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These 7 Things Will Start Your Marriage Off Right In 2021

It's a new year. Here's how to make it your best one yet.

Marriage

Here we are. At the beginning of yet another year. And let me just say that if you and yours were able to survive 2020, you should already pat yourself on the back. I'm. Not. Playing. Still, I'm pretty sure that on your wedding day, when you exchanged your vows with each other, the goal wasn't to "barely make it"; it was to see how high the two of you could soar—together.

I'm a huge fan of marriage so I'm all about that. That's why I sat down, reflected on the sessions I had with couples last year and came up with seven things that I think can help all husbands and wives start off the new year on the right foot. Because you know what? You deserve it. Your husband does too.

1. Focus on Your Friendship

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I've said it before because it's something that I wholeheartedly believe. If you are single and desire marriage, focus on establishing a friendship with your significant other more than putting a ton of energy into turning them into a potential mate. Why? So that if/when you do get married, friendship will be the foundation of your relationship. When that happens, even during the moments when you don't feel so attracted or even "in love" with your spouse, the friendship, the fondness, the like that you have for them will see you through.

This is actually why I think it's important that we learn more about what it means to have and be true friends, whether we're single or not. In the article, "10 Things You Should Absolutely Expect From Your Friendships", the traits that I listed were loyalty, honesty, protectiveness, support, compassion, good communication, respect, availability, selflessness and a safe place. Now sit and think about it for a moment—how much can a marriage really suffer if these things are intact? Are there seasons when sometimes a marital union has more highs than lows? 1000 percent. Yet, I have had some close friends and clients who literally survived the last few months of trying times within their marriage because they were able to rely on the friendship that they had with their spouse.

I tell the people that I work with often that if they are still "in like" we can get back to love because folks tend to have a much more "I got you" attitude towards their friends than they ever do towards their spouse (crazy, right?). And again, a big part of that is due to them actually valuing friendship (sometimes more than marriage). So, if you're married, the 10 traits of a friendship that I just mentioned? Strengthen those this year. In the good times, it'll make your marriage that much sweeter. In the not-so-good, it can get you to the other side.

2. Enhance Your Intimacy

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The Hebrew word for intimacy is "yada". It means "to know". I always find that interesting because, in the New King James Version of the Bible, when a husband and wife would copulate, "know" is the word that was used to explain it (Genesis 4:1), for example. And honestly, when two people take vows to be with one another until one of them transitions on, I believe that a big part of what they sign up for is to be patient enough (I Corinthians 13:4) to really get to know another person for the many years that it takes all of us to grow, develop and evolve. Get to know them physically. Get to know them mentally. Get to know them emotionally. Get to know them spiritually. Get to know what makes them who they are—and who they are ultimately meant to become.

So, why did I decide to go with the word "enhance" for this particular point? To enhance something is "to raise to a higher degree". Sex within a marriage should be intimate. How can you take your sex life to another level this year? Establishing a healthier form of communication is a way to be mentally intimate. How can you be a better listener? Understanding your partner's triggers and how they came to be is one way to emotionally establish intimacy (because the less triggers are pushed at home, the safer everyone feels in the long run, right?). Do you do that? Could you stand to learn more about how to understand your partner? If we're doing life right, we're always spiritually going from one level to another? Are you embracing your partner's personal growth? Do you respect it, even if it differs from your own when it comes to perspective and pace?

The more I work with married folks, the more I see that a truly underrated cause of divorce is sheer boredom. People feel like they have outgrown each other because they aren't trying to enhance their union enough. Make this the year when the both of you want to enhance what you know about each other, more than you ever have. You might be shocked by how differently, in the best way possible, you'll feel about your relationship, come this time next year, if you do.

3. Discuss How You Can Help Each Other’s Purpose

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Actually, as I'm writing this article, I'm emailing back and forth with a woman who said that her marriage ultimately ended because she and her former husband did not complement each other. "Complement" is a word that I like so much that I wrote an entire article about it (check out "If He's Right For You, He Will COMPLEMENT Your Life"). Y'all, if there's one area where I definitely think two people should complement each other it's when it comes to being a solid support system for each other's purpose.

Unfortunately, a lot of couples suffer because, since they didn't spend enough time discussing what they believe they are called to do on this earth while they were dating, they ended up not really understanding and/or respecting their partner's purpose after saying "I do". And that couldn't be more problematic because, no matter how much you may love someone, if they don't back you on why you were put on this planet to begin with, where can the two of you go from there?

