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Place Of Refuge: This Is How To Make Your Marriage A Sanctuary

If any space should exude peace and protection, it's your marital union.


I've shared in articles before that, pretty much every man who I've been intimate with, they have left some one-liner that has remained with me, even all of these years later. And if there's one that I bring up, shoot, at least every fifth counseling session, it's something that an ex once said to me; something that I find to be truly beautiful and more accurate as time goes by — "A woman should be a man's sanctuary."

I think a part of the reason why it hits so close to home, to me, is because I work with a lot of couples where it's more like a proverb in the Bible where it says that it's better for a man to live on the roof than with a contentious woman (hey, take that up with Scripture, not me. It's referenced in Proverbs 21:9, by the way). Someone who's contentious is quarrelsome. Someone who's contentious is combative. Someone who's contentious is contrary (just to be contrary). So, basically what the Bible's saying is, when you live with someone with that kind of energy, the place to find peace would be your roof because you definitely won't get it within your home.

Hey, if that triggered you, I don't know what to tell you because all it does for me is remind me that, even as a single woman, when folks are in my presence, I should want them to feel more peace than a lack-of-peace. And that when I'm talking to my clients — husbands and wives — I need to remind them to offer that same kind of space to their spouse. And an exquisite word that sums all of this up very well — again, to me — is sanctuary.

Why “Sanctuary” Is Such a Beautiful Word

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Usually, when folks think of a sanctuary, it's a church that comes to mind. I get that, being that a popular definition of the word is "a sacred or holy place". Yet if you really let that breakdown marinate, do you get how a sanctuary can also be your home and your partner (I mean, even the Bible says that our body is a temple in I Corinthians 6:19-20)? Among other things, sacred means "regarded with reverence" and "secured against violation, infringement, etc., as by reverence or sense of right". Your home should definitely be regarded with reverence (check out "7 Signs That You Truly Respect Your Spouse (& Your Marriage)") and you and your partner should both feel like neither of you would intentionally violate the other. As far as holy goes, one definition is "dedicated or devoted to the service of God" while another is "having a spiritually pure quality". Regardless of what your particular faith may be, being spiritually compatible with your spouse (check out "7 Signs You're Spiritually Compatible With Someone") while making sure that your motives, words and actions come from a pure space as much as possible is also a way to have a supremely healthy union.

Personally, I'm a big Hebrew girl, so I also know that the Hebrew word for sanctuary is "mikdash" which speaks of being set apart, in part, for rest and refuge. And y'all, I can't tell you how many spouses — I'm gonna be real, it's mostly husbands — who tell me that they dread the thought of going home because rest and refuge are the last two things that transpire within their dwelling space. And y'all, this simply should not be the case. If there is any place where a husband and wife — especially a Black husband and wife within these United States — should feel like they can put down their guard, be at ease and seek refuge, it should be within the confines of their own home.

Speaking of refuge, that's a powerful word as well. Let's look into it, just a bit deeper too.

What Does It Mean to Be a Place of Refuge?

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No one wants to live in a home where they feel like they are going to be bossed around (check out "Are You His Partner Or His Second Mama?"), nagged, berated, constantly criticized or anything else that cultivates more anxiety and stress than anything else. Well, when a house is a home that is a refuge, it is the opposite of all of these things. When something is a refuge, it is "shelter or protection from danger, trouble, etc." and "anything to which one has recourse for aid, relief, or escape".

When you are married, your home — and your being — should feel like you are shelter from danger and a place where your spouse can escape to, as they provide that same kind of reality for you.

Unfortunately, this isn't even close to being the reality for a lot of couples. Instead of protecting their partner from as much hurt, harm and danger as possible, they are the actual cause of a lot of it. I'd venture to say that a part of the reason why is because many of us did not grow up living in a home that felt like a place of refuge and definitely not like it was a sanctuary (lawd). And so, we've been programmed to think that love and contention, drama, peace-less-ness can — and even should — coexist when really, that isn't the case at all. Just look at the Love Chapter of the Bible. What about it sounds like combativeness, hostility or strife?

"Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn't want what it doesn't have. Love doesn't strut, doesn't have a swelled head, doesn't force itself on others, isn't always 'me first,' doesn't fly off the handle, doesn't keep score of the sins of others, doesn't revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end. Love never dies." — I Corinthians 13:4-8(Message)

In all actuality, love reminds us to be a sanctuary space and place of refuge for our spouse. And gee, just imagine how many marriages would improve, exponentially so, if one of their biggest priorities was to make sure, that above all else, this was the case? And just how can you commit to making this all happen in your own relationship? I've got six suggestions.

6 Ways to Make Your Union a Sanctuary Space

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1. Create a "You're Safe Here" marriage-themed mission statement.

I'm big on mission statements. They're a concise and to-the-point way to get us to stay focused on any particular mission at hand. So, when it comes to your marriage, get together with your hubby and ask him to create a "you are totally safe here" mission statement for your union. Discuss what it means to be safe and what you both are committed to offering each other so that you both will feel that way. Then post it somewhere where you both can see it on a daily basis. I'm telling you, this simple tip does wonders.

2. Leave being hypercritical at the door.

You should hold your partner accountable as they do the same for you. There is no doubt about that. However, if you are constantly chastising and ridiculing, that is going way overboard which makes it a surefire way for your spouse to build up walls or emotionally shut down completely. You know, I really can't believe how many people will dish out being hypercritical and then cave the minute even a remote correction is sent their way. Oftentimes, that's a sign of extreme insecurity but that's a message for another time. Anyway, supporting and encouraging your partner to live a healthy and responsible life is one thing. Acting like a drill sergeant is something else. You don't want someone to be that in your life, so why would you send your husband through that type of madness? Exactly. Don't.

3. Keep some things ONLY between you and your spouse.

I'm not going to name any names because, well, I'm just not going to (LOL) but there are some celebrity wives that have me thinking, "So, are you just on a mission to humiliate your husband at every turn?" Goodness. When you signed up to have your spouse's back until death parts the two of you, there really needs to be certain things that remain solely between the two of you, no matter what. Some of his past. Some of his secrets. Some of his "tender spaces". And certain things about your marriage too (intimate details about your sex life comes to mind).

One of the best things about feeling like your marriage is a sanctuary is the fact that you know that there are things that will never go beyond your spouse's ears, no matter what, because they care about your heart, just that much. And having that kind of assurance is what causes people to open up even more which cultivates new levels of intimacy over time.

4. Know how to comfort your partner.

How many of y'all remember the Shai song "Comforter"? OK, while ole' boy was slick trying to break a couple up by saying that he would comfort the girlfriend since her boyfriend was a hot mess, my main point is the hook — "I will comfort you." Comforting someone consists of soothing, consoling and reassuring them. It's also about making them feel as physically comfortable as possible. When's the last time you did that for your husband? When's the last time he did that for you? Unfortunately, instead of a lot of people putting forth the effort to "restore to assurance or confidence" when their partner is down, self-doubting or even just had a bad day, they say and do things that make their spouse feel even worse. Being comforting is the last thing on their mind. Make sure that, as for you and your house, it is one of the first.

5. Plan "Peace Dates".

Dates shouldn't go away simply because you're married. That's because dates are all about intentionally setting aside quality time for you and your partner. That said, synonyms for peace include love, friendship and even reconciliation. So, when's the last time the two of you went on a date with this focus in mind? An indoor picnic. A weekend road trip. A sex date (check out "When's The Last Time You And Your Man Had A 'Sex Date'?"). An unplugged weekend. A night when the two of you slow drag to 90s R&B while drinking champagne and toasting each other and your relationship. Anything that will help to create harmony in your relationship will definitely fit the bill. A peace date is a great way to get back to the kind of energy and atmosphere that you truly desire within your union.

6. Strive to be a peacemaker.

I've shared before that the Hebrew word for peace is "shalom" and two definitions of it are "wholeness" and "completion". I really dig that in the marital space because being a peacemaker doesn't automatically or necessarily mean that you say nothing or that you don't even challenge your partner from time to time. What it does mean is, whatever your efforts are, it's for the sake of cultivating wholeness and completion in your relationship — and if it's not, it doesn't need to be done.

Sanctuary. What a "woosah" kind of word. Here's hoping that if you or your spouse (you might wanna ask him) wouldn't currently define your marriage and home as a sanctuary space that you'll brainstorm together on how to make that a reality. Hey, you can't control what happens outside of your relationship or household yet you are quite empowered to control what goes down within it — and being a sanctuary for one another is top-tier loving. It really and truly is.

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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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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