Monday, December 31, 2012

CREATE LOVE! The Visionaries Get Personal

What was the hardest love lesson you learned?
IMANI: The hardest lesson I've had to learn is that deception exists in relationships. While that may seem very basic to most, I have always been somewhat naive about how deceptive people can be. As a matter of fact, my father always said, “You are going to have to grow out of that.” Well I have now. I guess the idea of lying in such an egregious fashion, especially to the one you claim to love, is foreign to me. One of my exes, of 9 years, cheated on me several times. When I discovered it I was devastated. I mean, after all, I was bringing a lot to the table and swinging from the chandeliers too– if I must say so myself-- LOL. But the lesson I learned from that experience is that people bring their personal wounds and baggage to the relationship, which has nothing to do with me. A hard lesson to learn but I got it.

SHARRON: The hardest love lesson I learned was that I was entitled and obligated to say NO. In my 20’s and 30’s, I would sometimes sacrifice my goals and dreams to accommodate partners. But I learned that if a person was threatened by my growth, my success and/or my personal vision, then I had the right, really the personal duty, to leave the relationship in order to honor me. That was difficult lesson, and it took me a few years to totally inculcate and implement that perspective in my life. 

I have learned that if a person is not willing to understand and/or “stand in my vision” for my life, and not allow me to understand and/or “stand in her vision” for their life, then saying NO was not only important, but necessary for my emotional and spiritual health. It was a hard lesson, and I sometimes vacillated. But I am grateful that I finally made the decision and the promise to myself to honor me, even if honoring me meant losing someone else.

What have you learned about yourself over the years through your relationships?
SHARRON: I have learned that I am extremely loving. I love to give affection, I love to shower my partner with affirmation, I love to appreciate my partner through words and deeds, and I love to acknowledge my partner in every aspect of my life. I also learned that I love to celebrate and honor people who love, cherish and respect me. In return, I demand the same without question, without excuse and without equivocation. I have also learned that emotional safety is important to me and when I don’t feel safe, I start emotionally withdrawing even when I am not aware that I am pulling away.  I have learned that I require an effective communicator who can clearly and distinctly express and explain emotions without much prompting and brooding. I also learned that I require a lot of flexibility because my life, profession and interests require an enormous amount of travel, and require extensive preparation.  I want to be my best, and ensuring that I perform at a level that represents me as a woman and a minority is paramount. I have learned that I require daily solitude/prayer time and without it, my prayer life and my creativity are stifled. 

Finally, I have learned that I love to be at home and I love family. I don’t appreciate too much spontaneity and that can be problematic for some.  I also learned that I am still learning about me and how I function in relationships. It is exciting to see where I need to grow and evolve, and if my growth is stifled or smothered, I rebel.  To me, continued growth is interesting, illuminating, intriguing and inspiring.

IMANI: This is a challenging question to answer for me. The truth is that I have learned so much about myself in my relationships. I think it is in relationships that I learn the most about myself because I get to see my “stuff” reflected back to me. So throughout the years, in both love relationships and friendships, I have had an opportunity to learn a lot about myself. And in different phases of my life I’ve learned different things. 

In my 20’s I learned that I am a survivor. If you put me in a desert and come back in a week I will have built a city. In my 30’s I learned how to effectively depend on other people and how to trust that my partner will be present for me. This has actually come to be a very integral component to choosing a mate for me—trust and loyalty. 

I also learned that being my authentic self is critical for me to feel loved and to be loving to others.  Now in my 40s I am learning how to find balance in my life. Mostly I am learning how to find balance with self-care and sacrificing for the ones I love. It is a challenging lesson but I am embracing it with an open heart and mind.

What do you know to be true about love and commitment?
IMANI: I love this question. What I know to be true about love and commitment is that both require intention and effort. Love alone is not enough to make a successful relationship, in my view. Love is the gateway but it is commitment that builds the covenant. As I have said in a couple of articles on Create Love, I do not believe that love is supposed to be hard--but it is work. And I believe that the work requires effort and intention. It should not drain you…However it should challenge you to be a better version of yourself. I do not believe that love is about two halves coming together, but rather two whole individuals making it work. This is why I am unwavering about my own personal development, which is ongoing. It is what I give and it is what I expect.

SHARRON: I believe that true love can only flourish with commitment because love is not just a feeling; it is a choice and a decision. It is a promise and pledge to be loyal, faithful, present and responsible. Without commitment, there is no emotional, physical or spiritual safety. And consequently, there is no foundation for intimacy and trust. You need both – love and commitment – to CREATE fulfilling and long-lasting relationships. However, if you have commitment and you don’t feel or can’t make a decision to love, you may have a great confidant or companion, but not a partner. If you are staying with someone out of obligation and devotion but not love, that is equally dangerous. People who stay together out of commitment but feel no physical, spiritual, or emotional connection are cheating themselves and their partners. Both parties deserve better, but many times the relationship has become such a habit that neither party wants to leave or change. 
After spending time with a couple, I can usually tell what their connection is.  And one of the saddest things I see is when people stay in dying or died relationships instead of leaving to live. I am not advocating prematurely leaving relationships. However, I am advocating being honest and self-reflective enough to determine if you have both love and commitment.  Only after an honest, substantive evaluation, should you consider taking action. Whatever you do it will take courage -- courage to get help to reconnect, or courage enough to leave. Both are decisions that should not be taken lightly. You only get one life to live and happiness is attainable if you want it and work for it. But you can only work for it, in truth.

