Sunday, August 25, 2013

Happy Couple Highlight: Monique and Shannon

Monique Smith and Shannon Gresham
from Aberdeen MD.

How long have you been together?  We have been together for 6 ½ years. We meet on December 10th in 2006.

How did you get together/meet? Shannon:  We met at work. During the everyday interaction, we became best friends and eventually confessed our attraction to each other.

What was the initial attraction?  Shannon: My initial attraction to Monique was her beautiful smile and her sense of humor. I thought that she was one of the funniest people I knew and I love a woman that can make me laugh. Monique was very strong-willed and sexy. I found myself smiling when she would flirt with me.  Monique:  I had never been with a woman before nor found one attractive other than movie stars that I never met.  But when I saw Shannon, I immediately thought that I must be gay. She was beautiful, and had the most beautiful eyes. She just had this confidence that you could feel as soon as she entered a room.  She was just so fine.

Shannon, since Monique had never been with a woman before, what made you feel confident enough to start a relationship with her? That was a work in process. I didn’t’ start off trusting her at first. She had only dated men and I felt that I was just a challenge on her list. As I got to know her, I knew it was more than that. I realized that she loved me and that she didn’t have to be with a man. I realized that also when we made love. I thought that she wanted me to use a dildo, but she wanted me to take it off. She said, "No, I want you”.

Trust is one of the main ingredients in a relationship. How did you handle the trust issue? Monique: She had a lot of trust issues too. At first, I had to do tricks and stunts. I had to take pictures of receipts and take pictures of traffic at first. But I was willing to do those things because she was worth it. I called, emailed and did whatever I needed to do in the beginning. But it has all been worth it in the end.  I made her feel safe and I let her know that she was enough. I made her feel that she was better than any man that I had ever been with.   Shannon: She’s was really big on me letting people know that I was hers.  Sometimes I would be overly affectionate. I wanted to touch her but I also wanted to let men know that I loved and wanted her. I wanted everybody to know that she was mine.

What made you feel accepted/supported as a couple?  Monique: My family doesn’t accept us and they don’t respect us. I have even had to get physical with my brother. At first, I really tried to integrate Shannon into my family because I wanted everybody to be one big happy family. But that didn’t happen. With my family, love was conditional, but I realized that this woman loved me and my children. I couldn’t get my family’s love and respect, but with Shannon, I could. She was there for me and she loved me.

Shannon: I spent time thinking. I am a Virgo and I analyze everything. When I realized that we had something special, I know that I had to change; I had to be vulnerable. That wasn’t an easy thing for me to do but being vulnerable is what kept us together. We were able to be spiritually and emotionally naked. We were able to expose ourselves and we were able to keep working on our issues.

What would you say is the key to the success of your relationship? Shannon:  The key is devotion. Monique and I are extremely devoted to the relationship. It doesn’t matter what comes our way, we believe we were meant to be together and we stick it out. Relationships are not easy; many people give up. But when that person is your best friend first, you can’t imagine living your life without her. It is devotion, just plain unconditional devotion.  Monique: The key to success in our relationship is the fact that we always go back to our “friendship first “rule. In this rule, we agreed that there are certain things that you just can’t do or say to a friend. This rule has gotten us through 6 ½ long years.

What other rules do have you have that support your relationship? Monique: We don’t talk to friends on the phone after a certain time. That’s our time to get in touch with each other. Shannon: We have respect about each other’s spiritual boundaries. As a pastor, I sometimes have to pray and counsel other women and that requires a whole different level of trust. We respect each other’s call and we don’t stand in the way of God.  Monique: With our children, we discuss and decide everything together. We have meetings and we arrive at common decisions. We have to be careful about that too because we are both very head-strong.

Discuss how you deal with and face challenges that may come up in your relationship?  Shannon: Our relationship has seen more challenges in the last 6 ½ than most people experience in a decade. Monique and I have learned to talk about everything, even the uncomfortable stuff. We believe our transparency helped us get through the tough times.

