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.
It's true what they say, "absence makes the heart grow fonder," and after being in a three-year long-distance relationship the love between Ijeoma and Jonathan Kola is absolutely adoring! These love birds crossed paths freshmen year on the campus of Harvard University. Both bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, the two were eager to jumpstart their college careers and take on the world. But, as fate would have it, cupid interfered and redirected their sights.
"He gave me very 'fresh off the boat' vibes. I'm from Nigeria. I was born in Nigeria, but I grew up in America and Jonathan was born in Kenya and grew up in Kenya. He came to college from Kenya. To me, he was very African," recalled a hysterical Ijeoma. Jonathan's Prince Akeem in Coming to America persona didn't scream husband material to Ijeoma right away, but Ijeoma's bubbly personality and positive spirit intrigued Jonathan instantly.
During the couple's senior year, their friendship blossomed into a full-blown relationship. After graduation, Jonathan moved across the globe to Nigeria and Ijeoma moved to New York to pursue a second degree. She admitted she wasn't thinking about marriage then, but being in a long-distance relationship really forced them to really get to know each other on an emotional level. Two years later, Jonathan moved back to the U.S. to attend graduate school in California. By the second year of their long-distance romance, Ijeoma knew she could spend eternity with Jonathan. "I knew that I wanted to be with him, but I also knew I didn't want to be long-distance," said Ijeoma. She spiced things up when she presented Jonathan with the ultimate ultimatum.
Read carefully ladies, Ijeoma told Jonathan, "If you don't propose by my birthday, we got to keep it moving." Keep it moving was clearly the last thing Jonathan wanted to do. A few days before her 25th birthday, Jonathan popped the question and the rest was history. In this installment of Our First Year, Ijeoma and Jonathan sat down with xoNecole and gave us all the details on their struggle with communication, loosening family ties, and the best advice they received during their first year of marriage. Here's what they had to say:
*Responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Ijeoma: I don't know if there was an exact moment [when I knew he was the one]. Maybe after the second year of being long-distance. I was living in New York, and I had other options. I kind of felt like if I was willing to do this long-distance with this guy who's so far away in Nigeria at the time, then I must really care for him. I think that's when I knew he was the one. It was during that long-distance process.
Jonathan: When we started dating in college, marriage wasn't really on my radar. As we continued dating and things were working out well, it was pretty natural just to fall deeper into the relationship. Until Ijeoma said, "If you don't propose by my birthday we have to keep it moving." I was just about to graduate. I was trying to picture myself down the road. I was trying to figure out life. She made me see that it was the right time. For me, it was natural with a bit of encouragement. We were dating, we kept dating, and it was going well.
Courtesy of Jonathan & Ijeoma
"I was trying to figure out life. She made me see that it was the right time. For me, it was natural with a bit of encouragement. We were dating, we kept dating, and it was going well."
Meet Me At The Altar
Ijeoma: After his first year of business school, which I think was the summer of 2015, he was in school in California. We were doing long-distance. He did an internship in New York, so we lived together for that summer. In general, I am not comfortable living together before marriage, but we decided to do it because of financial reasons. That process of living together made me feel I wasn't going to shack up with somebody who wasn't trying to marry me. So, I think us living together in that summer, at least from a time perspective, made me feel like marriage was the next thing that we needed to do if we wanted to spend so much time together. If we wanted to be together all day and create a shared space together, then we should get married. Emotionally, I was probably there before then, but I think from a practical perspective it was after that summer. I was like, oh no, we need to get married if you trying to be with me all day.
Jonathan: I think for me knowing that I could spend the rest of my life with Ijeoma in a relationship was one thing, but taking the steps to get married and formalizing that was a different thing. You can feel one way toward somebody, but still feel like in your mind this isn't the right moment to get married. It was just a natural progression for me. She was exhibiting all the right things I liked like being caring, loving, sweet and I just enjoyed spending time with her. Those are things that reveal themselves over time, but they all add up to that feeling of okay, this is the one.
Courtesy of Jonathan & Ijeoma
"It was just a natural progression for me. She was exhibiting all the right things I liked like being caring, loving, sweet and I just enjoyed spending time with her. Those are things that reveal themselves over time, but they all add up to that feeling of okay, this is the one."