Believe me, that was a difficult lesson for me to learn, and a more difficult decision to execute. But honoring you and telling yourself the truth is liberating. There is no other alternative or option if you want happiness and personal fulfillment.

What did a broken heart teach you?
IMANI: This is simple. It taught me that relationships are not about possession or ownership. We come together to teach, heal and learn and sometimes in the process we find a soulmate. But there are no guarantees and true love has to breathe--Period.

SHARRON: A broken heart taught me to pay better attention to my partner and to her needs. I honestly believe when you start taking people for granted that you stop giving them the emotional nutrients that they need to be in healthy partnership. Unfortunately, I was not paying adequate attention and my heart was broken. I was not paying attention to be mean, but I stopped giving adequate attention because I did not have anything left to give. I was a single parent who traveled weekly. When I was home, I was totally involved with my son like I should have been. I volunteered at his school, I took in foster kids, I was involved in my church, and I had a demanding job that I loved. I also needed my own personal time in order to stay emotionally healthy to juggle life’s demands.  Unfortunately, I did not know how to effectively and simultaneously juggle being a parent, professional and partner. I did not know how to do it all with any consistency or without feeling overwhelmed and resentful. So, I learned to not get into a relationship if I could not offer the time that a partner deserves and desires. A healthy relationship cannot survive without sufficient time.

A broken heart forced me to analyze how I was and was not functioning in the relationship.  Even though my heart was broken, I am proud of the decision that I made to be a mother first.  And honestly, I did not have any options because I was a single parent who traveled. She was not a parent and she was not willing to help me. She expected me to figure everything out and I did. I figured that she was not the one for me at that time in my life. I was the breadwinner and I had financially obligations that I was going to honor. As a result, my broken heart taught me to enter relationships with a sense of pragmatism and not just love. Love is wonderful; however love alone could not support a relationship.

My son is in college now and I am proud of him. I am proud of me too because I made decisions that were difficult yet mandatory.  It doesn’t sound romantic, but when I think about him being in college and doing well in life, I am confident that I made the right decision for me. 

What did your childhood teach you about relationships? What did you have to unlearn?
SHARRON: As a child, I did not learn many good things about relationships. I learned that women had no voices, that sex was not required to be consensual, that a man’s career superseded the women’s career, and that women’s feelings were secondary. I learned that women were appendages or attachments, and not equal partners with their own goals, dreams and vision. Women did the work, but did not receive the glory. I learned that I was invisible, inferior, and second-rate.  I also learned that beautiful women only deserved love. That was especially hurtful for me because I did not fit the standard of beauty. I was over-weight, had buck teeth, wore glasses, dressed conservatively and was a bit socially awkward. But, thank God I grew into my teeth and learned how to manage my body. 

Those childhood lessons adversely affected my relationships as an adult. When you feel and when you are taught that you are worthless and helpless, you accept treatment that confirms your own lack of self-value. As I detailed in my book, I Can Depend on Me, I had to unlearn that I was “less than” and substandard. I had to unlearn that I was powerless and helpless. Childhood messages can sometimes take a lifetime to overcome, but it is doable. That is why I am so committed to Create Love. I pray that we can provide or assist in the healing of childhood wounds that infect and affect spirits.

IMANI: This is such a loaded question for me. I learned so many negative aspects about relationships in my childhood. I grew up with parents who fought incessantly and put their individual needs before the marriage—and their children. I learned that partners are not to be trusted. So for many years a relationship was not on the top of my priority list. As a result when I would have one I always prepared for its end. While this was very unfortunate, it did make me a very strong individual. However it did not prepare me for a successful relationship.

I had to learn and unlearn a great deal! The first thing I had to do was begin to heal. I had to do my personal work, which started with therapy. Then I had to find a model of successful relationships through books, reading stories in magazines and talking to people who seemed to have what I wanted. This is why the Happy Couple Highlight is so important to me. I realize there are some people who have never seen love work up close, just like me. Next I had to learn that arguing is not about destroying your partner – or winning. I saw so much fighting that it took me a minute to get that. I don’t think parents realize the profound impact that arguing has on their children. It changes them.

Now, I am able to hold on to the fact that my mate is not trying to destroy me and that I can trust her even when we disagree. This took years to learn, but I am grateful for the lesson.

How do you know when you are in love?
IMANI: I know that I am in love when I began to pay attention to the details of the other person. As a true Aquarian I am usually very focused on my life’s work and often suffer from “save the world complex”—typical Aquarius.  There are times when this focus makes me somewhat aloof to other people. But when I turn my attention to her I know that I am feeling something different. I also know when I am in love because I am willing to be vulnerable with her. I’m willing to shed the public persona and share my deepest emotions, the good the bad and ugly. Furthermore I know that I am in love when her happiness becomes a priority for me.

My current relationship was more of a spiritual connection than anything else. I felt her and related to her on a spiritual level before she ever manifested in the physical. So I recognized her right away. I knew she was the one because of the conversations I had with her in prayer were the exact conversation we had in the natural. I knew I would fall in love with her. And I did!

