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How Will Smith's Revelation About Love Helped My Marriage

Marriage

Ever since I was a younger, I looked forward to being a whole grown ass woman, more than I ever looked forward to being a wife. In fact, a few years ago when I did get married, the one area I struggled in was the idea of partnership and teamwork. Those first few months of marriage as we faced our new lives as a married couple, not to mention embarking on parenthood for the first time as well, were a constant tug-of-war in which my husband had to repeatedly remind me that I didn't have to take on every responsibility. Until then, I hadn't realized how often I assumed I had to foot the bill for dinner, drive our daughter to appointments, or even wash the dishes every night until he would chime in with, "You know you don't always have to do everything yourself."

Up until then, I had always associated help with dependency, but it was exhausting me in the process. I soon realized having help is a good thing when it comes from a place of love and a genuine desire to want to make someone's else's life a little easier. But asking for help doesn't have to equal waiting for a hero, and actor Will Smith recently shared some thoughts that shed light on the difference.

In the video, Smith reflects on a conversation he had with wife Jada some time ago in which he asked what was the biggest revelation she had about love. The Girls Trip star responded, "You can't make a person happy."

Smith goes on to unpack this idea, basically saying that happiness is an individual pursuit, and that when people enter a relationship thinking it will magically solve all of their problems or fill pre-existing voids, they set their unions up for failure. The star of Netflix's Bright says it's because many fall into the "false romantic concept" that marriage is about completion or two people becoming one (I blame Tom Cruise's iconic line in that damn Jerry Maguire movie.)

Smith says over the course of their twenty-year marriage, they both realized that marriage was less about traveling in the same car together as much it was riding beside another along the same road:

"What we realized was that we were two completely separate people on two completely separate individual journeys and that we were choosing to walk our separate journeys together."

He goes on to say that when it comes to happiness, it's something that one has to define on their own:

"We decided that we were gonna find our individual, internal, private separate joy and then we were gonna present ourselves to the relationship and to each other already happy. Not coming to each other with our empty cups out."

Some might question what is even the point of entering marriage, a long-term relationship, or any fulfilling connection with someone if you can't find happiness in it? I don't think that's what Smith is getting at. My mother, like many black moms, always had the same piece of advice when it came to any situation I was confronted with that I was afraid to take on alone: "You came into this world by yourself, and you're going to die by yourself."

It doesn't mean that you have to be totally self-reliant every second of the day, but what it does mean is that no one relationship should make or break your purpose, sense of self, and ability to be at peace with life as you know it at any one moment.

With that said, what I now recognize is that my spouse and I work as a team.

We build with each other and contribute the strengths we have to try and support the other's weaknesses, but it doesn't mean one life falls apart without the other. But even before I was married, I enjoyed my life, and I knew what my purpose was in it. I worked to fill my life with experiences, things, and people that helped me grow and my spouse simply enhances my situation. So often people enter relationships expecting that a compliment from a partner can replace self-esteem or believe that creating an unconditional bond with someone will somehow make up for those that abandoned them in past. Smith reminds that we have to work on ourselves by ourselves and while that doesn't guarantee you'll enter a relationship flawless and without baggage, it's unfair to expect that one person can right all of the wrongs in your life:

"It's unfair and it's kind of unrealistic and can be destructive to place the responsibility for your happiness on anybody other than yourself."

In "If You're Waiting For Your Husband To Make You Happy, You're Doing It Wrong", blogger Krishann Briscoe touched on how the idealization of one person to be your source of happiness places them in a position that's impossible to hold for long:

"When you aren't depending on your husband to fill you up, then he can make mistakes and you are still okay. He can say the wrong thing and you can forgive him quickly. He can struggle and question his direction and you don't fall into despair. He can be your partner and your friend because he does not have to be your savior."

In short, the tried and true saying remains: How can you expect anyone to enjoy your company, if you don't even enjoy your own company?

