I'm pretty confident that if you ask any divorced person what a top five reason for the end of their marriage was, something that is going to come up is a breakdown in communication. Unfortunately, some people go into a marriage thinking that they are a far more effective communicator than they actually are (being able to speak well when you suck at listening is an example of being a poor communicator).
Others feel like their partner should be some sort of mind reader. Still others aren't the best at exhibiting patience, acceptance and a willingness to allow their partner the space to be different from them (you'd be amazed how many people feel like their job is to turn their spouse into their clone).
For these reasons and more, that's why I'm all about couples taking what I call "seasonal inventory". To set aside some time, each season of the year, to ask some vital questions—just to make sure that they are on the same page and shoot, even in the same book. While I could provide about 25 questions that are beneficial to ask, for the sake of time and space, I've listed seven.
If when spring, summer, fall and winter roll around, you make these inquiries and take them to heart, it can really do wonders when it comes to feeling close, connected and confident in your relationship with your beloved.
1. “What season do you think we’re in?”
Some of the older heads may remember the group Exposé from back in the day. They used to sing a song called, "Seasons Change" and, just like the weather, this applies to relationships too. Shoot, even the Bible tells us that there is a time and season for things (Ecclesiastes 3). The thing about seasons, though, is whether you feel like you're in the summer (typically considered to be the best season) of your life or the winter (oftentimes thought as being the worst), if you're patient enough, the season will shift. This is why it's important to 1) prepare for every season; 2) be intentional about being patient in every season, and 3) to focus on what you can learn from what each season has to offer.
Keeping all of this in mind, there is one more thing that married couples need to consider—they need to ponder if they both are actually in the same season, at the same time. Say that you're looking at your relationship from a financial perspective. If one partner feels like it's "summertime" and they're spending a ton of money while the other feels that a winter trial is coming and money needs to be saved like nobody's business, there is going to be conflict. Make sense?
There are four seasons in a year—spring, summer, fall and winter. Taking some time out, each of those seasons, to ask your partner what "season" your relationship is in, from their perspective (as you share yours, of course), that can help you both to see if you're on the same page when it comes to insight, planning and strategy. It's a hack that can spare a lot of stress and drama if you actually implement it.
2. “In what areas do you feel unfulfilled?”
The goal of happiness is gonna cost a lot of people in the long run. What I mean by that is, there's something that I've said before—if your motivation for everything that you do (or don't do) is if it makes you "happy" or not, you are going to find yourself missing out on a lot of lessons and probably blessings in this life. For one thing, happiness is fleeting and fickle; it comes and it goes. Secondly, sometimes life requires that we do things that absolutely DO NOT make us happy yet do make us better.
Are you always happy when you go to work? Are you always happy in your marriage? Are you always happy when it comes to making the sacrifices you need to make for the sake of your children? Are you always happy when you pay your bills? Are you always happy when you've got an engagement that you've committed to that you know you need to keep? C'mon. We all know that the answer to each and every one of these questions is "no". Yet sometimes things need to be done for the sake of maintaining your character, honoring your obligations and preparing for your future.
That's why, when it comes to this particular question, I'm pretty "meh" when it comes to asking your partner if they are happy or not. It really depends on the day—and sometimes the moment—when you choose to ask them. A question that I do think is pretty important, however, is if they feel unfulfilled in some area of the relationship. A definition of fulfill that I think is really important in the context of this article is "to satisfy (requirements, obligations, etc.)".
When it comes to what you and your partner need in order to feel satisfied (which is about having your desires, expectations and needs met) in your marriage, it's always a good idea to check in on those things. When you feel fulfilled, it can make the not-so-happy moments worth enduring. So yeah, it's definitely an important topic to broach.
3. “Are you good with our sex life?”
Folks who know me know that any time a married person tries to water down the relevance of sex in their relationship, they automatically get a side-eye sent their way. I say it often because it's the truth—if ANYONE should be having a healthy, satisfying and consistent sex life, it should be married folks! And so, if there is a sexless situation going on (within a relationship where both people are physically capable of copulating), that is a red flag. Sex is about pleasure. Sex is about communication. Sex is also about cultivating a form of oneness (even the Bible says that; Genesis 2:24-25 and I Corinthians 6:16-20—Message). And why shouldn't two people who pledged to share their lives, for the rest of their lives, want to partake in an act like this, just as much as they possibly can?