What has been one of your biggest challenges: Monique: Bringing kids into a lesbian relationship was hard. When Shannon and I got together, there was rivalry and my kids gave Shannon hell. We both felt discouraged because they did not like her. But we came together as a couple. We had meetings, talked and we worked together as a family. It took about two years but they eventually came around. We punished and rewarded them together as a couple; we got on one accord. We made sure that they understood that we were a couple. We had hope.

Shannon: We also don’t go more than a few hours being upset with each other. Some people go days and days. Most arguments between us are reconciled before we fall asleep. Monique and I hold each other accountable for our actions too. We have guidelines/boundaries that must be respected. We forgive each other and we realize we both make mistakes and that neither one of us is exempt from falling short of the glory of God.

What role does spirituality play in your relationship? Shannon: Being that I am a Pastor of a new and growing congregation in B-More called Spirit of Unity Worship Center, spirituality is the most important thing that has kept us together. God sent us to each other and God maintains what He ordains. Monique and I pray together and we discuss spiritual principles. She is usually the first person I discuss major spiritual decisions with involving the church and my own walk with God. I am her Pastor, her lover, her best friend, and future spouse

I always admire women who are relationships with leaders because power is an aphrodisiac and attracts interesting people. Some who don’t respect the leader’s relationship and/or marriage. How do you deal with that? Monique: It is difficult because she is so cuteJ. And she is even cuter when the power of God is on her.  But I trust her and I trust her love for our family because I know that we are important to her. I know that she is s God-fearing woman. But honestly, sometimes it is hard.

What role does sensuality play in your relationship? Shannon: Monique and I are both very sensual beings. We enjoy being intimate with each other more than we enjoy having sex. The connection of our spirits is the most important aspect of our sex life. As people grow in their relationship, it is easy to neglect having a sex life due to balancing work, marriage, and family. We have learned that our sex life must be cultivated so the enemy doesn’t have any open doors to come into our relationship through infidelity. We lay and look into each other’s eyes, kiss, talk at night before bed while holding hands. We are good communicators with the senses and we mature more each day in that area. Sex is a must for healthy relationships. Without a healthy sex life, the connection in a relationship will suffer.
Since sex is so important, how do you keep the spice in your marriage? Monique: I talk dirty to her and send her sexy texts. Sometimes when she comes in from work I will be in bed with just her tie on or in one of her dress shirts. I try to do things that entice her.
You mentioned that you have been through a lot as a couple. What do you now most admire about her? Monique: I most admire that she is able to see the good people even when she is mad. I hold grudges but she has so much faith and trust in people. She has the ability to love pass some things. She really has a heart of gold. I also admire that she’s very driven and creative.  Shannon: I admire that she loves unconditionally. I have done more hurt to this woman than I have done to any other woman. But she had endured and won the battle. I had a lot of hurts and disappointments in my life. I also had a lot of attachments issues so I kept trying to make her prove her love to me. I kept making her feel as if she was being tested. She has gone through tests and tribulation, but she is still her. If she was willing to go through all of that, I know that our love meant something. I know that it doesn’t matter what changes in my life, she is there.

Based on your experience, what advice would you give to other couples? Shannon: Based on our own successes and failures, we compiled a list of 8 things that couples must do to have a healthy relationship. Monique: Be friends first. Shannon: Don’t keep secrets from each other. Hold each other accountable. Resolve issues quickly and don’t let them fester. Both: Have plenty of sex. Shannon: Realize no one is perfect so forgive easily. Monique: Stay devoted no matter how hard even it becomes. And, always say “I love you”.

What has your relationship taught you most about yourself?  Shannon: The relationship has taught me that I had very strong trust issues from childhood that needed to be resolved. The relationship taught me that a woman can love me for me without any strings attached. I have learned how lovable I am by the way this woman has loved me. She has shown me that she loves me beyond all of my faults.

Monique: My relationship has taught me that love really can be unconditional and that communicating without being defensive is more productive. Everything doesn’t have to be and won’t be my way but compromise keeps us both happy.