Overcoming Fears In Marriage
Ijeoma: Before getting married, I would talk to my mom about everything. So, something I believed would have to change if I wanted my marriage to be successful [was that there would have to be] things that I talk about with my husband that I don't share with the outside world because it's just between us. I have to train my mind to remember he is my family now. Sharing goods new with him is sufficient, and I don't need to go talk to my mom. Even when I'm looking for advice, it's okay for things just to be between him and I. I think that is what I was most worried about--whether I would be able to keep my mouth shut and not reveal all our business to my parents and to my other friends. I'm doing an okay job.
Jonathan: My biggest fear going into marriage was probably my biggest default--that was my trajectory. In my mind, from day one when I left Kenya, I thought I was going to move back and get a job. When you meet someone and make a commitment, all that stuff kind of goes out the window. In my mind, all those things that I wanted to do, I had to reevaluate. That was scary. Then I realized, marriage is two people coming together and being able to bring different goals and perspectives and trying to make it workable for both. I think it's something we are still working on, and we are taking short-term steps to see how we work. I think it is one of those challenges you face in marriage to become one.
Ijeoma: For me, similarly, it's communication but on the opposite side of the spectrum. Growing up, I saw from my mom interestingly, not even from my dad, but my mom's style of communication to anyone was pretty abrasive when she is upset. Early on, I would raise my voice. Which would only be exaggerated when he would close the door, and go somewhere and not talk to me for three hours. I had to unlearn saying exactly how I felt at that moment. Although that might work for me and make me feel good, that might not be what the other person is ready to hear. Our unlearning goes hand in hand because they come from such different sides of the spectrum of conflict resolution and communication.
Jonathan: Whenever I'm pissed off, my initial reaction is not to tell her why I am pissed off. I just like to scowl at her for a couple of hours. It's not a good thing and I recognize that. That's one area where I'm trying to be better. Getting over things more quickly.
Courtesy of Jonathan & Ijeoma
"I had to unlearn saying exactly how I felt at that moment. Our unlearning goes hand in hand because they come from such different sides of the spectrum of conflict resolution and communication."
Important Lessons In Marriage
Ijeoma: I actually learned a lot about myself. Loving him has taught me that I am capable of doing things I didn't think I was capable of doing. He has supported me through my Ph.D. journey. I wanted to quit so, so, so many times, and he really was my rock on numerous occasions. He encouraged me endlessly, and also gave me the freedom to feel I can do it in my own way. The only reason I was able to finish is because I was able to let go of the traditional understanding of getting a Ph.D., going to conferences, and writing papers. He encouraged me to look beyond the typical traditional task and forge my own path, and do it in a way that would make me happy and fulfill my needs. That was the only way I was able to get it done. His support showed me that I am really, really strong and I can do a lot of things.
Jonathan: For me, [I've learned] everything is a choice. The way you respond to things is a choice. Sometimes I'm just stubborn. The sun will shine the next day and life will go on. Bad behaviors that build up over time can become very toxic. Just in the state of giving good vibes and good energy, it's the little small choices that can bring the right energy. It's healthier, and you grow from it.
Courtesy of Jonathan & Ijeoma
"He has supported me through my Ph.D. journey. I wanted to quit so, so, so many times, and he really was my rock on numerous occasions. He encouraged me endlessly, and also gave me the freedom to feel I can do it in my own way."
Ijeoma: With me, it's about trying all the love languages and seeing what sticks that day. Jonathan is pretty simple when it comes to love language. For him, acts of service and quality time are the top two. We spend a lot of time together. We are very fortunate to spend a lot of time together. I'm quite messy, so I try to do things I know will make him happy or will take a load off him. I will often take on things I know he has to do or forgot to do. We took the test before we got married which definitely helped us.
Jonathan: Some people switch up their love language. They'll tell you it's one thing, but it's another. Sometimes you just have to do all five.
Ijeoma: A couple of weeks before we got married, we took a weekend trip and wrote out our marriage mission statement and our marriage values. It was Jonathan's idea. I don't know where he got it from. It was actually really good! It helped set a foundation for us. Our goal in marriage is to love one another the way that God loves us and to use our marriage as a way to share God's love and light with other people.
