As evidenced by tons of successful books, romantic comedy movies, Valentine’s Day and the popularity of musical ballads, romance is a billion-dollar business and important topic in America. That’s much more than we can say about romantic relationships themselves which appear at times to fluctuate between the illusion of ecstasy and the reality of misery. Perhaps that explains the allure of romantic comedies, erotic novels and sex symbols. These fantasies fascinate us precisely because they produce scenarios and feelings desperately missing from our real life relationships.
I am obliged at the onset to admit that I am no relationship expert or love guru.
Throughout past and current intimate relationships I have been stubborn, selfish, and immature at times.I do think about this topic often however, and have formed some opinions on the matter. Besides, if Steve Harvey – a comedian married three times – can write a bestselling book on relationships, I should at least get away with a short blog on the topic, right?
I have to also mention that as late great psychologist Amos Wilson stated, (and I paraphrase) “We must understand that sociopolitical forces (i.e. white supremacy) affect every sphere of our activity, and must be considered in our analysis.” This means that we cannot understand nor resolve the issues evident in our love relationships without understanding how these forces impact our identity, definitions, attitudes and behaviors. Please make time to view the following lecture by Dr. Wilson on Black relationships, both with your friends and with your partner. I can assure you it will provoke some serious reflection:
Without further delay, I present 11 qualities that can enrich Black love relationships:
1. Trust: This is the rock upon which any strong relationship is built. Mutual trust helps to create a strong bond and a level of freedom and emotional accessibility so necessary to love relationships. Trust is not just about issues of fidelity or honesty, but trusting each others judgement, intelligence and maturity. Of course, these types of trust increase the more we display them. Therefore, “trust” is not simply an abstract concept. It is a developmental concept that we build through consistent action, i.e. trust is earned and practiced.
2. Good Communication: People in healthy relationships should be able to hold funny, inspiring, serious and sensitive conversations without them frequently degenerating into fist-fights or insults. This involves speaking respectfully,active listening, and refraining from name-calling or low blows. There are also times when we need to decide when to be quiet or to end a conversation as well.We should also remember that we can apologize for insulting or wicked words, but never take them back. And those words might do more damage to our relationship than we think. For instance, telling your mate that you are seeing someone else, during an argument might make you feel like you scored a point. But your loved one may interpret this to mean you ARE cheating on them and might lead them to explore and find love in other places. And you’ll never convince them that you said such a thing just because you were angry. They will assume you told the truth.
3. Physical attraction: Self-explanatory, don’t you think?
4. Peaceful and pleasant quality time: In healthy relationships, two people not only appreciate quality time, but actively create it. There is no one form of quality time as it depends on the people involved, but it can be as sophisticated as a visit to a spa, or as simple as a quiet movie night in the house with a bottle of wine and snacks. Whatever form it takes however, quality time should include only the couple,it should be peaceful, pleasant, and free of stress and worry. Needless to say, people should laugh a lot, and derive entertainment from each other as well.
5. Shared interests/values/goals: Drawing from the Biblical reference, this quality refers to people being “Equally yoked.” The Bible verse warns believers not to join with non-believers, but in contemporary times, we have used this concept to mean that people should share basic interests, values and goals. In some cases, we can expand this to include certain shared experiences or objectives. If such compatibility does not exist, people will bump heads, repeatedly argue, and make no progress together. Compatibility is not completely static, or set in stone. Some elements certainly are, however we must also actively talk and interact with one another to discover or develop points of compatibility. The implication here is that we can discover and/or nurture compatibility; it is not fixed.
6. An appreciation for history and sociopolitical issues: We do not exist in a vacuum or in isolation, but are unique manifestations of our childhood, environment, and experiences. Having an appreciation for our collective and individual history in addition to the unique sociopolitical forces impacting Black people goes a long way toward establishing harmony and community development. This also means couples must actively make themselves aware of sexism, racism, economic oppression, and how they embody, perpetuate or are affected by all of the above. For example, white supremacy often results in stress and Black self-hate which affects how we view ourselves and treat our partners. When we couple knowledge of our history with an understanding of how outside circumstances impact us in oppressive ways, we can work to empathize with and be more supportive of our mates. We can also work to not become agents of oppression toward one another.
