The Bad Times in a Good Marriage

Recently I was discussing the book, "With Ossie and Ruby Dee" written by two people who boast one of the greatest relationship survival stories ever. What I love about the book is that Ruby Dee and Ossie are transparent about how they struggled to keep their family together through the years.  From adultery to experimenting with an open marriage, they told their story candidly.  Their story is not so much different than any other couple that has endured fifty years of marriage. (Yes, I said "endured") The difference is that they were courageous enough to tell the story. Kudos to them!

One of the biggest problems in a marriage is the lack of strong relationship peers to help the couple realize that problems in marriage are normal.  Anytime I hear someone speak of the "perfect marriage" I know they are hiding stories of blood shedding arguments, slammed doors, hours of silence, and maybe even a departure or two.  Any couple that says they never fight, probably beat each other with cast iron skillets.  I've found that when people pretend that they have a perfect marriage, it is usually because their marriage the words of Charles Barkley, "Turrible".   If more couples with good marriages were transparent about the trials and work it takes to maintain a family, more couples would have "good marriages".  

I married the best man I have ever known.  His character is of great value to our communities and to our family.  His passion for scholarship in our communities has driven him to help numerous students in pursuit of a college education. His ability to uplift those around us is only surpassed by the manhood and perseverance he has shown in our marriage. He is unequivocally, undoubtedly THE best man I have ever know...and he works my one good nerve.  There are days when I am so fed up with looking at him that if he says, "Good Morning" I am annoyed.  And guess what? In the last 15 years we've been together and 10 of marriage, I am fairly certain he has felt the same way.  We have had problems - to say the least.  

The key to keeping a family together is simple. Well, not really, but it sounds simple.  The difference between people who stay married and people who divorce is that people who stay married...stay married.  Hurt, betrayal, loss, and the pressure of finances affect "good marriages" just as they do ones that end in divorce. There are no characteristics of couples who stay married versus divorce.  For my saints out there shouting "Jesus" - There are Jesus couples that get divorced and non-Jesus couples that say married until death do them part.  But, couples that share an accountability for staying together put their heads down and drive through the storm even when they don't feel like it. 

One of the things that I have found to help with this accountability is a circle of friends - a village - that supports the culture of family. This works not simply because you have like-minded couples to share with, but also because your families are so intertwined that the dissolution of your marriage would impact the village.  It causes you to think before you give up your marriage.  

Ego has no place in a relationship, particularly a marriage.  In a "good" marriage, you sometimes risk outsiders criticizing you for staying together, but as long as the two of you agree that there is something to be salvaged you continue to work together.  Good marriages have bad times. In those times you must remember the old saying, "This too shall pass."  

Santa Clause, The Tooth Fairy, and The Single Relationship Expert

I would like for a woman who did things "God's way" to tell me how she GOT her husband. I want the story in past tense and I want it to be 100% TRUE.  Don't leave out that you gave him hand jobs and blow jobs while maintaining your virginity.  Don't leave out the frustration and loneliness you felt along the way. Single women, who have never been married and give advice on how to get a man are really starting to annoy me.  How in the world are you writing books and blogs on how to get the man "God's Way" and you don't have the man yet?  You are clowning on God's abilities.

First of all, you don't manipulate God with your behavior. If God still required sacrifices in order to secure our blessings we would be over run by floods, locusts, and fire.  Secondly,  if you've been such a good girl and God honors behavior then why don't you have a man? You clearly want one because you keep talking and writing about it.  You're well past 30 and have never had a serious man in your life, yet you keep talking about how God is going to bring him to you because you are doing things "God's way".  Is God just messing with you? Teasing you? Perfecting you at the ripe (and rather late child bearing) age of 45? You're witness is whack! You need to check out "Am I single because of the Black Church?" 

I was recently called a relationship expert because I've had "tons of boyfriends and two marriages."  Okay, "tons" is bit excessive and "boyfriends" is definitely off the mark.  "Droves" is probably more accurate and "male acquaintances" is best fitting.  I cannot tell you how to have a good relationship because each relationship is different. My interests are not just romantic relationships but how we all relate to one another, in general.  Relationship expert? No. Experienced in dealing with men in friendships, family and romance. Definitely!