Jonathan: I wouldn't change anything she said. I want to amplify one point. It's really about making sure both of us are fulfilled and happy. As for goals, it just has to fit in the context of our marriage. If my individual goals don't fit into the context of our marriage, then I can't do it. At the end of the day, that's what's important.
Courtesy of Jonathan & Ijeoma
"Our goal in marriage is to love one another the way that God loves us and to use our marriage as a way to share God's love and light with other people."
Ijeoma: There was a time where I was on the phone with my mom, I was cooking and Jonathan had just come home from work. I had her on speakerphone, she asked, "Is that your husband?" I said, "Yes." She said, "Okay then, bye." I told her it's okay Jonathan doesn't mind, we can keep on talking. She said, "No, your husband is home. It's now time for you to be with him and spend time with him. You and I can talk some other time." That was a super-powerful moment because as I said earlier, that was something I had to work on--prioritizing my relationship with my husband as my first earthly relationship. Once we are back in the same space, it doesn't matter who you are on the phone with, what you're doing, stop and take time for each other and spend a little bit of time together.
Jonathan: The most memorable piece of advice I got was from a cousin who said, "Whenever I travel somewhere, I should bring back something small for my wife." Whether it's a hat or makeup bag, just something random. It's such a small gesture but it goes a long way.
Soon they'll will have to make time and space for their first bundle of joy. Congratulations are in order as Ijeoma and Jonathan welcome their first child! To learn how Ijeoma broke the news to Jonathan, watch the video below. Stay up to date as they navigate marriage and parenthood by subscribing to Ijeoma's YouTube channel.
The Kola Family Is Expanding! Pregnancy Q&Awww.youtube.com
- We Got Married Five Days After He Proposed - xoNecole: Women's Interest, Love, Wellness, Beauty ›
- Our First Year: Dr. Carjie and Dr. Kerwin Scott - xoNecole: Women's Interest, Love, Wellness, Beauty ›
- Our First Year: Ray & Roslyn Singleton, Marriage - xoNecole: Women's Interest, Love, Wellness, Beauty ›
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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A dead bedroom can kill any relationship. In all long-term, committed relationships, couples experience various phases, from the initial passion to a more complex and enduring connection. Yet, as time passes, sex may decrease, which introduces an issue often referred to as "bed death."
According to Advance Psychology Partners, 'bed death' occurs when individuals in a committed relationship experience a decline in the frequency of sexual activity and fall short of the desires of both or either partner. It is sometimes labeled a "sexless relationship" due to the infrequency of sex. In the U.S., an estimated 20 million people find themselves in such relationships.
This shift is a significant change for couples. Let’s face it: no one wants to be in a sexless marriage or relationship. But how can couples effectively confront the impact of fading physical intimacy on the overall health of their enduring partnership?
"I have found that many factors influence one's desire to dive, and it is often not a majority of just one thing. Most people assume that if they don't desire [sex], they are no longer physically attracted, but in my experience, that has little to do with it most of the time," explained Brittanni Young, LMFT, CST.
"Some of the heavy contributors that I see most often include excessive goal orientation towards orgasm, people not prioritizing their own sexuality, and the landfill of ‘should’s’ that develop from toxic sexual scripts created long ago in upbringing," she added.
Furthermore, these issues are not exclusive to any particular orientation, but it does manifest differently.
Young is a licensed marriage and family therapist, sexologist, and board-certified sex therapist who practices in Georgia and Florida. She has worked in the sexology field for over a decade. Young helps couples and individuals looking to get through challenges of all facets facing sexuality and intimacy, such as desire mismatch, over-compulsion, and dysfunctions. She recently launched a deck of intimacy connection cards called "Show Me Your Cards." Young is working on another product that helps teach children to consent and negotiate appropriate touch. She sat down with xoNecole to discuss what causes the decline in the bedroom, the myth of 'lesbian bed death,' and recommendations on overcoming "bed death."
The Decline In Intimacy
Intimacy often dwindles within relationships, a phenomenon triggered by various factors such as stress, the insidious monotony of routine, and the toxicity of unresolved conflicts, to name a few. While couples manage daily life, exchanging intimate desires and concerns may take a backseat. Sadly, this gradually erodes the closeness once shared in the relationship.