You have to define happiness on your terms and be confident in the fact that you can want your partner, and even feel uncomfortable without them, without needing them. What does that look like in day to day life? In addition to regular date nights and Netflix binges that we enjoy as a couple, my husband likes working on muscle cars. I like planning trips and drowning in Tidal playlists when he and my three-year-old go to bed. It means we cohabitate, love, and build a life together without abandoning the personal paths we've maintained on our own.

While we can share those experiences with each other, we both know that happiness and joy isn't something totally held hostage by the other. We enhance each other's life in a way that doesn't leave an empty space when the other doesn't or can't show up.

How do you know when you're whole or happy?

You ever see those people who enter relationships and suddenly everything is on hold? These are the people who only focus on their personal goals in between relationships. Immediately after a break up, they retreat to their checklist of going back to school, starting a business, or getting in shape.

Wholeness and happiness happen when you feel you don't have to choose between your goals as an individual and your relationship.

Being married doesn't mean I won't keep pursuing my dreams as a writer or wait to go to Alaska when my husband's schedule clears up. Any partner that's worth having will recognize and respect the woman you were before him and will want to uplift that person, without feeling like she'll fall to the ground in his absence.

What does it mean to be "whole" and how do you define happiness as an individual?

I asked some of my friends and family members who are married or in long-term relationships to share their thoughts on what partners are responsible for bringing to the relationships.

You can read their thoughts below:

"I read an article recently about an older married couple that started asking each other, 'What can I do to make your day better?' Simple but effective. My partner and I started doing this. While you have to make yourself happy, I think part of a partner's job is to make one's life easier. To push each other and enrich your lives as well, but if you aren't making my life better what are you around for? I like this tactic."

- J. Harris, engaged and with partner for almost 4 years

"Marriage has taught me that happiness is a choice. As Will stated, it is not our responsibility to make our partner happy at all times. I have learned that I should not give someone that much power over my happiness as well. That's too great of a responsibility and truthfully, power over me. I love when my husband is happy, but I had to let go of my preconceived notions that I can be the sole reasoning for his happiness or sadness...And, frankly sometimes it doesn't have anything to even do with me. Marriage is definitely a journey."
"We were once at a terrible point in our relationship, and when we unpacked, dissected, and got down to the bottom of our issues I realized many of them were HIS issues. Now, I don't mean like, me being unsupportive, but like issues from his childhood, that I can't remedy. I was too much of a team player, and I had to learn to let some of that go. At heart I am a nurturer and a caregiver. I want to fix the world, but I can't do that for everyone. In the end I had to learn to be more selfish. Giving too much can also be detrimental as well. So, I guess it was a mix of realizing I can't be his everything, and I need to be more of my own person/savior/friend."

- C. Tinsley, married for 8 years

"Growing up we are often subliminally taught that finding the "right person" makes us whole. For a long time I believed this to be true. However, being in a 12 year relationship has proven me wrong. My partner can be doing all he can to make sure I'm happy, but I've noticed that what he does, does not equate to my individual happiness day in, and day out. Sure, I feel loved; but not always happy. I agree when Will Smith said, 'You have to find your own happiness.' We have to be happy with ourselves, or nothing will seem good enough. With this said, I feel we should take time to figure out what we require individually before adding another person onto our world. I can't say specifically what can make someone happy or whole before entering a relationship, because it is different for everyone, but I will say again, learn what you need without someone else."

- K. Antoinette, in a long term relationship for 12 years

"People going into relationships and marriages thinking they are finding a missing part of themselves are in for a rude awakening. The emotions and the emotional things you've felt before entering a relationship/ marriage, will still be there after the big day is over. Now you just have a person to go through the storm with you. That person is not gonna void out those emotions or 'unpleasant' feeling.
"Happiness is an individual thing. You have to make yourself happy. No matter who's in your life, you need to come to the "table" already whole."

- C. Jones, married for 4 months

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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