The Importance of Representation: Healthy Relationships

My husband and I will readily admit that about 90% of our relationship has been us winging it in hopes that we’re getting it right. We’ve gotten it wrong so many times but I’m fortunate to say that we’re patient with each other enough to know that neither of us know what we’re doing. Of course, now we have a better understanding of things and we handle situations we’ve probably experienced in the past with more grace but we’re also highly aware that we’d probably be further along with less turmoil had we actually seen what a healthy marriage was sooner.

My parents had been married for nearly 20 years but they separated in the spring semester of my junior year of high school. I remember the tension in our house being pretty thick a lot. Typically, daddy would be in the living room watching football, mama would be in their bedroom with the door closed probably watching tv (I realize now she was watching Grey’s Anatomy.. she got her heart broken every week for years meanwhile mine broke every hour for an entire summer binge-watching it on Netflix until I was caught up enough to cry with her in present-day.. chile…..) I don’t remember seeing them love on each other a lot, honestly. I remember pictures on the wall of them being out at concerts, smiling, and happy, but I don’t remember seeing that energy in the house often.

I want to be clear: I’m not saying happiness never existed! I remember times of us laughing during family outings from me and my brothers doing something funny. I remember my daddy kissing me, then kissing my mom and feeling like, “I want to do that when I grow up.” However, the tension is what I remember the most. I know what it looks like to tolerate your significant other. A lot of my friends didn’t have fathers in their lives so the only inkling of a clue I had as to what a “healthy relationship” looked like was what I saw on tv (great, realistic choice right?) 

Photo by Aaliyah Taylor

My husband had something a little different. He grew up in a single-parent home surrounded by a village. It was just him and his mom for a while until his younger brothers were born. His mom married when he was 12 but he still didn’t have a working example of a “healthy relationship.” He, like me, was winging his navigation through relationships. As a matter of fact, to put everything into context, I’ll share a tidbit from a conversation he and I had.

During one of our earlier disagreements, I asked Jalen what makes him think he’s a “good husband.” He started listing off things he did; keeping my car tank full, paying our bills, buying me things, the list went on. I interrupted him and said, “I don’t give a damn if we lived in a shack that had mold going up the walls. I don’t give a damn about anything you just said; I give a damn about how you treat me!” In that moment, he realized that providing alone does not make you a good husband; there’s WAY more to it than just buying her things. 

So, when I tell you we’ve been winging it, we’ve been winging the hell out of this shit. There have been so many times we had to come to a full stop, separate ourselves from friends and family, sit down, and REALLY find out what we wanted from each other. Not what our parents wanted for us, not what our friends wanted to see, not what we saw on tv or read in books; in real life—REAL TIME—what do I want from Jalen and what does Jalen want from Aaliyah.

When we first got married, we both were functioning off two different stereotypes. I thought I needed to have lunch/dinner made every day before he got home from work (or wherever he happened to be), I needed to have his clothes washed, folded, and put away, do I need to say more?? All the things your aunties and great aunties heavily involved in the church basically told you growing up! However, no one in my family told me I had to do these things; at the same time, no one told me I DIDN’T have to do these things either.

Jalen functioned off the “husband playfully annoyed with his wife but actually loves her with all his heart” trope. When we were around people he would jokingly complain about me, saying things like, “Whatever keeps HER happy,” and “Happy wife, happy life right?” He made it seem like in less than one year of marriage, he was already tired of the whole thing. There was one conversation that he was having with a peer of ours and he’d said something to the effect of, “Sometimes I wish she’d just let me live!” It had me rethinking everything. 

When we left I confronted him about it and he was like, “No babe! That’s just guy talk, you know I love you!” I replied, “So talking as if you don’t like your wife is normal?” He got quiet and realized how hurtful it was. However, he was going off of what he knew! (Or, at least, the lack of realistic conversations) We never really pay attention to what’s in front of us or our habits until someone finally calls you out on it. 

Photo by Noah Jemilu

Jalen and I didn’t start seeing healthy relationships until about four months into our marriage. That means all the time we spent dating, engaged, AND the first few months of being married was us not knowing what the hell we were doing. We started seeing men love their wives and speak highly of them. We started seeing women loving their husbands in their own way without judgment. We saw what LOVE was supposed to look like and started the process of shedding unhealthy habits and expectations.

We’ve agreed that a lot of arguments we had in the past wouldn’t have happened if we had the proper guidance. This is not to say our parents failed us; they did the best with what they were given. This is to say that we’ve learned from our mistakes and we can only hope to pay it forward the same way it was paid to us. We know what it’s like to be lost and confused but also wanting to make it work but not knowing HOW. We’re striving to be the representation we didn’t have when it came to showing what it looks like to love your best friend. 

I know it’s hard but have grace with each other. This world is full of hurt and lost individuals, including our parents. We’re not going to get it right all the time but strive to get it as right as you can. As long as the parties in the relationship are striving to make EACH OTHER happy, and not live up to some expectation that only they hold themselves to, everything should flow. It’s not going to be pretty all the time, especially when you’re both lost. Just be lost together and find the answer together. Remember, it’s always y’all against anything. Be who you wished you had for an example.

Photo by Aaliyah Taylor
Aaliyah Taylor
Wife • Dog Momma • Bad Baldie

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