SHARRON: Knowing when you are in love is so variable, so individual and so inconsistent that it is difficult to say. And, sometimes confirming when you are in love takes time because people don’t really reveal their truest and purest self until they feel emotionally safe. For me, I know I am in love when I feel emotionally safe, spiritually connected, intellectually stimulated, fully embraced, physically attracted, fully respected, consistently inspired, routinely encouraged, sexually free, and totally valued. I know I am in love when I can reveal my mistakes, mishaps and miss-steps without judgment. I am love when I feel that a person understands my dreams and wants to support me to bring my dreams into fruition. I don’t have to shrink or to minimize me to accommodate them.

Love is not an emotion for me anymore; it is a choice that requires commitment. If I don’t have those elements and I can’t reciprocate those elements, I question if I am in love. I am nearing fifty years old and I can now clearly distinguish between being in heat, being infatuated, being enamored and being in love. Since I am clear, I am able to decide to be in love and decide to continue to work to stay in love. Experience has been a wonderful teacher.

What do you hope Create Love’s impact will be on the lesbian community?
SHARRON:  My prayer is that CREATE LOVE will provide a social and spiritual support system for singles and couples to learn and to practice how to be loving. And to provide opportunities to not only be loving to their partners, but to love women intimately and platonically. In the Christian faith, we call that Agape Love.  I hope that women come to CREATE Love and feel that there are no boundaries, limitations, templates and formats for relationships, but feel empowered to CREATE relationships that honor them in ways that are validating. 

I pray that people feel comfortable and feel liberated to be who and what they want to be. I want them to feel celebrated, affirmed, accepted and embraced. I pray we offer forums, conferences, discussion groups and other vehicles that allow people to heal their childhood wounds that prevent them from connecting with others in helpful, hopeful and healing ways. I pray that we can be conduits for healing, empowerment, inspiration and encouragement. And, I hope that people eventually become more involved in ways that will allow the company to grow nationally and internationally. There are so many talented and amazing women in the group, and with their support, expertise and energy, we ALL can CREATE Love that has meaning and that is meaningful for us and others.

IMANI: Wow! This question brings me so much joy because it allows me to engage my imagination about the vastness and limitless possibilities of Create Love. My deepest hope is that Create Love’s destiny is bigger than anything I could ever hope. My dream is that create love offers a national and international template for successful relationships in our community. As we are emerging and SharRon and I are building this vision, my hope is that we can begin to unravel the mixed messages about our relationships that have become commonplace in the media.

What makes a lesbian relationship successful has to be crafted, modeled and celebrated by us and for us. My hope is that women see themselves in the stories of love and we highlight on the website; my hope is that the articles that SharRon and I write offer some guidance; my hope is that the create love group on Facebook offers community, love, safety and support for singles and couples. And ultimately my hope is that we remain obedient to a vision that comes through us but is not about us. Create Love is a revolution and a movement!

We look forward to continuing this discussion at the CREATE LOVE conference, Feb 16, 2013.We hope to see you all there. Click here for more info.  

Thank you for allowing us to share ourselves with you!
Imani Evans, MA
SharRon Jamison, MBA

Friday, December 28, 2012

Are We REALLY Ready for Marriage?

"We can no longer use the failing heterosexual model as our guide for healthy lesbian relationships. We must build our own template for success." Create Love for Women Who Love Women

Since the 70's we have been in an active battle for marriage equality.  The great news is that we are on the precipice of realizing our dream in full.  We are able to legally marry in 9 states--Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and Washington--as well as the District of Columbia and 2 Native American Reservations. And we will be successful with the rest of the country…I truly believe that marriage equality is inevitable.  

So the question is, are we really ready for the great responsibility? For clarity, my question is not regarding the right to parity. Of course, without question, we are deserving of the same civil rights that the rest of the country enjoys.  But rather my query is about our readiness for this vast responsibility on an intimate level. See, being denied equality has afforded some of us the room to play house In other words, we get the emotional benefits of referring to someone as “wife” without all of the duties and responsibilities for what that means. Conversely, some of us have done a fabulous job at crafting a marriage, legal or otherwise.  But if we are family, and I believe that we are, we have to be honest with each other for the sake of our growth. There are those in our family who have not done a great job; and they have been able to hide behind the fact that our marriages have been illegal, until recently. 

It is imperative to ask yourself some very serious questions about your readiness to step into the world of marriage. We know that anywhere from 40 to 50% of heterosexual marriages end in divorce. And second and third marriages have an even higher failure rate. So the template for same gender marriages must be crafted by us for us. That is our only hope to long-lasting unions. Ask yourself are you ready for “until death do you part?” Are you ready to forsake all others? Are you ready to share half of your acquisitions? Are you ready to have your wife make decisions about your health care in the event that you are incapacitated? Of course there are no guarantees in anything, but if you answered yes to most of these questions then you just may be ready to take on marital bliss!
Below are some suggested steps to consider before walking down the aisle:

1) Don’t be afraid to have the hard conversations: Romance and passion has a unique way of anesthetizing those things that can later become quite frustrating in a marriage. The hard conversations include, but are not limited to, some of the categories below.
--Finances – how will bills be paid? Will it be based on income equity, or will it be half of everything? Will you share bank accounts, or will you have independent accounts, or some combination they are of? What is your fiancĂ©’s credit score and how will it impact marital goals?
--Parenting – if you have children how will you co-parent? Who will be the disciplinarian, if there are minor children? If there are no children will you adopt or pursue artificial insemination?
--Coping skills – this is one not often explored enough, but I believe it is critical in a relationship of any kind. How do you deal with life’s challenges? How do you solve arguments? What do you need to feel emotionally, financially and physically safe in the marriage? Do you retreat when life gets hard or do you need to rely on your mate?

