Getting engaged is a really special time in a couple's life. Hmph. Let me tell it, a lot of folks miss out on just how beautiful that season can be because they are so busy "acting married" before the proposal (meaning, they put marriage expectations on each other without being married yet), then they are rushing to get down the altar once it happens. According to many marriage therapists and counselors, it's a good idea to wait between nine months to a year to officially say "I do" (over two years oftentimes means that somebody isn't really ready yet). To a large extent, I would agree. That's because the season of engagement isn't just about planning a wedding; it's also when two people shift from seriously dating to being intentional about becoming husband and wife. That requires a different kind of focus and energy.
A couple of years ago, I wrote "The 'Pre-Commitment Interview' Every Dating Couple Should Have" for any two people who are considering going from casual dating to something more exclusive. In some ways, this is an extension of that. If this feels like the year that you and your boo thang are ready to take your relationship to another level, please be certain that you are both on the same page when it comes to the following seven issues. The future of your marriage—and sanity—will depend on it.
1. Knowing Why You Both Want to Get Married
Something that I find really interesting is when, say a company does some racist BS to someone and the person demands a public apology. Once the story gets enough press, oftentimes the company will relent (more like concede). Then that same person will shop in that same store again. What in the world? The only reason the company apologized was that, while they still don't like our blackness, what they do appreciate is our green. The "sorry" is insincere. They need to feel it where it hurts—their pockets.
I might step on some toes with this, but I'd rather help people to not prematurely get engaged than end up in divorce court a couple of years later. Take a deep breath, now. About half of the married men (some of which are divorced now) who I know told me that while they were dating, an ultimatum was given by their girlfriend. A literal, "If you don't propose, I'm outta here." I know folks like to romanticize ultimatums 'n all but, to me, they are nothing more than a threat. Marry me or else? Why would you want a man who feels like he has to be forced to choose you?
That's why, when it comes to the things that are important for a couple to ponder before getting engaged, what tops my list is WHY they want to jump the broom at all. Not just why the woman wants to but why the man does as well. And if his answer is a simple (or even flippant), "What do you mean? Because I love her"—listen, you can love a lot of people and still not be ready to share your entire life with them until death parts you. You need a little bit more of a reason than that and it also needs to include you not being pressured into doing it. If the follow-up response is, "Reasons, like what?", let's keep going.
2. Knowing (and Understand) Each Other’s Purpose
I think I've shared before that when my mother was carrying me, she had plans to name me "Ryan" whether I was a boy or a girl (Ryan means "little leader", by the way). She said that when I came out, though, God told her to name me "Shellie". For years, I didn't get that until an Israeli woman told me in my 30s that my name meant "Mine; Belonging to Me" in Hebrew. Then I read Ezekiel 16 about covenants and dots started to immediately connect. Now that I'm a marriage life coach, doula and writer on relationships, my name—and the fact that in Hebrew and African culture, names speak to one's purpose—makes so much sense. My purpose in this life is all about helping people to embrace covenant-based relationships in a world that seems to do any and everything but. And you know what this means for me personally? It means that my future husband will absolutely have to complement my purpose as well.
For the record, complementing me doesn't mean that "he" has to do what I do; after all, my future Black king has his own reason for why God put him on this planet. Complementing me and my purpose simply means that he supports it, he seeks to understand it and he most definitely doesn't throw obstacles up in the way to hinder it (check out "Ever Wonder If Your Man Is Actually Holding You Back In Life?"). You know, I work with a lot of couples who are in trouble because one or both of them doesn't really respect what their partner does in the realm of their purpose, or they try and "compete" with the passion that their partner has for their calling. That's not good because if you are in the way of someone's purpose for being here, you aren't being a suitable fit.
I don't care how in love you are. If you're in a serious relationship right now, spend a significant amount of time discussing what your purposes are and if you both are willing to rally around each other. If you're not sure, at the very least, wait. Purpose is essential to one's health and well-being. Marriage should never compromise it.
3. Discussing Religion and Politics
A couple of years back, I wrote an article for this platform that addressed the fact that currently, 4 out of 10 marriages are interfaith. Now for the Christians who frown on that, it bears remembering that biblical couples like Ruth (Moabite) and Boaz (Hebrew) and Esther (Hebrew) and King Xerses (pagan) were interfaith and they helped to change the trajectory of history. Still, it didn't come without some big-time sacrifices—and that reality continues to ring true today.
One of the closest people to me is in an interfaith marriage. It has affected everything from her going to church alone and a lot of their views on child-rearing to how they observe holidays and resolve conflict. The fact that they are still together is a testament to their love; however, the wife has told me often that if she had known just how much their faith systems clashed, they would've probably remained just friends.
As far as politics go, I've got another friend who's been married for a few decades now. She's an independent and her husband is a Republican (a Black Republican). When I tell you that last year was super bumpy for their marriage, that is an understatement because here's the thing—your political views say a lot about your values.
