This Couple Says That Your Relationship Should Make You Feel Closer To God

In other words, if God didn't send you, I'm unavailable.

Our First Year

In xoNecole's Our First Year series, we take an in-depth look at love and relationships between couples with an emphasis on what their first year of marriage was like.

I desire to be loved wholly and intensely by a man who makes me feel closer to God. Whew, chile. Y'all didn't hear me. Let me run it back for you.

I'm talking about the kind of love that runs so deep that a man gets on his knees and prays over me every day. I want a love so patient that I know that it was divinely ordained by God every time he speaks life over me. The kind of love I'm describing is one that Trade Street Jam Co. owner, Ashley Marie and her husband, Don Rouse have been cultivating for 12 years.

The Brooklyn-based couple, who will welcome their first child in July, recently sat down with xoNecole to give us a glimpse into the first year of their modern-day love story, and according to them, it has been nothing short of an act of God. Ashley explained, "God told me he was the one so long before he proposed. I knew early on that we'd be the ones to break the cycle of divorce that our families were so accustomed to."

In our chat, Ashley and Don got real about faith, fears, finances, and how to find balance when you and your partner speak different love languages.

Here's what we learned:

The One:

Ashley: All I know is, our chemistry was so great. I fell in love with Don the way you fall asleep...slowly, and then all at once. We argued a lot in the beginning (mainly I argued because I'm an only child and I was used to getting my way). But I could never deny how good we were together any other time. Our values really did align perfectly, from schoolwork to family to finances, goals and dreams, I just knew that he made me feel really good inside. And he was so patient with me. I'd never met anyone like that before.

Don: It took me longer to realize Ashley was the one. We actually broke up because I wasn't sure where I wanted to take the relationship. During that period of separation, I learned my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. It was tough for me as it reminded me of my brother who died from cancer and I couldn't imagine going through this situation again. My dad decided to explore Cancer Treatment Center for his situation and they do a great job of adding faith into the treatment plan. One of their methods is having you engage in activities that made you think about your spirituality. One of these activities was making tranquility beads.

So I am literally sitting with my baby sister and the instructor is telling us to add beads for people we love in our life, people who help us be better people, and people who you are willing to go through fire with. Ashley was the first person that came to my mind. That is when I realized I had f*cked up. I had to swallow my pride and make this right. Luckily she was willing.

Deepest Fears 

Ashley: We differ here. I didn't have any fears...honestly!

Don: What fears? (laughs) I was scared about everything. Money, kids and a new chapter of life. When I took a step back, those fears were self-inflicted and came from the wrong perspective. When I changed my perspective on marriage and our union, it changed how I approached the next phase in our relationship.

"I was scared about everything. Money, kids and a new chapter of life. When I took a step back, those fears were self-inflicted and came from the wrong perspective. When I changed my perspective on marriage and our union, it changed how I approached the next phase in our relationship."

Baggage Claim

Ashley: I wouldn't say Don had much "baggage". Again, we were so young when we met. He did have a girl that he used to date that wouldn't really accept that they were over for a while, but she had nothing on me. I did have to unlearn some of my (what I later learned were) selfish habits. Again, I'm an only child––I've only ever had to look out for me. That kinda hit me hard over the years, having to admit that I was being selfish in some ways and learning how not to always think about myself first before others. But like I said, Don was always so patient with me, so he sat back and let me figure it out over the years while always supporting me along the way.

Don: I was used to being self-sufficient and had pride in never needing anything from anyone. However, that isn't going to work in a relationship or marriage. I had to learn to collaborate with my wife versus just solving problems/situations on my own. It is still something I have to work on almost daily.

Love Languages

Ash: I'm still learning how Don gives and receives love. I have to remind myself all the time that he won't show love like I will; he'll show it in much deeper, more meaningful ways than always outwardly expressing it to the world. But man, does he show it. Once you can understand that about your partner, you can grow so much deeper in love.

Don: Our love languages are different but there are some overlaps. I had to learn that I have to intentionally work on making sure I give her what she needs from me. And sometimes, that varies day-to-day.

"I'm still learning how Don gives and receives love. I have to remind myself all the time that he won't show love like I will; he'll show it in much deeper, more meaningful ways than always outwardly expressing it to the world. But man, does he show it. Once you can understand that about your partner, you can grow so much deeper in love."

Important Lessons

Ashley: Marriage really is like a job, one that you can never retire from. But, it can be a really beautiful job that you enjoy wholeheartedly; one that you can't wait to go to and work harder at because you know that the harder you work, the greater the reward. Also, putting God at the forefront will keep us on track forever.

Don: Marriage requires work but a lot of the work is self-reflection. Being able to understand you can't change someone but you can change what you do and how you respond to certain things. Too many times we put the blame on someone else without ever considering our role in a situation.

"Marriage really is like a job, one that you can never retire from. But, it can be a really beautiful job that you enjoy wholeheartedly; one that you can't wait to go to and work harder at because you know that the harder you work, the greater the reward. Also, putting God at the forefront will keep us on track forever."

Overcoming Challenges

Ashley: Don will probably say he mostly worried about being able to support us as a family. I didn't really struggle very much. Women are built for this––we have such maternal instincts to run a household. We had stayed together quite often before actually moving in, so they're weren't many habits that surprised me. He's always been really good at keeping his space pretty clean!

Don: I was worried about finances but we actually figured that out pretty easily. Once we got a good system, finances became less of a concern.

Best Advice

Ashley: Keep other people out of your relationship! Especially family (laughs).

Don: Make sure you increase your date nights and quality time together in your first year. A mentor of mine said it is easy to come off the high of the wedding and things fall flat. The wedding is a great time and you are on an emotional high but you have to make sure you continue that throughout your first year and beyond. We took a few extra trips during our first year and did a good job of having date nights on Friday. That extra quality time made a big difference.

Building Together

Ashley: We really want to raise a healthy, happy family and uproot as many of the systemic things from our culture and our past as we can, like racism against our own people, financial instability, divorce, abuse and more. Now that we're expecting, we have such greater purposes, and we definitely align on what those are.

Don: To raise a family that contributes to the culture. Ash and I are both about helping people, being honest and transparent. If we can establish that in our family, it is a huge win. Our relationship is really rooted in our faith. Since being married, our faith has increased and it makes the meaning of marriage a lot different.

We go through challenges like everyone, but the faith aspect gives us a different perspective on things as those challenges arise. Individually, we are both committed to being better people. We focus on getting better every day in some way and with that mentality, you can't lose.

For more Ashley and Don, follow them on Instagram!

Featured image courtesy of Instagram/@ashleymarierouse.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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