2) Premarital counseling-- I strongly recommend this step. If you do nothing else, contribute to the success of your marriage by seeking premarital counseling before taking the plunge. Seek out the support of a counselor or spiritual leader to help you have the hard conversations, explore core values and say all that needs to be said. You might be surprised at how much we assume about our partners, which can be uncovered with professional help.

3) Identify your village -- according to an African proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child.” But it also takes a village to support a marriage. These are not people who will cosign destruction but rather they will encourage, embrace and celebrate your union with love and sometimes even tough love. However they never seek to divide, destroy or dismantle your relationship unless you are facing abuse and/or violence. Your village supports your relationship unless the two of you have adamantly decided that your marriage should meet its demise. Sometimes the village will not include people you might expect. Choosing your village should be done meticulously, intentionally and most of all TOGETHER!

It is my greatest hope that we all forge toward a future wherein marriage equality is commonplace. So we must do everything possible to prepare for our success.  Equality is not a gift that this country gives to us--It is a right to which we are worthy by simply being human without discrimination.  We must be willing to make proud all of those advocates and activists who have fought, and continue to fight, on our behalf.

I honor you for taking the steps toward this LOVE REVOLUTION…Nya Akoma!
Imani Evans, MA
You can also find Imani at the Self-Care for Dynamic Women

Monday, December 24, 2012

SHARE YOUR LOVE: Happy Couple Highlight XIII

HAPPY COUPLE: Sabrina and Nez Cates 
Bronx, New York
Listed in Go Magazine as “The Most Captivating Couple”

When did you meet: November 6, 2009 and married in July 10, 2011

How did you meet: Nez: We met at a grand opening that Sabrina was promoting. I was attracted to her but didn’t give her that indication until she showed interest. We both played it cool until Sabrina made the move by asking our mutual friend to “hook us up”. I gave her a hard time by telling her friend “if she wants me, she knows where I’m at”. Sabrina came over, extended her hand and there was our first dance, which I should add, was an INTENSE connection! Sabrina: That’s right…I wanted to check her out first. That’s why I sent my friend. I did not want to be associated with anybody who did not carry herself like a lady. So I was quiet and watched her. Since there was an obvious connection, each time I saw her I spoke to her. I asked her out but she always declined my invites. I later learned that her fear was “hurt and games”. We both never felt that amazing energy at first glance, and she wasn’t ready to meet anyone or invest her heart (‘cause we KNEW where this would go)! Nez: It is interesting that we never crossed paths earlier. We both had the same close friends and knew the same people. I even saw pictures of ME with our mutual friends at her house but we never met each other until that night. It was in the cards to meet when we did. We we’re READY!

What was the initial attraction? Sabrina:I was attracted to her big beautiful eyes, and I thought that she was sexy too. I loved her smile. Nez: Physically, her smile. But I liked everything about her. She showed interest in pursuing me. She made it easy to rid me of my fears and trust her wholeheartedly. I never felt that before. She always treated me like a lady as she swept me off my feet. I admired how she spent time getting to know my family INDIVIDUALLY. She built relationships with them and that meant the world to me. In fact, my mother told me that she moved to Florida because she knew that I was in good hands with Sabrina. Also early on in our relationship, I told her that I was on a spiritual mission and that I was doing some soul searching. She took that information and ran with it. She did some research and we finally found a church home.Sabrina: I was also attracted to Nez because she always paid attention; my interest became her interest. She’s a great mother to her daughter and we are both family-oriented. She became my best friend almost immediately. What felt good was when my mother met her, her words to me were “I know she’s the one, so introduce me properly”.

What are the keys to success: Sabrina:Communication and trust; letting my guard down. You sometimes take old stuff from past relationships and bring into the new relationship. But I learned to trust and let goold stuff. Nez: Both of those and romance. I gave her all of me. I am not going to let her want for anything. So many relationships die because of no romance. But romance and intimacy are important, and they play an important role in a relationship. Make sure that your partner is satisfied in everything, even sexually, so she doesn’t go lurking. Try new things as you explore each other. Always “keep the excitement” going so no one gets bored and it doesn’t became routine. Sabrina: I like that about Nez. She always asks me if I am satisfied and if I am happy. I know that she wants me to be happy not only sexually, but spiritually and mentally too.