I don't know who it was who came up with the rule that you shouldn't discuss religion and politics with other people but I'm over here like, whatever. When it comes to the individuals who are close to you (and it doesn't get any closer than an actual spouse), you'd betta! Your life running smoothly and peacefully depends on these two things—more than you would probably ever imagine.
4. Talking About the Expectations for the Relationship
I've got another friend who once said something to me that I didn't really like hearing at first (because I used to be this kind of person) yet it holds loads of wisdom. When I was ranting about a guy in my life not doing what I thought he should be doing, she calmly said, "Says who? Shellie, 'should' is a really big word." What she meant by that was, just because I had a certain level of expectation based on what I would or wouldn't do, that didn't automatically mean that he needed to be faulted for seeing things very differently.
Ever since that chat, I've come to get that a lot of the "should-ing" that I used to do was more about my ego than anything else. Now, what I've learned to do is communicate, almost ad nauseum, what my needs are in a relationship—any kind of relationship—and then let people decide if they want to meet them or not. If not, there's no point in bitching and complaining about it. It simply means that we need to relate to each other on a different kind of level.
Whenever I'm working with an engaged couple, something that I like to share with them is "276 QUESTIONS TO ASK BEFORE YOU MARRY". Usually when I do, the first thing they will ask is, "You really want us to ask each other almost 300 questions?!" Umm…yeah. You're really going to share a name, house and life with someone yet you're not making sure you know as much about them as possible? Including what they expect from you and the marriage?
You can love someone all day long and still come to realize that you should be guests at each other's wedding rather than the couple standing at the altar. A part of what can bring you to this conclusion is if you can't meet each other's expectations. Which you can only know if you thoroughly discuss them. Please make sure that you do.
5. Establishing Family/Friend Boundaries
It's one thing to be with a man who loves his mama. It's another thing for him to be a mama's boy. What's the difference? That's an article all on its own. For now, I'll say that if the man in your life doesn't get that once he has a wife, his mother is no longer his number one priority (when it comes to the women in his world) and/or his mother doesn't get that and he doesn't set boundaries until she does—that's a mama's boy.
I dig the Bible. I really do. What Genesis 2:24-25 tells us is when a man's wife is brought to him (in the Garden of Eden, Adam did not chase his wife; she was brought to him by the Lord—Genesis 2:22), he is to leave his mother and father and cling to his bride. God is all about boundaries in a marriage. Couples should be as well because a boundary is a limit and when you decide to take on a spouse, there should absolutely be mutually agreed upon limits that are set when it comes to your close relationships with other people. What should and shouldn't be discussed. What other folks' expectations should be now that you're functioning as a unit. How to deal with toxic family members. Stuff like that.
I've heard many people who have conflict with the person they are dating's family say, "Well, when we get married, I'm not marrying their family." You aren't. However, if they don't have some boundaries in place, those loved ones can affect—and even infect—your marriage in ways that you would never expected. Set those jokers now. It is one of the wisest moves you could ever make.
6. Being Aware of Each Other’s Financial History and Spending Habits
Do you know something that I request couples who are considering getting married share up front? Their credit history. Do you know how many people get pissed whenever I do? Most of 'em. Now how in the world do you think that you are ready to say "I do" and you think that your credit—credit that is going to directly affect your future spouse's lifestyle—is none of your partner's business?
Another "ouch" that a lot of folks don't want to deal with is the fact that there is some truth to a person's financial history and current spending habits speaking volumes when it comes to their character. After all, bills are basically promissory notes. When you say you are going to pay something, you should (the IRS and I have this chat semi-often…SMDH). You know, there's a recently divorced woman that I know who irrevocably broke her husband's trust because she was good for getting credit cards without his knowledge, racking up thousands in debt, and because her selfishness and recklessness had a direct impact on his credit, he would end up paying all of her debt off. Not one time. Multiple times. She is financially suspect as hell.
The IRS is the only place where I struggle. It's because, as a freelancer, I failed to get an accountant and pay quarterly for years. Now that I'm getting all of that together, I have no desire to marry until the debt is clear. It's because personally, I want to be a blessing to my future husband; not a burden straight out of the gate.
Everyone is different. Just make sure that you and your partner are very open about what your finances are like, what your views on money tend to be, and what your future financial plans and goals are. A top cause of divorce is financial mayhem. Get your coin perspective out of the way so that you don't end up being a statistic.
7. Stating Your Deal-Breakers
Honestly, if you're planning to take the sacredness of marriage seriously, there should be very few deal-breakers after you're husband and wife. That's because "for better or for worse" isn't about you getting mad one day or your partner disappointing you from time to time. Marriage is serious. Oh, but when you're still single—and to me, that is the case until your tax documents say otherwise—you can have as many deal-breakers as you want. At the end of the day, a deal-breaker is something that can't be compromised or negotiated. It doesn't matter how much you love someone. It doesn't matter how much you want to be with them. Your deal-breaker is where you firmly draw the line.
