My Own African American Experience
I am a Black American lady aged 32 years old and I am married. My own experience is centered on relationship problems my husband and I went through when we were courting and how we came to them. Our relationship is one that took twists and turns in ways that I can only say were dramatic. When we first met, we were bent on pleasing one another no matter what it took. At first, it was naiveté owing to our young and inexperienced lives that were more curious to try out than walk the long mile of a lasting relationship. This doesn't mean we didn't love each other or at least we wouldn't grow to love each other.
We had that basic input of unquenchable love for each other that was to us all that remained when everything else failed to work. Some of the problems that we faced were insoluble and could only be worked out by coming to some sort of agreement based on the circumstance at hand. Our problems in the relationship were not always about us; sometimes it would be factors such as out work schedules, the timing of holidays and sometimes the interference of our close relatives and friends. I will highlight some of the communication problems that we faced in our courtship and how we came to solve them or what mitigating measures we took to be able to bear with one another when we couldn't find a solution.
Good communication was the problem that we had and was also to be the solution that we would depend on as we got to learn each other. The basic ability to understand each other's perspective in many issues could get in the way. Sometimes when we get together and are to go out, we would clash on where to eat from and what places to visit and what activities to do together. We would raise issues to do with places we would visit, the arrangements we would make and the expenses we would incur. It is imperative that at this point I mention that my husband and I are wired differently. He is reserved but dignified, sometimes up tight but relatively flexible and he is also an all time phlegmatic. He likes to keep to himself and to work out sums of life in his sanctum of silence.
I, on the other side, am an outgoing, spirited sanguine full of suggestions and sometimes he would complain, full of myself. I like to see things moving fast and dramatically exiting. I like putting a little seasoning into everything just so that I may have a personal touch to it. My husband, on the other hand, likes to keep things normal, acceptable and enough for everyone. Being an African American for me, even through the years of growing up means that I have to work hard to get to where I am. This has over the years created an assertive enduring personality, a go-getter who will not stop at anything to get what I want. Sometimes this has gotten the better of me at the expense of others.
The basis of our communication wars was our lack of understanding that we were intrinsically different; the very thing that incredibly pulled us towards one another. When I think back on the day I met my husband, there was something magnetic about him. He was quite unlike any other person in my circle of friends. We met at a company party. He had a down-to-earth, almost-humble profile appeal to him but he dressed with an air of dominating poise, too intimidating even for him. These kinds of things don't escape me so I got interested in him. He too was immensely attracted to me, as he confessed later so we got talking and from then on we went on regular dates. This is the background of personalities that we were coming from and as I said earlier was the reason why we initially clashed because we had not yet understood each other.
Our patterns of communication heavily drew from our personality. He would keep to himself when he had something to think about but I would rather think through with someone on an issue in my mind. I would rather air out a problem than have my mind worry about it. I sometimes could not understand why he was quiet and when I ask he would say that nothing was wrong. From where I am standing, people don't just keep mum for no apparent reason, especially not with that glum solemn look on his face. He would casually shrug and say that he was meditating. We fought a couple of times because I felt ignored or unacknowledged. He on the other hand was indifferent about how I took the whole issue further than it needed to go. He would say that I was overly sensitive about non-existent things. What we didn't realize was that there was a reason why we were seeing things differently and also feeling differently towards our unconscious habits. My husband and I would pull in different directions to assert ones side of the story. He, being an African American as well, is not one who can commit to a second place in an argument regardless of his reserved calm self.
Another issue that brought communication breakdown was in our nature to treat and handle events and activities differently. While I am a stickler for details, he gives most things a general check as long as they are neat and of a standard. He is not bothered by color or shades or texture as long as it fits a certain pedigree of acceptability. I, in contrast, must especially worry about these details. I recall an instant where we went to shopping mall downtown to purchase foodstuffs. I watched him in dismay when we just got in, he picked a shopping basket and dived in, flopping cans, packets and other pieces inside the basket from the racks and stalls without much thought to it. It was as if he had a mental checklist he would rather not share. This became grounds for argument because in my view it was careless, unplanned and too casual. He, on the other hand, was bemused with my incessant attention to detail over things that were just fine'.
The fact that I am outgoing has on several occasions put me in the tempest of a lovingly jealous husband. My husband would sometimes feel intimidated whenever we went out to a disco or in places where there are merriment and dancing. He would rather remain unpracticed on the dance floor so when other men ask me to the dancing floor he wouldn't mind but would hardly speak to me on our way home. This drove a wedge between us especially on the choice of having fun and outdoor entertainment. He was especially reluctant for a dance on our way home from dinner but would gladly dance with me in the confines of his house. It made me uncomfortable to feel that I can't dance with my husband-to-be then and would raise other fears that were really unapparent. Our obvious line of fire was to complain about each others choice of entertainment because we were dissatisfied with each other's point of view or indulgence on entertainment.
The African American mindset was a great inhibition to our communication patterns. Whether consciously or unconsciously there are those stereotypes that we hold against one another and thus hold in abeyance the destruction of values instead of the promotion of those values. African Americans are generally understood to be polarized in gender roles and therefore we took to fighting on household chores that are associated with women. I never liked the idea of getting tied down to house wife lifestyle ever since I was little and therefore any notion to that effect was met with absolute resistance.
