"That we arrived at 50 years together is due as much to luck as to love, and a talent for knowing, when we stumble, where to fall, and how to get up again."
--Ruby Dee on her lifetime marriage to Ossie Davis
There was a time when young couples yearned to be legally married and bound together, but all they could muster was a broom-jumping, a ceremony that showed their family and friends that they chose to become as close to married as was allowed during slavery.
Today, even though we have an African American president and first lady living in the White House, scores of statistics bemoan the issues and ills of the American Black family.
"Why is marriage so hard?" Gloria Morrow, Ph.D., asked during a recent conference, "State of Black Male/Female Relationships," hosted by the Pomona Valley alumnae chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.
Morrow had teams of seminar participants list answers to her question, and they included outside influences ranging from finances, to in-laws, jealous friends, to infidelity. In reality, nothing happens to the marriage, she explained. Something happens inside the marriage.
"The problem is you and me," the clinical psychologist said. "And what we bring to the table."
Morrow noted that many African Americans suffer from poor mental, physical and spiritual health.
Some are depressed, in pain from past experiences and shut down to new ones. How could they possibly make a lasting connection without first investigating, knowing and healing themselves?
"Take care of your health," she concluded, comparing an individual's nurturing their own mental, physical and spiritual self to a full glass of water. "When you do, it creates an overflow in your glass of water that you can give to others. Nurture yourself first and give out of your overflow."
Before entering a relationship, each individual should investigate themselves and have some sense of who they are and what they are supposed to be doing on this earth. Sure, as we age we grow, changing goals and directions, but a basic foundation and love of self is essential. And if you have baggage issues, Morrow suggests you be honest about it.
"If you don't deal with your stuff, your stuff will deal with you," the psychologist said. "Sick people make everybody sick in their environment."
Morrow suggests having a courageous conversation with your spouse.
"'Now that I know about this, how can we walk through this thing together?' You want to bring each other along and support each other," she said.
"Physical health is important," Morrow added, noting that poor eating, smoking, alcohol or drug habits are not turn-ons. "Nobody wants to take care of a sick person who won't take care of themselves."
Finally, Morrow explained that a committed relationship needs to make special consideration for spiritual health.
"Prayer and devotion is essential every day," she said.
James and Ola West have been married 62 years and met at Grant A.M.E. Church. Today they are members of two churches, Grace United Methodist Church and Crenshaw United Methodist Church.