So, when I say that it's important to ask your partner, at least four times a year, if they are "good" with how things are going in the bedroom, it's important to state that I mean more than just one kind of good. Is your partner "good" with how often the two of you are having sex?
Is your partner "good" with the kind of sex you're engaging in (too many or not enough quickies? Is there not enough morning sex? Is sex too routine?). Does your partner feel like you're both still on the same wavelength as far as mentally and emotionally making a connection? Have they "outgrown sex" in some way? Is there something that they wish they received more—or even less—of?
I joke with married couples all of the time that, since marriage requires so much, DAILY, they deserve to have off-the-chain sex, just as much of possible! However, awesome sex typically doesn't just happen; couples have to communicate about this too. When's the last time you and yours did just that?
4. “Do you feel completely supported by me?”
Any single person who desires to be married who's reading this, please do not underestimate how critically essential it is to be with someone who is truly supportive. A supportive individual helps to hold their partner up. A supportive individual can withstand good times and bad. Another definition of support is "to undergo or endure, especially with patience or submission; tolerate". Gee, when you take all of these things into consideration, no wonder the divorce rate is still so much higher than it needs to be. Unfortunately, far too many folks want to be supported without actually being supportive in return.
Listening is a form of support. Being your spouse's friend is a form of support. Letting them know that if no one else in this world has their complete and total back, it's you? That too is a form of support.
And don't get it twisted. I have sat in the presence of many couples where either one or both people have started to build up a wall against the other and it's exactly because they don't feel very supported. That's why they talk to their friends about their marriage more than their spouse. That's why they flirt with their co-workers more than their spouse. That's why they find other ways to feel loved, cheered for and encouraged instead of seeking those things from their spouse.
Two people who support each other on the regular are two people who are able to go the distance, on so many levels. Four times a year (at least), ask your partner if they feel like you really and truly support them. Support is a superpower that goes unnoticed far too often in marital dynamics. Don't you be someone who causes you to become a divorce statistic when taking heed could've ultimately saved your marriage.
5. “What kind of dates do you want to go on?”
It really is kinda crazy, how often we all have heard—and probably said—that the same efforts that you put into getting your partner is the same effort you need to put into keeping them. And yet, so many of us do not take heed to that pearl of wisdom. SMDH. When it comes to married folks, I know this for a fact because I have counseled many who can't remember the last time they had a romantic evening, went on a fabulous date, checked something off of their sex bucket list (if they even have one) or took a sexcation. A lot of them claim that it's because life is so hectic that there's no time for such things. Uh-huh. I'm pretty sure that you were busy when you were dating and engaged too. You made the time because it mattered to you.
And here's the thing. Once you've "got" the person, if you were truly serious about the vows that you took, don't you think that you actually need to put even more effort into spending quality time with them and making sure they feel like they are your top priority than you did when you were dating?
It can be really easy to fall into the slump of crashing on the couch and watching a movie every Friday or Saturday night. Break out of that rut and bring more romance and fun into your relationship by asking your partner what kind of dates they would like to go on. Matter of fact, why not make a dating bucket list that you update 1-2 times a year? It can give the two of you something to look forward to—and that's always a good thing.
6. “Am I speaking your love language fluently?"
Y'all, it's one thing to know what your partner's love language is. It's something very different to speak it in a way where they feel like you know what it is. Case in point. There's a couple I know where the husband's love language is gifts and the wife's is quality time. Every birthday, every anniversary and every Christmas, without fail, they continue to do for the other what they want instead of what their partner requires. Yep, she plans a date where they can be all up under each other when he'd prefer a nice cashmere coat or some gold cufflinks while she would prefer to go on a weekend getaway and instead, he purchases her some thousand-dollar bag that only ends up sitting in the closet. Because of this, they both feel unheard and irritated. And again, it's because they think it's more important to give what they want instead of doing what their partner needs.
There are two main reasons why it's a good idea to ask your partner, four times a year, if they think you're tapping into their top two love languages. One, if you are, there is a good chance that you're not doing it as well as you think. Two, believe it or not, sometimes people's love languages shift because they do. So, to always be doing an act of service when they're more into words of affirmation is kinda futile. Checking in prevents this from being the case.