How do you face conflicts and challenges: What is your process to handle it? How do approach the topics?Nez: In the past relationships, she used to run and leave the house. But that was not going to happen with us. So our first mission was to get her to stand and deal with the issues. We learned that we have to give each other some quiet time and we have to remember that we are still learning each other. Sabrina: I was stubborn. I did run but she laid down the law. She said that “you are not running” so we learned how to resolve issues by compromising and communicating,without yelling or screaming when “I’m on 10”. We even write letters to each other at times. This helps when the topic needs major attention and no one is willing to fold. We try not to go to bed angry and neither of us allow our pride to dictate who says “I’m sorry”. Our relationship is most important.

What has your relationship taught you? Nez: Patience-It has taught me patience. We are different, but we have learned to listen to each other and we are committed to keep learning about each other. We are learning to accept those negatives things too and to make positive changes within ourselves. I don’t like to look or feel vulnerable so the hardest thing to learn was TRUST.  I am a strong Leo, but I am really a kitten inside. I had to be open to LOVE with no holds barred. Sabrina: Compromise – It has taught me compromise. I never dated someone with kids (young adult), so I had to learn that it was not just us. I had to learn to extend myself to her daughter.  Since I knew that I wanted to be with Nez for the long term, I accepted her with open arms. Also, I had to learn to tone down the flirtation too. I was little bit “extra” and so I had to learn to tone it down. It was important for me to respect her and for her to feel comfortable. ‘Cause if I don’t respect her, how do I expect anyone on the outside to respect her?

What has surprised you most about each other?  Nez: Sabrina can hold on to a commitment and grow. She is not what people said she was. She wasn’t any of that with me. She has always been a supportive loving wife. Also, I have a high sex drive. What I love about Sabrina is that she allows me to be me. She allows me to be the aggressor (that I tend to be sometimes) so there are no-bar holds with us sexually. We don’t role play in a sense of having limitations. Role play is supposed to be fun and she allows that. I love that we’re on the same level. Sabrina: I learned that there is not role-playing with us. I didn’t take on that I had to do certain things. We just adjusted and I love that we don’t have roles as Nez said. Nez: We are just lesbians in love.

Why was agreeing to not play roles important for you? And, why do you feel that more couples are not as flexible? Role playing as in RULES: example- who’s fem, who is aggressive- isn’t important because you lose sight of who you both are as individuals. Nez: I don’t like to be stereotyped. When you set rules and limitations, you don’t allow yourself to be fully satisfied. I love my wife and I want to explore her and please her in every way creatively. Sabrina:I’m a woman who loves my woman. Fem-aggressive exterior and my wife has a fem exterior, but without a doubt, we can both be sexually aggressive in bed J.

What advice would you give to other couples: Sabrina: Be yourself! Be comfortable in your own skin. Do what works for you. If there is a child involved, remember that she is important too. That is important for us because we are both family-oriented people. And, communicate. Remember that you will always be learning each other. Also, try to do loving things together. Go out on dates and really enjoy each other. With her, I will do anything. I love coming home to her. We have FUN! We are friends first. Nez: Don’t jump into marriage and take time to build your relationship. Love first and build trust. Meet each other’s friends and families. Learn about each other financially, emotionally and spiritually. Relationships take a lot of work. Also, be willing to make shifts – sometimes relationships require changes.

When you look in her eyes, what do you see? Sabrina:I see happiness, pure bliss. I know that she is it. This is my lifetime. I know that everything is not going to be a walk in the park, but I know that I will learn with her. We are the best of friends and we don’t have secrets. Every day with her feels like a honeymoon. With her, I feel good. Nez: I can stare in her eyes morning, noon and night. I feel as if I am in a dream. I fall deeper in love with her every day. I am crazy about her without losing myself. I can see through her soul. When we make love, she makes me cry.

What is the most romantic thing that she has ever done? Sabrina: She told me that she had never been in a limo before so on her 38th birthday I planned a limo ride. I called her boss, and all her friends knew too. I blind-folded her and then a beautiful limo picked her up at her job. The limo was filled with flowers and champagne and then I whisked her away for the entire day. I took her to Atlantic City and we spent the entire day shopping and enjoying the beach. After that, we went to dinner and had sushi. We had the limo all day and she really enjoyed herself. I wanted her to feel like a celebrity because when you are special to me, you get all of me. Nez: I planned a surprise birthday party for her. I had all of her friends meet us on the rooftop of her a restaurant and she was completely surprised. We partied until 3 am, and that I flew her to Miami for the weekend. I packed her bags and we just left. Sabrina: One day we were shopping and I made a comment about this leather jacket and scarf that I liked. When I unpacked my bag in Miami, the leather jacket and scarf were in there. I don’t even know how she did that.

What do you want your legacy to be as couple? Sabrina: I want people to know that our love is intense; our love is real. We honor and respect each other and that our love is more than skin deep. Nez: Our love is genuine and it feels good.

What song describes your love? Nez: There Goes My Baby by Usher and My Whole Life has Changed by Ginuwine. Sabrina: Try a little Tenderness by Otis Redding
(Interview conducted by SharRon Jamison)

We are grateful to Nez and Sabrina for sharing your love with us at Create Love for Women who Love Women! 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Is there HOPE in Your Relationship?