What one word characterizes/describes your love and relationship? Monique: Durable. We have bounced back from every single situation. We don’t lose interest in each other. We are just life partners and I love her. We are “in it to win it”. Shannon: Surpassing. Our love is beyond any and everything. Our love surpasses it all.

If you could thank her for one thing, what would it be?  Monique:  I would thank her for helping me get my relationship with God back on track. I used to be mad because I didn’t understand why God had to take my mom. My mom died from cancer and I felt that God took her for no reason. Shannon got me back into my spirituality. Shannon: I would take her for giving me a family. I always wanted to conceive. I would thank her for kids.

Complete this sentence. I love you because …… Shannon: I just do. I don’t have a reason, I just do. Monique: You are strong, you love me beyond myself. You give me your heart.

You can also find Monique and Shannon:
Spirit of Unity Worship Center—Baltimore
241 West Chase St, Baltimore MD
1st & 3rd Sundays

(Interviewed by SharRon Jamison)

We thank you for sharing your love with us at Create Love! Your story will encourage, inspire and uplift other couples.  We wish you continued success and happiness.

Create Love Founders

Imani Evans and SharRon Jamison

Friday, August 23, 2013

Rules of Reconciliation: Part 2

Partnerships and friendships enrich our lives. They give us a sense of belonging, a sense of support, a sense of purpose and a sense of a structure.  They guide us, motivate us, teach us and inspire us. If they are healthy relationships, they also check us, confront us and challenge us to be, to do and to give our best. Our “ships” are amazing lifelines; they add meaning to our very existence. 
But when there is a breach and break in trust, the foundations of our “ships” crumble and the fabric of our connections tears. We become distant, distracted and depressed as we attempt to understand how the trust that we felt was so secure was so easily fractured.  Sometimes when a breach is revealed we no longer feel safe, balanced, protected and cherished. We feel wounded. 
We not only feel emotionally and spiritually wounded, we lose confidence in each other, and to some degree, we lose confidence in ourselves. Statements like “I love you” and “I miss you” are replaced with silence, tension, tears and accusations. The emotional glue that bonded your love is replaced with sadness, fear, anger and rage You have questions, comments, feelings, emotions and needs but they all seem elusive. I understand because I have been there. 
As I mentioned in my previous article, breaches in trust affect both partners. One partner feels that she can’t trust the cheater or the liar, and the cheater/liar also hurts because she knows that she is longer trusted. Trust me - nobody escapes the aftermath of affairs; everybody is somehow changed by the indiscretion. 
Despite all of the pain, confusion and sadness, I still believe that most relationships can be repaired and restored. The relationship will never be the same, and that’s a good thing.  But with enough love, honesty and a desire to reunite, the relationship and friendship can not only survive, but be strengthened and enriched.  
Last week we discussed the importance of three principles: Reflection, Realization and Repentance. We reviewed how the rules assist in the healing process and how they must somehow be a part of the healing journey. This week we will explore a few more rules.  Again, this list is not THE only path to reconciliation because healing happens differently for different people, at different times based on their difference situations. However, the rules listed below are guidelines, directions and thoughts to consider if you and your partner decide to embark on a healing journey together. 
As I mentioned in Reconciliation Rules Part 1, it takes seconds to lose trust, and months and years to rebuild it. Remember that healing and reconciliation are both processes; they are journeys that can not be completed overnight. Also keep in mind that healing does not happen in a straight line. Healing and reconciliation may involve multiple starts, stops and detours before couples find their rhythm or “get in right”.  Rebuilding a relationship takes time, effort, patience and most of all, commitment.  So let’s review a few more rules.  
Remove the temptation, and if you can’t, reposition it.  To start the reconciling process, anybody or anything that distracted, enticed, seduced or lured you away from your relationship needs to be eliminated. If you had a sexual affair, stay away from the mistress. Be honest with yourself. You are not going to immediately lose your attraction to her because the affair was discovered or because you confessed. Since you obviously had difficulty managing your attraction to her in the first place, stay away and cease all contact. If your secret lover remains in the picture, there will be little hope and little room for reconciliation. 
If it was an emotional affair, same advice: stop talking to her even though it will be extremely difficult to disconnect.  Believe it or not, detaching from emotional affairs can be more challenging than leaving sexual affairs. They are harder and more complicated because deep emotional attachments or bonds have been formed. You shared secrets, needs, wishes and your innermost thoughts You relied on her for affirmation, encouragement, laughter and joy. Not only that, but you probably transferred an intimate connection and some emotional energy away from your partner and on to her, the “outsider”.  In some ways you transitioned out of your partnership and/or marriage and allowed another person access to privileged and sacred places in your life and in your heart.
What can you do when it is a sexual or emotional affair?  
  • Find a therapist or a trusted mentor and talk, read, journal and talk some more.   Peel back the layers of the affair. Ask yourself a few questions: what am I missing in my relationship, what am I missing in my spirit, what did I need from my partner but didn’t ask for, what did I need from relationship/partner and wasn’t aware of, what baggage did I bring into the relationship,  how is that baggage manifesting now, what behaviors did I allow that didn’t support me,  what ways did I behave that prevented her from providing support,  how have I or my needs changed, am I happy, do I know what “happy” looks or feels like, what is going on with me? This list is not exhaustive, but it is a good start. Spend time alone and search your soul. The answers are already in your spirit. The answers are just waiting to be exposed, explored, explained and expressed. 
  • Remember to detach and distance immediately from the 3rd party. Understand that you can not control her (the 3rd party) responses to the break-up either. She may be ok, she may cry, she may threaten blackmail, she may beg, she may retaliate or she many try another manipulative measure However, she may accept your wishes and lovingly leave. Anticipate everything and be shocked by nothing.  Affairs have consequences. Just hope your consequences are not irrevocable.   

