While it's not often that I'll write a marriage-related article that is specific to a particular year, after the ride that 2020 has been, I thought it was absolutely necessary to do so. One of the main reasons why is because, I can't tell you how many times I've read articles with headlines like, "US divorce rates skyrocket amid COVID-19 pandemic". The reasons why vary. Some folks aren't used to spending so much time, day after day, with their partner. Other couples are struggling because of the financial stress and strain that the pandemic has caused. Then there are those who are only looking to love to keep them together, when a marriage needs the manifestation of that love to look a lot different than romantic comedies or novels portray.
That's where today's article comes in. Marriage is beautiful. Marriage is beneficial. And, despite what the media may say, marriage is still relevant. But when you're being constantly tried and tested, like this year is relentlessly doing, it's important to know what things you may need to prioritize in your marriage—not just so it will last, but so it can remain really healthy too. You ready to read what makes my top six list?
2020 has been nothing short of a trip times one billion. Yet, out of all of the things that I've seen that has really caused me to pause, it has to be the lack of empathy that, let's be honest, masses of people have shown. Not wearing masks to protect others? Apathy. Acting like social justice is nothing more than an annoyingly passing trend? Apathy. Misusing Scripture to serve some twisted racist agenda? Apathy. Shoot, overlooking the needs of others when they know that they can do something to help them out? APATHY. Hmph. And don't even get me started on my sessions with couples. While I do most certainly agree with the late Ruth Bell Graham when she once said, "A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers" (single folks, if you are a grudge holder, stay single. You're not a realistic candidate for marriage if you're not good at forgiving others. Marriage requires A LOT of it. Just ask a married person), something that I think doesn't get nearly enough of a "marriage shout-out" is empathy.
An empathetic person is a really dope individual, to me. The reason why I say that is because, they go beyond merely feeling bad for someone (like a sympathetic person tends to do); they actually are intentional about trying to identify with someone's thoughts and feelings.
Some signs that someone is empathetic? They care deeply about others. They are very proactive about solving problems (because they loathe conflict). Their intuition is pretty on point. No pun intended but, for better or for worse, they are very sensitive. And they listen in order to really and truly understand what is going on.
If you really let all of those traits sink in, I'm pretty sure you can get why I said that husbands and wives need buckets and buckets of empathy in order to make their marriage, not just "work", but last and thrive. That's why, in a year that is filled with so much loss, mayhem and even confusion, I wholeheartedly believe that if there's one way to keep a marriage intact, it's when both individuals are committed to being empathetic towards one another. Not just when they "feel" like it—consistently so.
I once read a quote that said, "Intimacy is not who you let touch you. Intimacy is who you let text you at 3am about your dreams and fears. Intimacy is giving someone your attention, when 10 other people are asking for it. Intimacy is about the person who is always in the back of your mind, no matter how distracted you are." OK, let me just say that, while I dig this quote, I TOTALLY disagree with the first line. Well, let me actually put it this way—if a word was added to it, I'd be down with it. "Intimacy is not JUST about who you let touch you." I've written way too many articles on marriage and sex (check out "10 Wonderful Reasons Why Consistent Sex In Marriage Is So Important", "8 'Kinds of Sex' All Married Couples Should Put Into Rotation", "10 Married Couples Share The Keys To Their Totally Off-The-Chain Sex Life", "7 Things Married Couples Do To Damage Their Sex Lives & Don't Even Know It", "10 Simple Ways Married Couples Can Make More Time For Sex", "What 5 Men Had To Say About Married Sex" and "Bible Verses That Remind Married Couples To Explore Their Erotic Sides"…for starters) to act like physical intimacy, including sex, shouldn't be a very top priority in a marital union. Because, after all, who else are you having sex with if you've got a spouse? (A layered question, I know but y'all get my point.)