7. “What can I do to make you feel more secure in the relationship?”
This one? It's crucial. It also needs a bit of clarifying. One of the many reasons why people should consider going to therapy, on their own, before getting married is so they can make sure that they are as healed and whole as possible prior to jumping the broom. Otherwise, they could find themselves expecting their partner to fill voids that aren't their fault or problem. And so, when I speak of security in a marital dynamic, I am not saying that it's your spouse's job to make you feel good about yourself (when you don't even know how to do it) or to compensate for areas where you were lacking before they ever came along. Spouses are human and no one should be your savior but the Lord.
That said, where I am coming from is it's vital that your spouse makes you feel like they respect your union, that they are trustworthy and that, if anyone has your best interest at heart, it should be them. Taking it a step further, security in a relationship should also make you feel free to be your complete and total self—that you can tell your partner any and everything and you will still be loved and accepted.
Why does the question of security need to be asked more than just a couple of times a year? Because life tends to bring about things that can potentially shift one's level of personal security. Job loss. More kids. Weight gain or loss. Family or friend-related drama. Illness. Aging. Financial strain. Mistakes made. Dreams deferred. Death. The list goes on and on. And when these kinds of things happen, it can tempt someone to feel insecure and draw into themselves rather than reach out to the one who should be the most reliable in their life.
This is why it's so important that you ask your partner what you can do to make them feel more secure in their relationship with you as they do the same to you. Because the more that the two of you are able to feel confident that your partner can be depended on and that the relationship is not "liable to fail", even the really trying times, the better you both will be at leaning on each other and getting stronger as a unit. No matter what season you and/or your marriage is in.
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After being a regular contributor for about four years and being (eh hem) MIA in 2022, Shellie is back penning for the platform (did you miss her? LOL).
In some ways, nothing has changed and in others, everything has. For now, she'll just say that she's working on the 20th anniversary edition of her first book, she's in school to take life coaching to another level and she's putting together a platform that supports and encourages Black men because she loves them from head to toe.
Other than that, she still works with couples, she's still a doula, she's still not on social media and her email contact (email@example.com) still hasn't changed (neither has her request to contact her ONLY for personal reasons; pitch to the platform if you have story ideas).
Life is a funny thing but if you stay calm, moments can come full circle and this is one of them. No doubt about it.
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Queen Latifah On Her Journey To Self-Acceptance: 'I've Been Trying To Maintain My Freedom To Be Me'
Actress and rapper Dana "Queen Latifah" Owens is defying societal standards by refusing to be confined in a box regarding her personal and professional life.
Owens, who has been a part of the entertainment industry for over three decades, is widely recognized for her empowering songs and the variety of acting roles she has obtained throughout her career, among other things. The list includes Living Single, Set It Off, Chicago --with which she earned an Oscar nomination-- Just Wright, Girls Trip, and most recently, The Equalizer series on CBS.
Owens is also very tight-lipped about her personal life. However, in 2021, The Last Holiday actress showed appreciation to Eboni Nichols, who is reportedly her partner, and their son Rebel after receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award.Since then, Owens has revealed why she doesn't want to be defined as anything but herself and how she maintains her sense of freedom. In a resurfaced video from theGrio Awards, Owens opened up about those topics when she accepted the Television Icon Award for her past contributions
In a clip uploaded on theGrio's Instagram account last week, Owens explained that she often had to fight to be herself because "the world" kept trying to put her in a box based on what society thought a woman should be.
"My whole life, I feel like I've been trying to maintain my freedom to be me. And the world is trying to put these things on me to stop me from being who I am," she said.
Further into the speech, Owens explained that although many would have their own opinion about her from what the media spews out, she would continue to be herself by wearing "beautiful gowns and dresses," playing in the dirt, participating in basketball games with men and loving who she loves because that's what makes her happy.
The Beauty Shop star also added that despite her celebrity status, she would continue to show respect for others because that's who she is as a person and how she was raised.
"So I wear these beautiful gowns and dresses because I want to because that's part of me. I play in the dirt. I play basketball with the boys because that's me,” she stated. "I love who I love because that's me. I love all of you who have supported me. I give you your respect. I don't have to be above you because that's me. I know me."
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