In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell defines an expert as someone who puts in 10,000 hours or more on a subject.  Dealing with my father, step-father, two husbands, four fianc├ęs, two sons, three brothers, brother-in-law, three godsons, four uncles, eight bosses, six nephews along with the "droves" we discussed above, I have put in at least 250,000 hours with men. I don't know how to braid hair but I grill a mean steak and have a strong opinion on the BCS vs play-off debate.  

So, yes. When I see a woman who has never had a romantic relationship with a man, has no brothers, or relationship with her father proclaim to be a relationship expert it makes me cringe.  Then when you throw God in the mix, making the Almighty look like he is reneging on your good deeds it vexes me. Yes, those of us who love God often try to abide by the rules.  I know I did. But I still ended up having sex with a young deacon on the kitchen table after 7 months of abstinence in our relationship.  It happens!  We break the rules. But thank God that those rules do not determine whether or not we end up living our lives with a wonderful companion. We are human and have many flaws which is why relationships require wisdom and understanding.  Wisdom and understanding that can only be gained by actually being in relationships with others instead of being frowned up on the couch with your bible and hoping Idris Elba pops up at your door.

You Asked For Me, Didn't Ya?

The book of Genesis says that God put Adam to sleep and took out one of his ribs to find a suitable helper for him.  When Adam woke up there was a grown ass woman laying next to him.  Eve was not created as a girl child to be raised by Adam. She didn't need him to tell her what to do. Men, take note. When you find a woman you love, she is (hopefully) what I like to call "good and grown". This means she has a defined personality and has been raised in a manner that you are actually interested in her just the way she is. 

Don't turn this blog post into a religious debate over roles of men and women. Not interested in that at the moment. I am more interested in exploring the needs and desires of single men who are looking for a "good woman".  Recently I wrote about "the list" that many women have.  Men have a list too.  But fellas be careful that you can actually handle what's on that list. 

Women tend to have lists made of characteristics that are unrealistic or unimportant. Men tend to put very real characteristics on the list. You know exactly the kind of woman you want to get, which is not always the kind of woman you want to BE WITH.  For example, men are visual creatures. They want a woman that is pleasing to their eyes. She has to be sexy, beautiful, and enticing.  When you meet her, you admire her body, her smile, her hair and all the dudes in your crew give you a high-five on having a "10". You love it...for a while. And then all the focus on her beauty wears thin. You become annoyed with men looking at her all the time. And if your boys happen to make mention of the fact that she's still a "10" then you look at them crossways. 

Over the years the men who have courted me have been fairly consistent in their assessment.  They pursued me because I was strong and smart, but sip tea with my pink in the air. They loved that I had a big personality and some money of my own. They liked the fact that I loved sports. They could take me to the game and actually have a good time without having to explain the rules, players, and goals.  They loved that I'm fly and loved that they could take me to nice places and have luxury experiences with me. Yep, that's all well and good for a little while. 

Then it goes like this...

I'm strong...but you want me to depend on you.
I'm smart....but you want to make decisions for me.
I'm girly...but you hate that I cry.
I have a big personality...but you wish I would just sit down somewhere. 
I have my own money...but you hate that you can't buy me anything that I can't buy for myself.
I love sports...but you hate that I always want to watch or go to the game. 
I'm fly...but you hate that I shop so much.
I'm fancy...but you hate that I won't eat a hot dog from the corner. 

Suddenly it's all too much. You look down at your rib and realize that THIS is exactly what you asked for and you can't handle it.  To complicate matters more, when you met me I had a man. You pushed and pushed to impress me. You just wanted one drink or one afternoon lunch. You wanted me and you wouldn't stop until I fell madly in love with you. Back then, you knew it was your swag and your masculine bravado that got me. You made the hair stand up on the back of my man's neck and you knew it. But now, your manhood is shaken and you no longer think that you are special. You don't believe that your swagger was my cryptonite. Now you just think I'm not trustworthy and any old dude can come scoop me. And so, you want to keep me locked in a box on a shelf. 

You can no longer enjoy the thing that you thought would make you the happiest in the world because you are worried that you can't keep it forever. Relax, you asked for me didn't ya? 

