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Welcome to part III of my discussion with JF! My questions/comments are in bold, and JF is in plain text. In this section, we discuss the importance of communication and the effect certain aspects of our upbringing or experience have on our relationships. Are you a good communicator? Do you fight fair? What issues do you think are negatively influencing your relationships?You can answer in the comments section, or email me @ 2blu2btru4u@gmail.com (by going to the contact me page in the about section).

What are some common areas in which couples struggle, and how can they be improved?

First and foremost is communication. Probably the second is finances. Sex is at least number three, if not before then. Parenting. Religion. In-Laws. Friends. The scripture says that wisdom is the principal thing. So it’s important to try to become as knowledgeable as possible about certain things that you value in the relationship and what the other person values. We don’t necessarily love the same, or the same thing that makes one person feel loved is not necessarily the thing that makes another person feel loved. So knowledge of that individual is important and knowledge about the way they communicate; knowledge about the way they spend money or their relationship with finances; their psychology behind finances. The knowledge about the significance of sex; where does it play a part? How do they relate to their families? How significant are their friends to them? Who does what when it comes to parenting? The way to counter some of the conflicts that will occur is to strive to be as knowledgeable as possible, because understanding is the critical part. Wisdom is the principal thing, but in all thy getting, get an understanding. And the way you do it may be different from the way that the other person does it. And if you’re willing to approach that person without blaming, without being condescending, (more often than not, that means that it’s outside of the crisis), if you’re willing to deal with those concerns or talk about those concerns when you aren’t in conflict, then the probability is greater that you will fare better.

What if bringing it up causes a conflict?

Ask why. What is it about this particular subject that offends you? And a lot of people will say “well it isn’t what you said; it’s the way you said it.” OK? So, how do you want me to say it? Sometimes it’s “well the tone that you used reminded me” because we don’t stay in the moment, or “it reminded me of my daddy yelling at me” or “it reminded me of my mom calling me” and da da da da da. So what is it about the way I say it, if that’s what you’re saying, what is it about that [the way I say things] that causes the problem for you?

What are some techniques that couples can use to improve communication? Good question! Some techniques: listen. Mirror what you heard the other person say as much as you possibly can remember. Say it exactly like that other person said it. Don’t interpret. That’s one of the first things that one can do in terms of their communication. Second is to tell the person what you just heard them say. OK? Again, without blaming or being condescending. Then ask them if that’s what they said. And if after asking to clarify if what you heard them say is what they said, once you clarify, EMPATHISE! Empathize. Everybody wants to feel acknowledged. They may be out in left field. Now I want y’all to know even though I’m telling y’all all this stuff, I don’t…I have conflicts in my relationship, and I have to remember “did I do all of those things? Did I forget something?” But empathize. Acknowledge that you heard what the person said, and that you understand the emotion. That may not be your emotion, but you understand that that’s an emotion that can stem from where they’re coming from or what they’re saying. So please empathize. And then, as the scripture says “for as much as within you to try to accommodate, do so. It may be a little thing. So it makes you feel da da da da da, I tell you what: I will not walk away when you’re talking to me. I feel like it, but I will not walk away. Or I will do my best not to. Like that. So empathize and engage in that regard.

So we’re going to talk about the psychological aspects of a couple of different issues mainly affecting African Americans or pertaining to us. This is in regards to the individual and current and future relationships.

Absentee fathers: It has been my experience that African Americans that have been raised by mothers or grandmothers or whatever, or as a result of an absentee father There seems to be a sense of aloofness when it comes to connecting. Their level, their ability to be vulnerable is not very high. What I’m trying to say is they are less likely to be as vulnerable, because they don’t want to relive that experience of being disappointed or being hurt, so they don’t, they aren’t as vulnerable. And obviously in relationships, vulnerability is critical to healthy relationships, to try to grow. So they are less likely to be vulnerable. They are suspect.