I did not wish to become another statistics in the thought shared in the study conducted by Bahira who says that "Men, on the other hand, continue to define their primary role as economic providers for their families. More recently this division of labor has been referred to as a "neotraditional" arrangement wherein men perform most but not all paid work, and women perform most but not all unpaid work." (Bahira, 2006)
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The problem with our African American culture is that it still perpetuates the traditional gender-based roles in a family creating inequalities that cannot be solved in advent of a changing social system. So I was vehemently opposed to any suggestion that made me feel "tied down." Luckily for me, my husband is an open minded person and so when we got talking about the issues of sharing roles we established a partnership form of interaction where we would all work together where necessary and make the home we wanted once we got married.
These flaws in our pattern of communication, therefore, forced us to come up with a moderation of dialogue because what we saw at stake was our love and what was albeit a great relationship leading to marriage. I had no problem explaining myself owing to my personality of course because I like being heard and seem to have been heard. So getting my husband to talk or get to air his view on a matter was always the harder part. He would prefer to think about something while I would insist that he didn't have to utter perfectly edited sentences. I would insist that we could churn through whatever thought processes he was going through together but he would still go back to thinking through things before he could respond.
Communication has to do with listening to more than mere words, more than phrases and sentences; it has to do with the silent periods and pausing breaths in between. Bimbo says that non-verbal or assumed communication is what people mostly use to judge someone. What one hardly speaks is louder than what they bring out. (Bimbo, 2010 p.25)
The body language among other gesticulations can be rightly or wrongly assumed to be an intended verbal or non-verbal act. Couples can quarrel based on the superficial reaction of their spouses without going further to find out what was the intention. This is not justification for not speaking out. People need to actively communicate and engage one another in the process in order to be both heard and understood. This critical aspect of attentive listening is what we lacked in our relationship at that time. The kind of listening that goes beyond mere urges and personal advantage on an issue.
Every time we disagreed on something I noticed that we would cease communication and only pick up from somewhere without necessarily solving the issues we disagreed about. This meant that those issues we swept under the carpet and would soon emerge and present themselves once again. Running around or transferring blame was not helping. Mostly, we would revert to our egos and walk away from options we would have examined. The choices that we made at that instant of disagreement were also borne by both our values and personalities. We realized that we would have to work on our shared values and promote those values by actively reminding ourselves what we agreed to. The first part of this walk which I remember is when we agreed to take second place in any argument. We would stop mid-argument in an awkward silence when we both remembered our policy and almost laugh about it. Since no body would take the lead since both of us were taking the second place, we would end up apologizing and taking the blame and that would give us the chance to truly reflect on the other person's point of view. We took time to learn one another and the values that drew us together were center pieces in resolving our differences.
In the particular case where my husband was uncomfortable with some aspects of my outgoing nature, we hatched a compromise in that I would only take to the floor in his company or in the company of true friends and not strange wannabe dance partners. He was comfortable with my friends and his friends taking asking me for a dance because he trusted them and I felt it was a great compromise. In the following months, he grew bolder and he would treat me to a dance unexpectedly.
As far as his keeping to himself was concerned, we agreed that he would at least inform me that he was okay and that on m y end I would work on accepting that his silence did not have anything to do with the both of us. This tremendously improved our relationship because of the basic understanding that we had of one another and we could freely talk about anything without intimidating or excluding each other. My husband would especially listen to me when I needed to talk even if, sometimes he would say, he understood nothing of it. He came to learn that at times I did not need solutions to some problems.
All I wanted is someone listening to me when I talked and he could attentively give me an ear and would actually ask questions in the discussions. Regarding shopping, we came to an understanding that unless we agreed even before we got married on how we would equip our house, I started helping him on purchases. He, on the other hand, helped me tone down my addiction to shopping. We came up with shopping lists that we could discuss a week before we even decided on what we would buy. A lot of the time he would let me take the upper hand in this and so seventy percent of the decisions on household shopping would be my input.
Communication to us became a learning process of listening and taking an active role in establishing compromises on things we could not agree on. Temperament in communication regardless of how we feel toward each other is a skill we have painfully honed. It is not easy to talk calmly to someone who has offended you. This was my big challenge more than my husband because he would rather walk away from a confrontation than stay to fight it out. On the one hand, my assertiveness came at that cost but we agreed that the only way out of a problem is the way through it. As a result, he would sit through an argument with me and I, on the other hand, would quell my anger or disappointment just so that we may get through an argument.
In the end, we would both win because we would take turns to listen to each other until we both felt satisfied with our resolutions. Loving each other has never been a problem. Going out of one's way to do something for another is a strength, among others, that we cherish. Of course, our relationship is not a perfect bliss but we draw strength and inspiration from one another. We have a code of honor of the "benefit of the doubt' where we train ourselves to believe that any negative action or reaction from any of us towards one another was not intentional and therefore we work backward through apology and "making things right' to a place of harmony once again.
In conclusion, being an African American has had an influence in the way I have handled communication in the past with my husband. Being brought up in a community that does not hand things on a silver platter to you meant that I work hard for everything I have accomplished. That exposure has produced in me an aggressive character that does not always agree with the people around me. The communication patterns that I was used to in the corporate and social world were not the same that would work on my husband and therefore it became a learning experience for me and for him as well from the start. Even though we had false starts, we perfected the art of communication and it bore fruits.
The solutions that we came up with on communication during our courtship period has shaped our communication and greatly improved our relationship. We have been scathed many times over and faltered in the steps but the best part of it is that we have learned from each other and grown together as a couple. Sometimes we go overboard regardless of the signposts that we have agreed upon but we eventually get out footing. Communication is not an easy process especially when parties to a disagreement are persuaded that they are correct in their own right. Communication not only clears out a problem but provides an insight into the problem so that it is not repeated in the future.