Is there HOPE in your relationship? I can imagine that my question may seem too easy to answer. In fact, it may even seem too simplistic to solicit a response.  But it is a very necessary question especially as we consider our friendships, relationships, and partnerships. In the Christian faith, there is a scripture that says that “hope deferred makes the heart sick”.  And not only can deferred hope make your heart sick, but the lack of hope or deferred  hope in your relationship can make your relationship sick. Deferred hope, littler hope or no hope often gets in the way of CREATing Love that is supporting, sustaining and satisfying.  So how can you ensure that your relationship is infused with H.O.P.E?

H: The first way to ensure that your relationship is filled with H.O.P.E. is to give HONOR and act honorably.  Giving honor and acting honorably means treating yourself and others with consideration, holding yourself and others in high regard, and treating yourself and others with dignity. It means functioning and navigating in your relationship and in the world with integrity and authenticity. Being honorable demands that you are honest with yourself and with others. In many ways, treating someone with honor says I love you, I value you, I recognize you and I appreciate you.  Bestowing and/or showing honor is a sign of great admiration and respect.

Even though conferring honor and acting honorably are vital to our relationships, at times we all struggle to show and give it, especially to ourselves. We sometimes allow people to treat us in ways that don’t support, serve or satisfy us. We sometimes give untrustworthy, unpredictable and unworthy people access to us and to our spirits. We sometimes stay in relationships and in situations that are degrading, demeaning, draining and depressing. We sometimes evade, avoid and/or carefully obfuscate the truth. If we are honest with ourselves, we all can admit that we all don’t always treat ourselves and others with honor. Nor do we always act honorably or demand that we are treated with honor. At times we all fall short.

The good news is that we can choose to be different. How do you do that? First, by making sure you honor yourself by truly loving yourself.  Treat yourself like you are important and valuable.  Do what you need to do to stay physically, emotionally, spiritually and financially healthy. That may mean journaling, going to the movies, getting a massage, working out or seeing a therapist. Whatever it is, be sure that you are making you and your needs paramount. Why? Because when you are loving yourself and treating yourself with honor, you are less likely to accept or tolerate anything less for someone else. You must honor you!
 Secondly, honor yourself by getting to know yourself. Spend time alone and reflect on your life. I know that self-reflection is a simple concept, but in my experience, it is an under-utilized practice. Self-reflection not only benefits you, but it benefits your relationship. Just think about it - the better you know yourself, the easier it is to be in relationship with somebody else. So spend time with yourself and asks yourself questions like: Who am I? What do I like? What do I need? Am I happy? Am I healthy? Am I behaving in a way that supports me? Easy questions right?  Once you are clear about who you are and what you desire, it will be easier for you and others to honor you.

And after you are clear about what you need, be sure to check in with your partner to better understand what honor means to her.  Showing honor and acting honorably means different things to different people so be sure to communicate with her to get clarity. The more you understand and appreciate her definition of honor, the easier it will be for you to give it on her.

O: The second way to infuse H.O.P.E.  into your relationship is to practice Optimism. Believe it or not, being optimistic is important to the health of your relationship. Optimism helps you and partner positively deal with challenges, changes, adversity and problems. Optimism gives you strength to cope with all life’s troubles; it helps you remain positive even in the face of dejection, difficulty and defeat. Optimism also injects vibrancy, enthusiasm and joy into your relationship. Simply put, optimism gives you happiness, a true happiness in your life.
Optimism is a critical component of a healthy relationship. In fact, your relationship can not survive without it. Just loving and living with another person requires a degree of optimism.  Just the acts of caring and sharing require a certain degree of confidence. Just trusting your partner to love and cherish you requires a modicum of positivity. Optimism is important! And without it, loving, compromising and negotiating are difficult.  So ask yourself: Do I expect the best or the worst? Do I always see the bad in my partner and in my relationship or do I also see good? If you desire to have a relationship infused with H.O.P.E., you must be optimistic.

P: The third way to infuse hope into your relationship is to recognize Potential. Most people are comfortable discussing potential when it comes to their jobs, careers, investments and other opportunities. However, most people are usually uncomfortable and or reluctant to discuss potential when it comes to relationships. But, potential is important. And assessing the potential to grow and the willingness to grow with a prospective partner is critical. Why?  Because people are constantly changing and growing. As a result, the relationship must grow to accommodate and adjust to the changes. Remember….A healthy relationship must always be flexible, adaptable and malleable enough to allow for changes, modifications, new learnings and growth. If there is no room for evolution, transformation, advancement or newness, there is little potential for a lifelong partnership. Potential is a necessity and without it your relationship will become limiting, stagnant and suffocating.

Many couples have difficulty with the concepts of growth and self-discovery.  Some partners even complain that their partner is not the same person they dated or married. In some ways, that may be true. But it is also true that when people feel emotionally safe in relationships, they are more willing to explore new sides of themselves. In the safety of a committed relationship, they may discover aspects of themselves that they never knew existed. Believe me, it happens. Remember, love is liberating and your partner may and will need space to grow. If you are in a relationship that does not offer or allow space for growth or self-expression, an honest discussion is long over-due. Talk with your partner and together evaluate if there is potential for you, her and the relationship to flourish.  Determine if there is room for self-development, self-discovery and self-actualization. You owe it yourself because H.O.P.E. can not exist without potential.