Sadly, a lot of people are so caught up in "being in love" that they either don't set or they romanticize their deal-breakers until after getting married. Please don't do that. Figure out where you are unwilling to bend when it comes to values, roles in a marriage, sex, your partner's relationships with others (especially those of the opposite sex), children, and anything else where compromise just can't happen.
You know, I get so tired of people acting like marriage is some sort of burden to bear. Marriage is absolutely beautiful—when two mature and emotionally intelligent people know that it's something that needs to be taken seriously. Very seriously. If engagement is on the horizon, hopefully these points will help you and yours to understand whether you both do or not. So that you can choose wisely—either way.
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Different puzzle pieces are creating bigger pictures these days. 2024 will mark a milestone on a few different levels, including the release of my third book next June (yay!).
I am also a Professional Certified Coach. My main mission for attaining that particular goal is to use my formal credentials to help people navigate through the sometimes tumultuous waters, both on and offline, when it comes to information about marriage, sex and relationships that is oftentimes misinformation (because "coach" is a word that gets thrown around a lot, oftentimes quite poorly).
I am also still super devoted to helping to bring life into this world as a doula, marriage life coaching will always be my first love (next to writing, of course), a platform that advocates for good Black men is currently in the works and my keystrokes continue to be devoted to HEALTHY over HAPPY in the areas of holistic intimacy, spiritual evolution, purpose manifestation and self-love...because maturity teaches that it's impossible to be happy all of the time when it comes to reaching goals yet healthy is a choice that can be made on a daily basis (amen?).
If you have any PERSONAL QUESTIONS (please do not contact me with any story pitches; that is an *editorial* need), feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org. A sistah will certainly do what she can. ;)
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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What would you do if you just got laid off from your corporate job and you had a serendipitous encounter with someone who gave you the opportunity of a lifetime? Tamara Taylor was faced with that decision in 2013 after she was let go from her sales profit and operations coach job in the restaurant industry and met a then-up-and-coming stylist, Law Roach, on a flight to L.A. She and Roach struck up a conversation, and he shared how he was looking for someone to run his business and was impressed by her skills. While she took his business card, she was unsure if it would lead to anything. But, boy, was she wrong. Two weeks later, after packing up her home to move back to her hometown of Chicago, she called Roach; he asked if they could meet the following day, and the rest is herstory.
Taylor founded Mastermind MGMT, an agency that represents some of Hollywood’s best “image architects” like Roach, Kellon Deryck, and Kollin Carter, who are responsible for creating unforgettable style and beauty moments for celebrities like Zendaya, Megan Thee Stallion, Taraji P. Henson, and more. Taylor and her company possess an array of functions, but her biggest role is to be her client’s advocate. We hear endless stories about how creatives aren’t paid or underpaid in the entertainment industry, but Taylor ensures that her clients get their piece of the pie. The entrepreneur opened up about her company and her non-profit, Mastermind Matters, in an exclusive interview with xoNecole.
“I always say that I'm an artist advocate first, deal closer second. So my primary focus is to just make sure that the artist is getting everything that they deserve, whether it's compensation or, you know, certain accommodations, but just making sure that they have everything that they need to be able to show up and provide the best service that they're hired for,” she explained.
“So you know, in the beginning, it was hard because I didn't have any experience, and the artists who I was working with at the time–we were learning together, meaning neither of us had assisted anyone. We didn't have mentors in our specific fields. So every deal was like a new learning experience for us from the styling side and also from the business side, and so it took, you know, doing some research, using some very creative tactics, to find out information in the industry and just starting to request accommodations that I knew other artists were granted, who maybe didn't look like my artists.”
Photo by Christopher Marrs
Ten years later, there’s still not many people who are doing what Taylor is doing. However, things have gotten easier thanks to the research and connections she made in the beginning. During Mastermind MGMT’s ten-year anniversary celebration, she announced her non-profit, Mastermind Matters, which is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that focuses on helping young entrepreneurs through a 12-week program. The program is divided into “two routes.” The first route is for aspiring creative artists who want to start a business from their talent and all the things they need to learn about business, such as taxes, life insurance, etc. The second route is for practicing creative artists who are already in the industry but need resources such as how to plan for retirement or how to sustain themselves if they can’t work for a short amount of time, i.e., the pandemic.
“I just feel that I'm able to have a business and be successful because of their art as well. And so there are things that I know, I tried to teach it to them but understanding that I can only do so much because I'm not a subject matter expert in those fields,” she said. “So I at least want to be able to provide the resources, and then if they make their grown decision not to do it, then that's on them. But you know, I could be guilt-free and taking advantage of the resources that I'm also providing to them.”
Taylor continues to be an innovator in her industry by always pushing the boundaries of creativity and thinking one step ahead of everyone else. The Chicago-bred businesswoman is moving into the tech space thanks to a new invention created with her clients in mind, and she is looking forward to bigger collaborations in the future. Follow Mastermind MGMT on Instagram @mastermind_mgmt for more information.
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Feature image by Christopher Marrs