 If the indiscretion involves addiction or money, what can you do? 
  • If the violation involves drugs or other illicit activities, my advice is the same. Stop what you are doing and seek support.  If you no longer have the capacity to say “no” to something, you MUST have the willingness to say “yes” to assistance. Addictions, obsessions and anything else that consumes or controls you becomes an uninvited guest in your relationship. Addictions and obsessions rob you and your relationship of energy, love, respect and most importantly, trust.  The addiction must be honestly addressed and treated so that the relationship can begin and continue the healing process.
  • If it is a money issue, new financial boundaries need to be implemented because financial issues are more damaging than couples realize. In fact, money mismanagement, misconduct and mistrust are top reasons why partnerships dissolve. Why? Because financial fidelity is not just about money; it is also about the ability to trust your partner with resources. It is about knowing that you partner is able and willing to make decisions that support the maintenance of the household, and support the fulfillment of your hopes/dreams for the future.  Financial fidelity is about confidence and faithfulness and speaks to our need for material and financial safety, security and peace. Keep in mind that security in whatever form is a primal need and financial infidelity threatens that need. 
Trust issues are caused by all types of breaches and removing the breach and/or getting help to manage the breach shows your commitment to yourself, your partner and to the relationship. Never forget that being trustworthy is not about having the right thoughts and doing the right things. It is about having the wrong thoughts and doing the right things anyway.  It is about integrity. 
Restructure the relationship so that it better supports you and your partner. Many times when people start relationships and/or friendships they feel chemistry.  Both parties feel a connection based on shared beliefs, interests, needs, goals and overall values. They bond over a sense of mutuality and reciprocated respect.  
After a few months or years, differences begin to surface or the focus on differences increases. As a result, people become disappointed and discontented with the “ship”. Every negative feeling and every pessimistic thought that does not get expressed or every negative feeling and thought that goes without resolution creates emotional and spiritual holes. And unfortunately, the holes, unconsciously or consciously, start to sink the “ship”. When the ship begins to sink, we sometimes reach for a life preserver, a person or a thing, not aware that the best life preservers already reside in our hearts and souls. 
So how do people get to this point? 
Expectations People have expectations of what friendships and relationships “look like”, and if they look different than their expectations, they lose interest or lose hope. 
Roles – Many times we enter into relationships and we accept roles. Sometimes we discuss the roles, but many times we just “fall” into roles or ways of functioning without really accessing if the role really works for us. When we operate and/or function in ways that don’t support us and we don’t express our discontent, we secretly get resentful. If we fail to address the internal conflict with our partner and/or fail to address the internal conflict within ourselves, we reach outward for something or someone. 
Growth – People change, evolve and develop; people are dynamic.  Every event, experience or engagement has the ability to inform or influence you. If you get a new job, find new friends, graduate from school, have a child or any other life changing event, you may change. You may become more assertive, more self-sufficient and more self-aware. Maybe you may not want to adhere to old roles, be confined by assumptions or be responsible for certain responsibilities. Maybe you need to be listened to differently, touched differently, loved differently and/or spoken to differently. You have grown and the growth has changed your relationship and has changed how you want to be in a relationship. If you have grown and you are not able to operate in your “newness”, you look for opportunities to do so. 