 The last way to infuse hope into your relationship is to Enjoy your partner - to really celebrate her and not just tolerate her. Just think about when you first started dating. You really enjoyed each other. You laughed at her jokes, you enjoyed attending events together, and you relished your time together. You thought she was adorable and fun.  But under the strain of life, something happened and you stop spending time together. Maybe you even stopped liking each other. You even started living separate lives. If that is currently happening in your relationship, don’t be alarmed. It does not mean that your relationship is doomed. It may mean however, that your relationship is not being nurtured. Or, it may mean that you and your partner have unresolved issues that are affecting your connection. Or, it may mean that you and your partner need time to re-connect and get re-acquainted. Enjoying your partner should bring joy. And joy and happiness both promote hope. So the question is – are you enjoying your partner? If yes, keep doing what you are doing. If no, identify why and make changes so that you can enjoy the love of your life.

H.O.P.E – Honor, Optimism, Potential and Enjoyment – are important building blocks for a healthy relationship. H.O.P.E. gives you staying power and it gives your relationship holding power. Some say that H.O.P.E. is the emotional glue that helps couples stick together in good times and bad times. If you don’t have H.O.P.E. in yourself or in relationship, H.O.P.E. enough to get help. They are many resources available to help you. And remember that “hope is not a dream but a way of making dreams become reality.” So if CREATing Love is your dream, I recommend infusing a little H.O.P.E.

I look forward to continuing this discussion at the CREATE LOVE conference. Imani Evans and I hope to see you there. More info

Create Love, Co-Founder
(Book: I Can Depend On Me)

Monday, December 17, 2012

SHARE YOUR LOVE: Happy Couple Highlight XII

HAPPY COUPLE: Nicole Varner and Tiffany Hairston
Atlanta, Georgia
How long have you been together: 11 years on January 5th 2013.
How did you meet:  Nicole: We met at Tower II. I reluctantly stopped by after a friend's birthday gathering….. Everyone was going there afterwards. Tiffany: I was supposed to go to the club with a straight friend to celebrate her birthday. However, she decided not to go out but I was already dressed up so I went out by myself.

What was your 1st impression? Nicole: I thought she was attractive. I am kind of shy. I am not a person who will go up and approach people. But, I liked her disposition. She didn’t look like she belonged there. Tiffany: I saw this little woman at the bar. She was preppy and cute.  We looked at each other and looked away for about 20 minutes. After several minutes of “come hither” looks, we talked and danced. She made me laugh and we spent the rest of the evening talking. We talked almost every night for about 2-3 hours, sometimes up to 2 o’clock in the morning.
What are the keys to a successful relationship: Nicole: That's a difficult one as I don't think there is one key. However, if I were to pick one thing it would be communication. Our communication with people, especially people in our lives that we value, should be clear, respectful, and compassionate. Tiffany: One key thing is friendship. She knows I love her and will always speak to her in a loving matter. I never talk to her in an unloving way. In almost 11 years, we have never had a shouting match or spoken to each other in disrespectful and unloving ways.

Discuss how you deal with and face challenges that might come up in your relationship? Nicole: I attempt to be flexible and sympathetic or empathetic, if needed. Conflicts arise in all relationships because we are all individuals and have our own opinions, ideas, and "stuff". I feel it's important for two whole individuals to come together in order to form a healthy and successful relationship. With this knowledge, you are comfortable with letting the other person be completely who they are without feeling threatened or fearing abandonment. And you can work together to find resolve for your conflicts. Some things you may never agree on, and that's ok unless of course, it violates some core principle you have regarding the relationship.
Couples have difficulty identifying their “stuff”. What has helped you determine your stuff? Tiffany: Being a cancer, I can be reclusive at times. Different things make me go inside of my shell. I have to work to let her know what is going on so that she doesn’t take it personally. I have to let her “in”. I have to be more vulnerable and share my pain. Nicole: We are both feeling and very intuitive people. I am a Pisces. I am very sensitive.  I believe you have to own your own insecurities. I can feel energy. When something is “off”, I ask myself if it is something with me or the relationship. Or, I start wondering where the “unhappy” is coming from. I can be moody. I am very passionate about everything – my friends, my job, everything. My passion sometimes can make me vulnerable.

With both of you being “water signs”, how do you manage conflict?  Nicole: Fundamentally we are different in the way in how we manage conflict. She likes to go away to bridle her tongue. I want to resolve and talk about the issue immediately.  The compromise is that I can’t talk immediately, but we will talk. I have to be ok until she is comfortable and emotionally available to talk. Tiffany: I have to let her know that I will talk about it and when. I may say “let’s talk about it tonight or tomorrow”. If I don’t, it creates anxiety and I don’t want that. We don’t like to go to bed angry. I know when/if we need to have a discussion so that we can move on. Nicole: The problem is that we all have the fear of being abandoned. Even if we don’t talk right then, I know we will talk. That really helps with anxiety.
What have you learned about your partner? Tiffany: I am surprised by how strong Nicole is. I have been with her and seen her during some of the hardest times. She’s is really a strong person. Nicole: I didn’t learn anything. I always thought that she was loyal, giving and loving and she has been all of the in our relationship.