"Typically, the first thing I do when working with a couple on desire challenges is rule out medical causes by referring them to their primary care physician or other provider they are working with," Young shared. "There are times when unmanaged or mismanaged conditions factor into low desire levels. Also, many medications can wreak havoc on keeping desire levels up, such as antidepressants, SSRIs, anti-anxiety, and blood pressure medications, to name a few."
Jeff Bergen/ Getty Images
"Next, I look at the state of the relationship. If there is dissatisfaction in the relationship, then it definitely affects how close and intimate one wants to be to another. There are also plenty of individual factors one can bring into the equation, such as low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, feelings of shame or guilt around one's own sexuality, and external life stressors that can get in the way. I find that life stressors can be a big one for folks, as once you get in the habit of not prioritizing sex, it tends to stick," she added.
Fortunately, there are ways to prevent "bed death." It can involve prioritizing your wants and open communication about sexual needs.
"What tends to be effective for all couples is taking an inventory of how satisfied they are with their sexual behaviors and engagement. Being truthful in this vein can be the start of unlocking inhibitions that can keep you from seeking out and being genuinely vulnerable in intimate spaces," Young explained. "Next, I suggest opening up lines of communication around these truths. When people assume that nothing can be done, hope is lost."
The Myth Of 'Lesbian Bed Death'
The notion of "lesbian bed death" perpetuates a simplistic and inaccurate stereotype about the sexual dynamics within lesbian relationships. Contrary to the myth, the experience of a decline in intimacy is not universal among lesbian couples. The diverse spectrum of relationships among women challenges this oversimplified narrative, emphasizing that the complexities of sexual dynamics extend beyond stereotypical assumptions.
"The notion of 'lesbian bed death' is based on a research study done by Pepper Schwartz in 1983 that found that lesbian couplings fell behind in sexual frequency compared to heterosexual and gay male couplings," Young revealed.
"Several other studies [after] have replicated these findings but give very little information about sexual satisfaction. Despite there being more research needed overall in the sexuality field, more recent research did find that when it comes to the length of sexual encounters, lesbian couples had the longest duration of encounters. To that end, sexual quality over quantity is a better marker of satisfaction, and that is what I pay most attention to in my work. With that said, dissatisfaction can happen in all couplings over time," the sexologist continued.
Factors influencing reduced intimacy among lesbian couples may include communication challenges, societal pressures, and individual variations in libido. Menstruation can also play a role, with some couples navigating discomfort or hormonal changes during this period.
"There are certainly some nuances that come into play with lesbian couples that differ from heterosexual or other-oriented couples. As I stated earlier, physiological factors can factor into the rise and fall of libido. The hormone fluctuations that come from menstruation and menopause can impact desire levels, and it is double present in lesbian couples. Another nuance is the lack of a sexual script from society on lesbian sexual behavior. There are patriarchal roots to sexual research, which have created our societal norms that tend to leave out anyone who isn't heterosexual," Young stated.
Overcoming The Challenges
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While 'bed death' challenges couples, solutions are within reach. By identifying and addressing the underlying causes, couples can rekindle the flame of intimacy and ensure a healthier, more fulfilling relationship.
"In the words of Esther Perel, another sexual professional in the field, 'love enjoys knowing everything about you; desire needs mystery.' I recommend keeping it in the front of your mind, prioritizing, and keeping it interesting. Be open to learning more about your own sexuality every day, as well as your partner. You are always growing; what worked for you 20 years ago may not be the same today. Stay curious with one another and be open to exploring new ways to pleasure. You deserve it," Young said.
For instance, Young advised that couples should "keep sexual encounters light and playful." And not be afraid to introduce new elements, such as toys.
"Touch often in ways that are consensual and feel safe! I made 'Show Me Your Cards' to serve this purpose specifically. Just because you do not feel in the mood to go all the way does not mean you aren't in the mood to hold hands, exchange body massages, or dance together. Connecting often in any physical form, as long as it feels pleasurable, still counts as 'being in the mood,'" she said.
Overcoming the hurdles of "bed death" and debunking myths surrounding 'lesbian bed death' offers a unique perspective for couples grappling with the difficulties of sustaining a connection. Learning the proper ways to work through a sexless relationship can help foster a healthier, more fulfilling relationship.
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