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Black Love: Family Influence and the Power of Communication
by Jaleesa Diaz
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October 6, 2018

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Black Love: Family Influence and the Power of Communication

“You’re coexisting with someone. Every day. Every day. There’s no timeout. There’s no 20 seconds.” Grant Hill, married to Tamia

Black Love Doc is back in full swing, and I am here for ALL of it. As my friends and I approach our 30’s, we’re continually thinking about marriage and being with the “right” partner, whether we admit it or not. Our clock is ticking.  

However, not all of that pressure is self-inflicted. Some of that pressure, especially for my friends who grew up in the South, comes from our families. Family has an important influence on the relationships we seek. In fact, sometimes that influence can be destructive.

On episode two of Black Love, actors Sterling K. Brown and Ryan Michelle Bathe discussed the influence Ryan’s family had early on in their relationship:  

“I would say for the first, that whole year, the biggest part was how much my family, my mother and my grandmother, in particular, hated him, and they just kept [saying] It’s going to go bad’,” she continued, “It’s almost like that self-fulfilling prophecy. You can poison something and then be like ‘See, I told you it was poison’ –– yea, because you just poisoned it.”

Ryan revealed that a lot of the challenges they faced were because of her family: “I will say that created the first, and sort of deep, fissure in our relationships, and had that not happened, a lot of the things that happened in our relationship, probably wouldn’t have happened.”

The couple has been married for 11 years. However, Sterling and Ryan admitted for the first time on Black Love that her family impacted the effort, or lack thereof, Ryan put into their union.

“I always had a wall somewhere…and one foot in and one foot out for a very long time. It was not a healthy dynamic,” she shared.   

The couple’s transparency in sharing their experience and how family impacted their relationship, reminded me of the communication issues that have been passed down from preceding generations in my own family and community. Issues that I believe contributed to the unhealthy relationship dynamics that we have today.

 

While, personally, I have further self-reflection and maturing to do, I’ve done enough to know that I will not pass down the communication issues, angers, and traumas that previous generations in my family have struggled with.  In my community, a lot of issues were never addressed. And if they were, people were so filled with fear and pain that their method of communication was unhealthy.

I have witnessed loved ones and friends neglect issues that were the most important to them, and the fall out that lack of communication had on their relationships and children. When issues weren’t ignored, they were often stated aggressively, or with condescension, all leading to unnecessary arguments, misunderstandings, and an overall sense of mistrust in being open and honest. Energy is transferable. The pain and traumas that we ignore in our families pass down to the generations after us. That doesn’t sit right with me.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a Black woman who grew up in an impoverished community in the South Bronx. I recognize that there is a history of trauma in my family and community, and perhaps in my heritage as a Black woman that impacts my family’s methods of communication.

At the same time, I often challenge, what can I do to alter those habits –– especially when it comes to creating a successful marriage for myself and future children?  Unhealthy communication, or lack thereof, does not yield a healthy relationship.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been deeply in love, but it is a position that I have found places one in a state of ultimate vulnerability –– a state that I’ve never felt with family or friends. It is in that state of ultimate vulnerability that I believe we discover the issues that we probably haven’t dealt with: How do I communicate? How do I deal with my anger? How do I communicate when someone doesn’t agree with my perspective?

“You’re coexisting with someone. Every day. Every day. There’s no timeout. There’s no 20 seconds,” said Grant Hill, former athlete and co-owner of the Atlanta Hawks. He’s been married to singer Tamia for almost 20 years.

 

 

Perhaps the goal is to challenge ourselves when we’re vulnerable, when we are angry, when we are frustrated with people we love. If you want love, you have to give love. If you want someone to understand you, you have to be understanding. And perhaps the time to practice these virtues is when your patience, or understanding, are being challenged.

 

Change is good. In fact, sometimes it’s necessary. And it was when this week’s Black Love couples discussed their own upbringing, thoughts, and methods of communication, that I was able to recognize the habits that I believe make for a successful partnership – and those that do not.

Be sure to tune into Black Love, Saturdays at 10/9c on OWN. Join the conversation with us on Twitter @BlackLoveDoc and @JaleesaLashay.  

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