Commitment Phobia: (sigh) well…commitment phobia. It has been my experience that…AA males and females—trust factors is an issue where clients have struggled with making—when I say commitment, I’m thinking permanent long term relationships like marriage or like that—they may be in long term relationships, but essentially it’s like they ebb & flow, like the ocean, you know? They are in it with parameters that they have established, which may not mean permanent, and then they are out of it because they believe…I can hear the individual saying “I needed to breathe; I needed some space” whatever. I think that it’s almost like creating a different definition to the word “commitment.” There is a behavior that’s consistent, but it wouldn’t necessarily meet our definition of commitment. It’s like “I’m in the relationship, but I’m not in the relationship like you want me to be in the relationship. And unless I told you that I’m not in the relationship then it’s for you to expect I’m in the relationship.” So they may go off and do other types of things that one would not necessarily consider to be part of a committed relationship.

Single Parent Households (Just Dad or Mom): Oftentimes, is I won’t say that it’s negative, but I will say that it’s limited. The psychological effect is limited in that…if the other parent is totally absent, where the person has little or
no knowledge [of them], then their relationship with the present parent is
obviously, well oftentimes, very strong. However I have had individuals who
have this longing for that absent parent and their relationship with the
available parent is hectic because they’re engaged in and have a greater
investment in the absent parent because of their fantasies. So psychologically,
it’s…I think it’s limiting, because what that person perceives that absent
parents to be like is in their minds.

Divorce & Remarriage: Well on each of these things you are asking me, there’s a pro and a con you know? But I think  that, again, it’s a –depending on the partners, it can be a benefit if the child believes he or she is not neglected or dismissed or whatever, and that may have been the case in the original family. So if in the second marriage the child sees that they are significant and have worth and those kinds of things, then yes. Obviously, if this isn’t the case, it can prove to be very detrimental to the child. Are we talking about the psychological effect on the child or on the person? [It can be the person, too.] OK, the people come in with preconceived ideas, both of them and if they aren’t aware of those, it can be the cause of another divorce. If they aren’t aware of the ghosts, if you please, that they bring into the relationship.

Independent Women:  *sigh* For AA independent women? [Yes. The current concept of what that means in popular culture.] Yes. I think that AA women are given an ideology– they are to measure up to this image, and I think it could be to their detriment in that this ideology, as much as it talks about being and expressing yourself, it doesn’t afford individuals to be themselves if it’s not what this image looks like. I think it set, particularly young women, individuals up to fail, because they feel like they have to mimic this image that is now being portrayed. I believe it’s psychologically to their detriment. [And the effect on their relationships?] Sometimes, they’re difficult. If their partner isn’t coming into the relationship with this mindset that they have, then oftentimes, communication becomes a major issue because it triggers unresolved issues for both people.

Always Something Better Syndrome* :  That reminds me of settling. That always looking, if that person is unsettled within themselves, that’s more than likely one of the reasons behind that. They haven’t accepted that they have worth or value. So whenever it is in that relationship that they’re feeling less than in some regard or the other, then I think psychologically it is to their detriment, kind of always, “I always have my feelers out there.” What I’ve experienced as a therapist is that they’re generally highly anxious individuals; their anxiety level is pretty significant. “Did I miss something? Could I have gotten something better?” The woulda coulda shoulda syndrome is what I call it.

Shacking Up (Co-Habitation):  Psychologically, I truly, and I’m certain my faith contributes to that, but even outside of my faith as I look at other people who don’t have God in their lives, it is to their detriment, psychologically I think it is truly to their detriment. [In what way? And does it affect men and women like more or less, one sex over the other, or is it equally detrimental to both?] I don’t think it affects the man any more significantly than the woman, because there’s an investment, whether it’s financial, whether it’s emotional—whenever shacking becomes a part of the game, each person is expecting something and it is not uncommon that the expectation is the thing that creates either a plus or minus psychologically; if either is not getting what they want, their sense of not making good choices becomes a part of it and if both are getting what they want, but one decides to move on faster than the other, the feeling of I’m not good enough becomes the issue. And I’ve seen that from both genders…and homosexual couples, too.