7. Willingness to compromise: Since no one is perfect, we have to assume that all of us will be immature, uncooperative and “wrong” on an issue. This requires both parties in a relationship to demonstrate a willingness to compromise and be flexible in our thinking. Rigid stubbornness and inability to admit error is a sure way to make a relationship toxic and eventually dead. No one wants or should have to initiate conflict resolution ALL the time. No one is right all of the time. So both parties need to sometimes meet each other halfway and be willing to bend in an effort to avoid breaking. Compromise done properly and in the right spirit, is a demonstration of humility and maturity not weakness.
8. Security in one’s self: A person believing themselves inadequate, deficient, ugly or unworthy of love will self-sabotage every love relationship (and possibly other types as well). Some people in all honesty are simply not ready for a relationship because they still struggle with serious “self” issues. No external person or group can convince a deeply insecure individual of their value or “somebodiness.” This is something each individual must embrace for themselves. This is why proper parenting and diverse life experiences are so important to our development.The cliche is right: We cannot truly love others if we fail to understand, appreciate and love ourselves.
9. An Appreciation of Spirituality: Life always presents us with challenges, stress and temptations, and couples with spiritual grounding are better prepared to demonstrate the understanding, maturity, perseverance and humility so necessary to maintaining peace amidst the storms they face. This is not restricted to praying ( though this is helpful); This can also include individual meditation, reading scripture or other inspiring words together, and taking time to be in tune with one’s own ancestors and the Creator.
10. Relationship Skills: Many relationship books discuss every idea under the sun but fail to address the fact that strong relationships require a certain skill set. Nothing is set in stone, but it is safe to say that love relationships have a greater probability of thriving if both people have or develop important skills. Too often, people enter a relationship and are unwilling to change or evolve. Sometimes, elements of “the way we are” gets in the way of our progress and helps to explain our past failures and suffering. Some important skills we observe in healthy relationships include: effective communication, time management, conflict mediation, the ability and willingness to be honestly reflective, and to do self-inventory. A person cannot generally build a stable bridge, fix a faucet, or provide legal representation without certain skills and knowledge. The same holds true for creating and maintaining healthy relationships.
11. Practical Expectations: Seeking perfection in a mate – especially when we ourselves are imperfect – is simply unreasonable. Perfection is unattainable and seeking it leads only to disillusionment and disappointment. Some people abandoned potentially good partners because they didn’t meet their laundry list of unrealistic and often trivial/shallow expectations. What we hope to do is meet someone who brings a foundation upon which we can mutually build, (which would include many of the points above) who is patient and willing to self-improve, and who loves and treats us well. We often make the mistake of receiving a majority of what we want/need, but leaving a person because of the minority of things they lack. Malik Yoba’s character in the movie “Why Did I Get Married?” explains this as the 80/20 rule:
In a relationship, you will only get 80% of what you need. Then when you go out looking for that 20% and find it,leave the person you were with, lose that 80%,and now you are left with only 20% of what you need.
Now this statement oversimplifies the case, but it is a decent guideline. Only you can determine what qualities and behaviors are important to you, but we cannot become overly rigid nor naive about love. It is not fair or practical to hold a partner to an expectation that ourselves or most of humanity cannot meet As Malik Yoba anticipates, we often unfairly and very selectively critique a partner and leave them on this basis, only to enter a treadmill of dead-end relationships with partners that don’t bring half of the good qualities that the former partner did. We have the right to our standards and expectations, but we should not be naive, hypocritical, nor go through life with standards only a messiah can meet.
Despite all the odds and challenges present, I still believe in Black love. Imperfect and frustrating as it is, it still exists and is still possible to develop. But like any worthy thing, it takes knowledge, skills, and certain attitudes and qualities. There are no shortcuts or guarantees. But it remains and will continue to remain so long as the sun shines and waters flow….
Agyei Tyehimba is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Mr. Tyehimba is a professional consultant and public speaker providing political advice and direction for Black college student organizations, community activist groups, and nonprofit organizations. If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.