After 11 years, what was the greatest change and what was the greatest challenge? Tiffany: Our biggest challenge was dealing with all of the loss. At times, we both were in some dark places but Nicole was my rock. She really helped me through. I lost my step-father after a 3 year battle with liver cancer. It was hard because I was very close to him. Nicole’s mother had terminal cancer and her father suddenly had a heart attack and died. Her mother passed 10 days later. We were just reeling from the losses. We had a time when we were not connecting because we were just so grief-stricken. We got through it. We were there for each other. Nicole: The biggest change is the maturation of the relationship. In the beginning, you are having sex in every place you can find. The maturation comes when the weight of the world is happening and you understand that the loving part is more than the physical part. As you grow in your relationship, you also need to make a conscious effort to not let the physical part of your relationship die. We love each other and are committed, but we don’t have to be bored. It is important to keep it exciting and to have those sparks too.
What have you learned about yourself in this relationship? Nicole: I have learned that it is ok to believe and know that someone is always going to be there for me.  We went through a very dark time. Both of my parents died within 10 days of each other. Tiffany’s self-father died and she is extremely close to him. Our dog died too. I was in a bad place but I did not want to put more stress on Tiffany. So, I would cry in the shower. One day she saw me crying and told me that it was ok. I had to learn that it was ok to trust her love. Learning that was freeing. I learned that I didn’t have to carry everything by myself. Tiffany: I have always been a very responsible and independent person. I don’t like people to help me financially. During the first year of our relationship, I lost my job. Nicole was always asking me if I needed anything or if I needed money. I had to learn that it is ok for me to depend on someone financially. I had to learn that that was sometimes part of a relationship, and that we were a partnership.

What role does spirituality play in your relationship? Nicole:  I feel spirituality is a base for my self-identity so it is an integral part of who I am. With regards to our relationship, we are on the same page with this and I feel that is an important. Tiffany: Spirituality is important as people and as a couple. We need to plug into our spiritual side to handle all that we go through. Our spiritual selves and our connection with God had made a huge difference. The spiritual connection has also helped our connection to each other.
How to your practice your spiritually? We attend Hillside {Hillside International Chapel and Truth Center}.

What role does sensuality and mutual attraction play in your relationship? Nicole: I think those are both important elements to a relationship. However, our experiences with people have the ability to minimize or magnify our attraction to our partners.  When I look at Tiffany, to me she is the most beautiful and the sexiest woman I know. Tiffany:  Sensuality and mutual attraction are very important in our relationship. You can’t lose sight of that. You have to try to stay looking attractive. Nicole: One thing that is important is that we brought back date night. We enjoy that. We get dressed up and got out and remember what it felt like we were first dating.
What do you do to make her feel special? Tiffany: We know each other very well. I know what she likes. She likes roasted chicken and vegetables so I will do little things like that for her. For example, one of her birthdays, I surprised her with a trip to Las Vegas. I may send her texts.  Sometimes we play hooky from work and just spend the time with each other. Nicole: I think about her all of the time. I am shopper and I love going to the mall. I will just pick her up something, maybe just something little. Or if I eat something different or good, I will bring her samples so that she can taste it too. Sometimes I still pick her up and take her to lunch.

What makes your partner beautiful to you? Nicole: Physically, she is beautiful. She’s not only a good person, but she is a great person. She is a good balance for me and she complements me. We are both sensitive. But she doesn’t allow me to get stuck in my feelings. Tiffany: Physically, she gorgeous. She has the most beautiful eyes. She is just a good person and has a great spirit. She will do anything for anybody. She’s a generous and giving person.
What tips would you give to other lesbian couples?  Nicole: Learn to love, in the purest definition of the word, and learn to be loving. When people truly grasp the two concepts, they can and will create meaningful and lasting relationships.

What is the difference between being in love and being loving? Nicole: Being loving is action. It is a way of doing things. People can love a person, but not behave in a way that is loving. If you had a hard day, you can’t just come home talking short and being disrespectful. You may love, but you can not be hurtful. You have to remember that you have the power and authority to make people love us more or love us less. We have some control over that. Tiffany: Never lose the friendship that you had at the beginning of the relationship. I truly love spending time with Nicole. You have to work at that. You must be mindful and present. You have to plan to do things together. It is important to remain friends.
Why do couples have trouble remaining friends?  Nicole:   They are not nurturing that friend part of the relationship. You have to continue to connect and engage each other. Even if I don’t like to do something that she likes, I will still do it. Tiffany: For example she likes photography. We went to Savannah and she took pictures and really enjoyed herself. It was fun for me to see her having fun.

One word that captures your sentiment about your relationship? Tiffany: Synergy. I feel in complete synergy with her. Nicole: Completion. Not in the sense of being final, but complete in the sense of still moving but moving together as a complete unit.
When you look in her eyes, what do you see? Nicole: I see a reflection of myself; I see an extension of myself. Tiffany: I see a safe place

When you look into her heart, what do you feel? Tiffany:  I feel safety and comfort. Nicole: I feel love and joy-that makes me smile. 
(Interview conducted by Minister SharRon Jamison)
Be sure to nurture YOUR LOVE at the Create Love! Conference on February 16th...More info.

Much love to you,
SharRon Jamison Co-Founder