However, the reason why this particular point isn't a shout-out to just sex alone is because, what I adore about the quote, is it defines intimacy as putting your partner on the very top of your favorite person and to-do list, on a daily basis. It speaks to the fact that, no matter what else may be going on, when your spouse hits you up, has a need, seems disconnected in some way—everything else needs to be put on pause until they are addressed. This kind of intimacy speaks to your spouse being your bestie. This kind of intimacy speaks to cultivating quality time. This kind of intimacy speaks to them feeling safe, comforted and reassured whenever they are in your presence. When two people are truly intimate with one another, especially when the outside world is so disheveled and uncertain, it brings a true peace that passes all understanding into the relational dynamic. An intimate couple is pretty close to unshakable. That's why intimacy—both physical and emotional—is oh so very important; especially in times like these.
I like me a (super) tall, dark and handsome man, just as much as the next sistah. Yet two things that have always been equal turn-ons is intellect (whew, a smart man is sexy AF) and humor—matter of fact, for me, it's more like wit because wit is brilliance with a sense of humor. A funny man can make you smile. A funny man can get your mind off of whatever is stressing you out. A funny man tends to see the silver linings in things. All of that is needed in a marriage, don't you think?
Matter of fact, there is a particular married couple I know who struggles quite a bit. I've observed them enough to know that a huge part of their problem is the husband is hilarious while the wife is a killjoy in basically every sense of the word. There is a substantial age difference between the two (she's older) and so, the things that he finds to be really funny, she patronizes him over (kind of like how Stella was in the movie How Stella Got Her Groove Back). When there are trying times and he tries to shed some light on it with humor, she chalks it up to him not caring. The entertainment that he finds fun and funny, she berates him over. Who wants to live like that?
An indie Black film that I find really cute (partly because Jason Weaver is in it and I've pretty much always been a fan of his, plus I have a bit of a girl crush on Caryn Ward) is He's Mine Not Yours. In the movie, Gabrielle Dennis plays his girlfriend while Carl Payne plays his bestie. When Gabrielle's character realizes that she's at risk of losing her man, Carl Payne's character tells her to "lighten the hell up". AMEN. There are plenty of medical studies which support the fact that humor helps to relieve stress. Not only that but it helps to combat feelings of fear and anxiety and even reduces the physical feelings of pain while boosting one's immune system.
While you can't control all of the mayhem that might be happening right outside of your front door, what you can do is control the energy inside of your own home. Watch some comedies together. Tell— and listen to—some jokes. Avoid always having to have "deep and serious" conversations all the damn time. Like Carl Payne's character said, LIGHTEN UP. Humor is not only a beautiful trait in a relationship, in many ways, it can be a real lifesaver. Again, there is plenty of science to prove it.
While I don't have any social media accounts, sometimes I will tiptoe in to see what people are talking about. I think it was on xoNecole's Instagram where someone gave me a compliment that really made me smile. In reference to an article that I wrote earlier this year entitled, "7 Signs You're Spiritually Compatible With Someone", someone said (paraphrased), "I'm not a religious person and I thought this was gonna be really preachy, but it was actually great."
Do I think that God should be a part of every marriage? I am a Bible follower, so yes, I do. Genesis 2, Ephesians 5 and I Corinthians 11:1-16 are just three places in the Word that speak to that very fact. However, even if you're not "big on the Bible" or religion (of any kind because hopefully we all know there is more than Christianity out here), reportedly 87 percent of Americans still believe in God—a higher power who controls things that we simply cannot. The reason why this mindset is so vital in a marriage is because there are gonna be days, weeks, seasons even, when your marriage is gonna try and test you like nothing else. During those moments, if you're solely relying on yourself and/or your partner, at the very least, you're gonna end up being severely disappointed because you're human (which makes you flawed) and your partner is human (which also makes them flawed). If you add to that the fact that, even when both of you strive to do your best, there are still gonna be time when you both are going to miss the mark—there has to be room made for spirituality. Mediation (including orgasmic meditation). Prayer. Devotional time together. Spending time in nature. Both of you mutually deciding to release what is putting pressure onto the relationship, so that you both can put your trust and faith in God.
2020 has thrown us some real doozies and the year ain't over yet. Take some pressure off of yourself, as well as your spouse, by letting spirituality remind you that all you can do is what you can do. A higher power has to take over after that.