You were created for a specific reason. Your husband was as well. Do you both know what those reasons are? Have you talked about what you each can do to help one another thrive in your individual purposes? The best marriages consist of two individuals who can really and truly see one another. A part of that consists of fully respecting the other's purpose. Some time before spring hits, sit down and talk about purposes and how you each can use your gifts, talent and time to help one another. Purpose partnership is unstoppable. It tends to last a really long time too.

4. Treat Dates As an Absolute Necessity

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I know someone who's been married for going on 40 years, never had a honeymoon and rarely goes on dates. Yet her husband? Oh, he doesn't miss an opportunity to clock in some extra hours at work. To him, work is extremely important because he needs to provide while romance is seen as more of a luxury.

Personally, I'm surprised that she didn't snap on him years ago because while I agree that a part of being a good husband is to provide for your wife, provision isn't only financial. Being intentional about setting aside some alone time to nourish, cherish and enjoy your relationship is a form of provision too. In other words, dating your spouse shouldn't be seen as a "want"; it is an absolute need if you want your relationship to flourish and thrive.

You may not have the time or money to go all-out. But there's no reason why the two of you can't cook together, snuggle up and watch a movie alone or have a picnic in the living room or in your backyard, even if it's really early in the morning or super late at night (if you've got kids). Dating your spouse conveys that you don't take them for granted, that romance is still a priority and that you want to get off of life's grid to hang out with them. Even if it's only one time each month, make sure that you can say, come December, that you and yours went on at least 12 dates this year.

5. Establish a Solid Support System

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Are there certain things that should only remain between a husband and wife? YES. In fact, I think a lot of people don't take that point seriously enough (that's my nice way of saying that they talk too much). At the same time, when I wrote the article, "Why Every Engaged Couple Needs A 'Marriage Registry'" a couple of years back, I actually believe that already-married people could stand to create a marriage registry too. Basically, it's a list of different ways that others can support you and yours from having a mentor couple to creating an encouragement team and so much in between. The African proverb, it takes a village to raise a child? Chile, it also takes a trustworthy, solid and spiritually mature village to support a marriage. Get some folks who can truly hold you down in 2021. It can help to take the pressure off in ways you wouldn't even imagine.

6. Have “Plugged in” Hours

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We all know that there are 24 hours in a day. Guess how many of those researchers say that we spend plugged into a device? 12. If you factor in that we need to sleep 6-8 hours and that remaining time is probably doing things like showering and preparing meals, we're basically on some sort of a device all day long. While that can make doing our jobs, networking and talking to others much easier, what really is it doing for your marriage? Not only that but what message are you conveying when you can't even put down your phone long enough to give your partner eye contact while they're telling you a story or that you can't go to bed without your laptop being right next to you?

Devices are convenient. Only to a point, though. If you are on them so much that it basically seems like they are more important to you than your partner is, something is way out of balance. This year, why not set some hours when you're plugged in and hours when things are totally off? While it might sound crazy at first, you have work hours so that you won't overwhelm yourself, right? At the same time, having hours when you're on your phone or computer can help you to focus on other things that matter. Your marriage definitely being one of them.

7. Show Gratitude. Daily.

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Who wants to be in a relationship where they don't feel appreciated? Lawd. Wanna know one of the reasons why dating, engagement and the first several of months of marriage, more times than not, feels so awesome? It's because two people in strong like or love are complimenting each other, giving each other random cards and presents, bragging about each other to their friends—they are letting their partner know how truly grateful they are to have them in their lives. Unfortunately, a couple of years in and the bouquet of flowers and surprises at work seem to cease. Couples fall into a routine, that is more like a rut, which makes it easier for them to nitpick at each other rather than seek out the reasons why they still find one another to be the complete and total bomb.

It's unrealistic to expect a marriage to be on the constant "honeymoon phase" setting. Still, if you truly want to, it's not hard to think at least one thing about your spouse that you are truly grateful for. If you need a bit of help, "10 Creative Ways To Express Gratitude In Your Relationship" can hopefully inspire you.

Throughout this year, I'll be sharing some other things that can help to keep you and your man on the up and up. For now, though, as we're at the beginning of a new year, try applying these seven points. If you do it consistently, there's no telling how great your marriage can become. Happy 2021, married folks!

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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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