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
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?
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
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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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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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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Text This Before You Ghost Them, Sis.
We’ve all been there at least once (or a few times) along our dating journey. Maybe you’ve had a date or two with a potential suitor, but the spark just wasn’t there. Perhaps you convinced yourself that just “one more” date would help you overlook a non-negotiable ick. At this point in the dating cycle, you’ve probably reached the point where you must decide to either communicate “why” things won’t be moving forward or simply ghost them.
What Is Ghosting?
“Ghosting” refers to the act of suddenly and unexpectedly cutting off all communication with someone you've been dating or talking to without any explanation or further contact. It typically occurs in the early stages of dating but can also happen after a few dates or even in more established relationships.
The act of ghosting has become quite a common practice in our modern dating culture and can manifest in a number of different ways. From days of ignored text messages and phone calls out of the blue to not showing up for pre-arranged plans and sometimes disappearing from someone's life without any notice or explanation.
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The Problem With Ghosting
Being ghosted may seem like a harmless act of “self-choosing,” but the person on the receiving end of your decision can be left feeling confused, rejected, and even abandoned, wondering what happened and where they went wrong.
And we get it, what explanation do you owe someone for leaving after a few cocktails and a $100 date? While that may seem like the perfect opportunity to cut and run, taking an alternative approach to fizzle out a fling is a great time to practice clear and effective communication that can pay off in the long run.
While there is a time and a place for ghosting (and even blocking) if your boundaries have been crossed or safety has been threatened, if we’re looking to live out our best healed, secure-girl summer, there are ways to date freely without leaving others with damage of their own to recover from.
Being honest and upfront about your feelings while being respectful of the other person's time is the best way to leave a situationship or fling with both parties emotionally unscathed. So if you’re looking for ways to break things off with care and consideration, we’ve provided five text scripts to send instead of ghosting somebody’s son:
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5 Texts To Send Instead of Ghosting Them
1. If you want to take the honest but gentle approach:
"Hey [Name], I've really enjoyed getting to know you, but I've been doing some thinking, and I don't see this going any further. I wanted to be upfront and honest with you rather than leaving you wondering. I wish you all the best."
2. If you want to express gratitude before saying goodbye:
"Hi [Name], I wanted to reach out and say thank you for the time we spent together. You're an amazing person, but I think we're better off as friends. I hope you understand and that we can still maintain a positive connection."
3. If you want to leave a note of appreciation:
"Hi [Name], I wanted to let you know that I've had a great time with you, but I don't think we're compatible for a romantic relationship. I appreciate the moments we shared, and I hope we can both find what we're looking for."
4. If a face-to-face convo is needed:
"Hey [Name], I've been doing some thinking, and I believe it's important for us to have an open conversation about where we stand. Can we find some time to talk about our relationship and how we both feel? I think it's important to address things honestly."
5. If you want to keep things cute and concise:
"Hey [Name], I've realized that we're not on the same page, and it's best if we part ways. Take care."
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