My Relationship Requirements

Ladies, remember when you were looking for the perfect relationship with a man who would be 100% honest, faithful, and true about his feelings.  Guys, remember you wanted someone who cooked like your mom and sexed you like that chick from sophomore year?   In clearing out my closet for new spring fashions, I ran across my old journals. In one of them I found "the list".  It is dated from my 26th birthday.  So let's see how the 26 year old me was thinking. Shall we?

The List
 1. Know God
 2. Love children
 3. Feel it is his destiny to be with me
 4. Financially stable, make more money that me
 5. Can't mistake my desire to be "sweet" as weak.
 6. Love his family
 7. Willing to explore new things and places
 8. Have a goal
 9. Understand sex is a spiritual act with physical pleasure
10. Willing to lead me, even though I am a strong leader

This seems reasonable enough but let's break this list down using an additional 15 years of experience.

# 1 "Know God" is a silly thing to put on your list. Everybody knows of God in some form or fashion. "Love God" would have been a different requirement and anything about Jesus would have been a bit more discerning.  It is  likened to putting "be spiritual" on the list.  No one actually admits that they aren't spiritual in some form so if you want to get to the bottom of a man's spirit life there is only one way. Observe and don't ignore what you you see.

The same goes for "love children". Since we were all once children, a person that doesn't love children is a special type of person. Children are everywhere.  Unless the person walks around malls, street corners, and restaurants snarled up at the kids, they probably are okay with the presence of children on the earth.  However, they may not want to create one of those little jokers. So "want children" is a better criteria for mate selection.

As for #3, that's just 26 year old drama.  Though some people get married on a whim, most people put a little thought into whom they will marry. Knowing the 26 year old me, what I meant was that this man would feel so connected to me that he would never think of doing anything to jeopardize our relationship. Unfortunately,  over the years I've found that when men are in the most compromising positions the one function that is shut down is the "thinking".  The truth is that people make mistakes. Men nor women intend to hurt their mates.  Hey! It happens.

Financially stable is a good one. Any man thinking of getting married needs to have his financial house in order. Any man that was going to marry me, really had to be financially savvy and credit worthy because I am a stickler about my financial fitness. Make more money than me?  Yeah...damn near impossible at this stage of the game. If I had truly understood my own earning power, I would have never put that on the list.  I'm going to say that this one was a direct result of dating millionaire rappers and athletes at the time.  Next!

#5 I'm not really that sweet so we can skip that one. That was back when I was trying to dim my light and dampen my fire in order to coddle the insecurity of the guys I was dating.  #6 Duh!  #7 - Now this was and still is very important.  I travel the world and embrace many cultures. I love all types of foods and customs.  Yes, I love fried chicken, greens, yams, and mac & cheese.  But I am a huge sushi fan and have taken a strong liking to baba ganoush. Can this detail be worked around? Certainly, but it puts limitations on what a couple can experience together and leaves room for me to have a passionate affair with a Lebanese sky diving instructor.

"Have a goal", #8,  seems like a duh! But with the additional 15 years of experience I realize that this is quite important.  I have so many things yet to do. There is no way I could have been with someone whose idea of life was getting a nice house, nice job, and chilling on the deck. I bet I really didn't even understand this at the time but somehow I lucked into it.

#9 "Sex is spiritual" is such a delightful perspective.  Then you realize that despite our best efforts and intentions, sex slows down in a seasoned relationship and the hot fire is often relegated to drunken date night or vacation sex. Real talk! Though you definitely have times where you get it in, the day to day sex is less of a spiritual occurrence and more of a natural thing to do once the kids go to sleep- if you can stay up for it.  No pun intended.

As for the last one, I'm going to say that even at the tender age of 26,  this was obligatory.  I was looking for a Prince, instead of a partner. Since then the years of toils and trials in relationships have allowed me to realize my own shortcomings and accept the shortcomings of my mate.  "Happily ever after" takes work and sacrifice. It takes forgiveness and understanding.  Making a list of what you want in a mate may guide you to a person but it will not make the relationship road any easier to navigate. People grow and change. If you are a "list person" and you must have a list to guide you then make a list of how YOU will behave in the relationship. At least then you can look back and be sufficiently entertained by your hopes. Happy Hunting!