If you're married and reading this, tell me something — if you were to ask your spouse, right now, to define how you make them feel within the marriage and they could only use one word, what do you think your partner would say? As someone who has sat across from countless couples, I'll tell you something that I hear more than I ever should — "My spouse makes me feel judged."
Because I'm about to break a lot of what judgment means in just a sec, let me just say in the intro that if you currently feel like there is tension or a disconnect or some sort of lack of emotional intimacy within your relationship, I wouldn't be shocked if it has, at least something to do with the fact that, one or both of you is feeling judged far more than either of you ever should. The good news is there is something that you can do to (semi) easily redirect that energy. Let's see what that hack is.
First of All, Judging Isn’t Automatically or Always a Bad Thing
I believe I've shared before that, if there's one thing that I was over, well before it ever really began, it's how folks act like judge (which is a five-letter word) is a four-letter word (a cuss word). Usually when people want to have this conversation with me about this, the first thing I say is, "If someone tells you that you are cute, guess what? They just judged you." I mean, beauty pageants and talent shows have judges and in those instances, to most, it's all good. What people don't like is correction and/or criticism. And that usually speaks to an issue of ego.
And before some of y'all bring in the Bible on this, like so much of Scripture that gets fractionated in order to make folks feel more comfortable (for example, people quoting that God will give them the desires of their heart without adding in the part where he says delight in him first or folks saying that he who is without sin should cast the first stone without adding in the part where Christ also said "go and sin no more" to the sinner), yes, Matthew 7:1 does say "Judge not, that you be not judged." However, Matthew 7:2 swings around and then says, "For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you."
This means that you should take into account that the way you judge someone is how you will get judged back — one way or another. Besides, Luke 6:37 states, "Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven" and Matthew 6:14-15 states, "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" and still, people find a billion-and-one ways to justify why they shouldn't forgive others (hmm…). Let me stay on topic, though.
When you factor in what Matthew 7 says along with what John 7:24 instructs ("Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.") and then you stop to ponder the fact that judging literally means things like "acute discernment" (the Good Book is all over us needing to operate with discernment) along with "the ability to judge, make a decision, or form an opinion objectively, authoritatively, and wisely, especially in matters affecting action; good sense; discretion" — I don't know how you are able to make sound and wise decisions in life unless you are able to make good judgment calls. And when you're married, I'm not sure how you can effectively hold your partner accountable — as they do the same thing for you; some folks conveniently want to overlook that part — unless some "judging" is involved too.
So no, I absolutely don't have a problem with judging or being judged. What does need to go on record is the fact that anything that's out of balance is problematic. Judging is not excluded. So, let's touch on that before I get to my overall and bottom line point.
Here’s Where Judging Can Go WAY Left, Though
Anything that isn't kept in check can get totally out of hand. Judging definitely applies. In fact, that's a part of the reason why I wrote "Are You His Partner Or His Second Mama?" for this platform because, the reality is, many people don't judge for accountability's sake; many do it in order to boss people around, act like they are better than others or — most importantly — to deflect from their own issues. And just how can you know that you are someone who falls into this kind of space?
- In your mind, your feelings are the facts. About everything.
- You're inflexible when it comes to other perspectives.
- You are hypercritical.
- You're constantly correcting (yet don't want to be corrected).
- YOU. DON'T. LISTEN. TO. OTHERS.
- You expect perfection from those around you (even though you want to be excused for your own faults and flaws).
- You constantly jump to conclusions.
- You're not a safe space for folks to share their vulnerabilities.
- You are short on patience and tolerance.
- Everything is black-and-white.
- You're unforgiving.
- You make statements more than ask questions (bookmark that one).
While all of this can certainly apply to everyone, regardless of their relational status, since we're dealing with marriage today, I'm gonna focus on it from that angle. That said, although there are plenty of articles out here that vouch for the fact that poor communication, financial challenges and a lack of intimacy are reigning reasons for why many marriages fall apart, I stand amazed by how few choose to touch on just how much being overly-judgmental can tear down an intimate relationship too.
For one thing, who wants to be in that kind of space all of the time — a space that puts you on eggshells, keeps you anxious and has you totally stressed out? If there is one place where these things shouldn't exist at a very bare minimum, it's in your home and within your marriage. Also, when folks signed up for "'til death do us part", no one wanted to marry a dictator or a second parent. Indeed, some folks really struggle with understanding that their spouse is not their subordinate or their child. And third, people don't grow in a space where they are constantly ridiculed or berated and if there is one thing that marriage should do, it should help both people to flourish — mind, body and spirit.
So yes, while I do think that a certain amount of judgment — again, based on definitions like "the ability to judge, make a decision, or form an opinion objectively, authoritatively, and wisely, especially in matters affecting action; good sense; discretion" — is necessary, in both directions (don't "dish it" if you can't "take it"), in order for a husband and wife to grow, as individuals and a unit, if you know that you can check at least four out of the 12 things that I said, some things without your relationship and how you relate to your partner are totally out of wack. This means that you are doing more harm than good to your relationship and it's time to bring things back to the middle. And just how do you do that? This is where wondering comes in.