Man, if any year has revealed the true colors and tendencies of folks, 2020 would have to be it. And when you learn how some folks really are vs. how you thought that they were, the disappointment—if not flat-out shock—can shake you to your very core. If you're not careful, it can also cause you to question if you can truly trust anyone; including—and perhaps especially—your spouse. That's why, when it comes to the list of what marriages need more than ever, I thought it was imperative to put accountability on the list.
Accountability is simply about giving an account for what you say and do. While, in the marriage context, it's certainly not about your partner feeling like they should police or parent you, they should definitely feel like they can ask questions and you will give an honest answer, that you will do what you say you are going to do and, that you both can fully rely on one another to celebrate each other's strengths and challenge areas of weakness so that your characters can become better and your relationship can ultimately thrive.
I've shared before that I've got an ex-boyfriend who used to say that marriage should be a sanctuary, a place of refuge—and I totally agree. A part of what comes with feeling safe within a marital union is knowing that, not only does your partner totally have your back, but they are your biggest fan in the sense that they want to see you become your best self—and so, they will hold you totally accountable so that you can be just that. In a world that is currently filled with so much disingenuousness, while accountability doesn't get a lot of credit, it really is a blessing to know there is someone who wants you to be…a wonderful you. Other than yourself, your spouse should be that person. Without question.
If you've been reading my stuff long enough, you know that, while I am not even remotely the "average kind of Christian" when it comes to how I see things and move about (check out "What's The Difference Between Being 'Religious' And Being 'Spiritual', Anyway?"), something that I am a HUGE fan of is the Bible. That's why, whenever I go to a wedding and a couple is looking all googly-eyed at each other as they recite the Love Chapter (I Corinthians 13:4-8), there are usually two things that come to my mind. One, love says NOTHING about being happy all of the time; still, a leading reason for why a lot of couples end their marriage is because "they're not happy anymore" (we'll have to really unpack that on another day). And two, when they state that love is patient and love endures, I always wonder if they looked those words up, just to make sure that they really mean what they are saying. Hear me when I say that neither of those words are for the weak. Not by a country mile.
I've actually broken down the word "patience" on this site quite a bit. A patient person isn't just someone who knows how to wait; they are also an individual who "bearing provocation, annoyance, misfortune, delay, hardship, pain, etc., with fortitude and calm and without complaint, anger, or the like". According to the Good Book, LOVE IS PATIENT, so if you don't know how to deal with hardship, pain or even annoyances without remaining calm, not complaining (that's a big one) or not popping off all the time—are you as "in love" as you think? (Ouch and amen, right?)
As far as endurance goes, it's a "big boy and big girl word" too. Endurance means "the ability or strength to continue or last, especially despite fatigue, stress, or other adverse conditions". Another way to look at this is, someone who endures has stamina and, according to the Bible, love "…bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails." (I Corinthians 13:7-8—NKJV) Does this mean that you're called to endure abuse? Absolutely not. Yet I'll tell you this. In my over a decade of counseling couples, when physical abuse has come into play, it's actually been the wives hitting on their husbands (also another topic for another time) and when it came to affairs, those happened in both directions. Other than that, couples have wanted to end things for a lot less than abuse or affairs. It's been because they are bored, they feel like they've outgrown their partner (or felt like they chose the wrong one) or marriage simply wasn't what they thought it was going to be. In those cases, sometimes the word "endurance" needs to be brought into the equation more than it usually is.
No one said that marriage was easy. Sometimes, it's going to try you like nothing else ever could. Yet when you make the choice to endure because you love your partner, you adore your relationship and you know that seasons come and go—that kind of strength is what matures you, what benefits you and what equips you to handle things like this year in a way that you wouldn't be able to otherwise.
2020 has been something. It continues to be. But I really do believe, with everything in me, that if you and your spouse put these six things into daily—shoot, sometimes hourly—practice, your marriage will make it to 2021…and beyond. Hold each other close, OK? Your partner needs you. You need them too.
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