Communication –   Communication is the essence of our “ships” because communication is how we connect and express our thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, needs, expectations and fears. Everything we do is a form of communication – our tone, our gestures, our tenor, our body, our voice and all of the other ways that we convey meaning and transfer messages.  When we communicate, we share ourselves with the hope that we are being listened to, understood and accepted. In fact, one of the greatest human’s needs is to feel heard.  And if/when we don’t feel heard by our partners or friends we consciously or unconsciously look elsewhere. 
So how do you restructure your relationship? 
To restructure your relationship, both partners should honestly and carefully conduct their own relationship inventory.  Each partner should list and discuss what worked and what did not work for herFor example, if you never had any voice or choice when it came to financial concerns, explain how that contributed to the demise of your relationship. If you could never initiate sex, explain how that affected you. If you felt over-powered, discuss what impact that had on your spirit and your willingness to negotiate. If you felt that your feelings were not acknowledged and that there was little empathy, express it.  Put it all on the table. Be honest, transparent and courageous. Then get to work! 
What do you do? Redistribute duties. Rearrange schedules. Reorganize finances and financial responsibilities. Reschedule dates. Repair communication. Revitalize fitness programs. Reestablish rules for debates and discussions. Re-commit to learning and/or individual and couple therapy. Relearn love and apology languages and learn to speak them fluently.  In other words, identify what was not working and work on it. 
You can’t make all of the changes immediately and you can’t tackle all issues simultaneously. I recommend that you start with the “pain points”, the areas that you feel most contributed to the infidelity and/or breach. Approach the relationship restructuring consistently, earnestly and courageously.  Be flexible and do not expect perfection. Remember when anything is under construction” it is messy, requires detours, requires patience and is inconvenient. Just think of a construction site.  You get the picture J
Allow for humanity, transformation and reform. Visualize being what you hope to be for yourself and for your partner. Keep in mind that it didn’t just take two weeks for your relationship to develop or for issues to surface, and it will not just take two weeks for you to fix them either. Invest your time and attention because you and your partner are worth it 
Most importantly, create a vision for your relationship. A vision will guide you and serve as a barometer to judge your actions and your interactions  A vision will challenge you, inspire you, correct you, motivate you and encourage you. Together create goals that reflect your values and your renewed commitment. 
Reconciliation is never easy and it can be uncomfortable. But learning to trust again is possible if/when you value yourself and the relationship enough to give your best. No, there are no guarantees that after you make changes and remove the distractions that the relationship will survive or thrive. But in life and love, there are no guarantees without commitment.  Commit to being honest, commit to trying new ways of functioning, commit to loving differently, commit to communicating clearly and commit to being the BEST YOU!  
What sometimes looks like an ending is really an opportunity for a new beginning. It is an opportunity to break down barriers and unpack emotional baggage. It is a chance to see your partner and yourself with new eyes and through new filters. It is an opportunity to learn new skills and practice new ways of being, living and loving 
I leave you with this proverb: A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. If you both want your relationship, hold hands and start walking toward your future. You deserve it and she does too. 
I look forward to continuing this series in the coming week so stay tuned. Blessings on your healing journey.