This Is Why the Act of Wondering Can Be a More Effective Approach
So, when I listed some of the signs that someone is too judgmental, do you recall how I suggested that you bookmark the 12th point? Boy, the way you can connect so much better with your partner when you make it a point to not tell them what to do or how to think (or what they are thinking) and instead, to ask questions — it really is like night and day.
Questions bring a respectful tone to the conversation. Questions bring forth clarity. Questions convey the message that you genuinely want to hear where someone else is coming from because you know that communication isn't just about you talking all of the time and not giving someone else the platform to be heard. And to me, questioning is a form of wondering because wondering is about curiosity and curiosity is about being eager to learn. And trust me, until you and your partner part (either by divorce or through death), there will always be something that you need to learn about them because they will always be transitioning and evolving.
And honestly, this is one more reason why being super judgmental can create a wedge between two people; it's because when you are constantly judging your partner, not only are you arrogantly conveying (even if it's subconsciously) that there is nothing else you need to learn about them or your relationship, you're also shutting down the path for your spouse to want to share more about themselves. In fact, when it comes to a lot of the couples that I've worked with where infidelity was an issue, having a judgmental partner (on the front end) definitely played a big role because, since the one who cheated felt like their spouse didn't want to learn more about their wants and needs, they found themselves gravitating to an individual who actually did. Yeah, that's another thing about being judgmental — it can damper your intimacy (physically and emotionally) because no one really finds that appealing or attractive.
A preventative measure to avoid all of this is to judge less and wonder more.
You know, there is an author by the name of Betty Smith who described wonder in a way that I like a lot. She once said, "Look at everything as though you were seeing it for the first time or the last time. Then your time on earth will be filled with glory." Remember when you and your man were first getting to know each other? It was difficult to be super judgmental because everything was so new and exciting. And while it is a bit unrealistic to expect you to return to that exact mindset, what I will say is every day is new and if you are being even a little observant, you will get that within each day is an opportunity to learn something new about your partner and/or take a new approach to the relationship.
For instance, ask him instead of telling him what he thinks; then don't listen in order to respond — listen in order to grasp his feelings, insights, perspectives, wants and needs. The "wonder of it all" can help you to become more embracing and tolerant as he becomes more trusting and comfortable (and vice versa).
Listen, I know husbands who have a super judgmental wife and wives who have a super judgmental husband. What they all have in common is it takes everything in them, on a daily basis, to not leave (I'm not exaggerating either). Just something to keep in mind if you think that judging over wondering is not "all that bad". Indeed, it is and I would hate for you to — pardon the pun — wonder if you should've taken this approach a lot sooner, once you realize that it may be too late.
Judge less. Wonder more. Watch how it blesses your marriage. Truly.
For more love and relationships, features, dating tips and tricks, and marriage advice, check out xoNecole's Sex & Love section here.
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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.
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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Queen Latifah On Her Journey To Self-Acceptance: 'I've Been Trying To Maintain My Freedom To Be Me'
Actress and rapper Dana "Queen Latifah" Owens is defying societal standards by refusing to be confined in a box regarding her personal and professional life.
Owens, who has been a part of the entertainment industry for over three decades, is widely recognized for her empowering songs and the variety of acting roles she has obtained throughout her career, among other things. The list includes Living Single, Set It Off, Chicago --with which she earned an Oscar nomination-- Just Wright, Girls Trip, and most recently, The Equalizer series on CBS.
Owens is also very tight-lipped about her personal life. However, in 2021, The Last Holiday actress showed appreciation to Eboni Nichols, who is reportedly her partner, and their son Rebel after receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award.Since then, Owens has revealed why she doesn't want to be defined as anything but herself and how she maintains her sense of freedom. In a resurfaced video from theGrio Awards, Owens opened up about those topics when she accepted the Television Icon Award for her past contributions
In a clip uploaded on theGrio's Instagram account last week, Owens explained that she often had to fight to be herself because "the world" kept trying to put her in a box based on what society thought a woman should be.
"My whole life, I feel like I've been trying to maintain my freedom to be me. And the world is trying to put these things on me to stop me from being who I am," she said.
Further into the speech, Owens explained that although many would have their own opinion about her from what the media spews out, she would continue to be herself by wearing "beautiful gowns and dresses," playing in the dirt, participating in basketball games with men and loving who she loves because that's what makes her happy.
The Beauty Shop star also added that despite her celebrity status, she would continue to show respect for others because that's who she is as a person and how she was raised.
"So I wear these beautiful gowns and dresses because I want to because that's part of me. I play in the dirt. I play basketball with the boys because that's me,” she stated. "I love who I love because that's me. I love all of you who have supported me. I give you your respect. I don't have to be above you because that's me. I know me."
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