Relationships ain’t easy. The ups and downs of love drive most of reality TV and in real life, they can end up in pain, disillusionment and sometimes violence. Even money and fame provide little protection from the problems that challenge people in intimate relationships. In Best Picture director Ben Affleck’s now famous Oscar acceptance speech, he thanked his wife, Jennifer Garner, for “doing the work” with him for the last decade. Singer Fantasia, distraught over reports that her boyfriend’s estranged wife was suing her, once attempted suicide, while the internet tormented her for sleeping with a married man. Will Smith told an audience in Philadelphia that money and fame didn’t mean he and his wife of 17 years, Jada Pinkett Smith, don’t have their issues.
There are plenty of good people who end up in bad relationships.
Dr. Robin Smith, a recent guest on “The Tom Joyner Morning Show”, promoting her new book “Hungry,” says that what we are hungry for more than anything else is believing in our own self-worth.
If you look at posts on black women’s websites, one of the most common relationship questions is some variation of “I’m in a relationship with someone who doesn’t treat me right/cheats on my repeatedly/is married/is dysfunctional, disrespectful or abusive but I can’t leave them.”
Most of the time, responses to this question go this way: Pick up your self-esteem, sister, and move on. Pack your bags, leave him now, stop sleeping with him, love yourself, etc. etc. What no one says is how hard it can be to leave even a truly dysfunctional relationship. There is usually something that keeps you there – whether it’s emotional, financial or sexual security – no matter how crazy it looks to the outside world.
The problem is that relationships cannot resolve your life’s issues. If you were not loved as a child, if your parents, the people who you counted on for love and support, did not provide you with necessary nurturing, you will not be able to get that later from a life partner, no matter how loving or caring he or she is. That is not a relationship’s role. For African Americans still dealing with the legacy of generations of slavery, trying to fill the lack of wholeness in another is just too hard when they are often not whole themselves.
Will Smith and Sister Souljah co-hosted an event earlier this year for the release of Sister Souljah’s new book “A Deeper Love Inside.” During the event, Smith talked about the struggles we all have in relationships.
“In this world, there are difficulties with just getting out of the bed everyday. Trying to love on top of that is excruciating. It is absolutely not something to be taken lightly or easy when you say you’re going to marry somebody. You have to be willing to go through hell. You have to be willing to collide with the weakest parts of yourself.
You have to look at the things about you on a higher spiritual plane. You have to look at the things about you that are cowardly, that are angry or mean, resentful. You have to be able to look at those things about yourself that are not spiritually healthy parts. Love truly is when you change yourself for a better love with someone.”
If you can’t leave a bad relationship, learn from it (excluding relationships where physical abuse or threats are involved, those you do need to leave and fast.) If you are getting less of what you want from another, ask more of yourself. You can’t control other people. You can’t change them, make them love you or themselves or stop hurtful behaviors. But you can change. In any relationship, the most important person is you.
Are you whole? Are you healthy? Are you healed from childhood wounds and a dysfunctional past? If not, don’t worry about leaving as much as you worry about loving yourself by treating yourself the way you want to be treated. If you can’t go, grow. Prioritize your own happiness and you will find the strength to heal yourself and maybe your relationship, or have the courage to leave it.
Fantasia, once the poster girl for dysfunctional love (and unfairly so, as she was not only vindicated in court, she is hardly the first or the only woman to find herself in a similar situation) says she is single these days, focused on her career and raising her children.
“I, at one point, I wanted to make everybody else happy,” she told Sister to Sister. “To love him (Antwuan Cook, her then boyfriend) to make sure Zion was okay, to make sure everything—but I had to get to a place where I had to learn how to love Fantasia. I never did that… And if I don’t love myself, then I can’t be in a relationship.”