “Wait, is this a platonic friend or a good or close friend?” Because the clearer you are on the differences, the easier it will be to know how to maintain your friendship — and feel about your friend. Feel me? Cool.
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