Love Marriage

The Myth: Black Love Can’t Exist

1. Black Relationships/Marriages Don’t Last

Many people accept this notion as fact despite the contrary evidence presented by the thousands of Black couples who each year celebrate marriages that have lasted 50 years or more. Jet magazine features them each week. They are couples like Lurline and Wendell Cotton of Garland, Texas. The Cottons, both 80, celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary on February 6.

Not only have the Cottons lived together for most of their lives, they worked together for nearly 40 years in Wendell Cotton’s dental practice in California. Lurline Cotton served as her husband’s office manager until the couple retired and moved to Texas in 1984. What’s the key to their marital longevity? “Mutual respect,” says Lurline Cotton, who had three sisters, each of whom also was married over 50 years. “You’ve got to have that respect for the other person. There are going to be hard times and some disagreements in a marriage. But when you have that respect, then you are allowed to be who you are and your partner is allowed to be who he is, and you can work through anything.”

2. Black Male/Female Relationships Are Only About Sex

It’s true that sex is a critical component in any marriage or committed relationship, but its significance as the only thing that cements Black male/female relationships is highly exaggerated. “Sex is important; every man will tell you that,” says Dr. George Smith, a Chicago psychotherapist who has counseled more than 2,000 couples in relationship trouble. “But if sex is all you have holding your relationship together, you’re in trouble because you don’t have a true relationship.”

Smith says he tries to show the couples he works with how to communicate and trust and support each another so that their relationship is about more than sex. More often than not, he’s successful. He helps couples find the bonds and mutual goals that make their sexual relationship a sustainable partnership. “Any relationship of substance has to be based on trust and commitment and respect,” he says. “If you have those things, you’ll not only have a true partnership, you’ll have great sex.”

3. All Black Male/Female Relationships Are Filled With Arguments, Hardship And Pain

Love may hurt, but it doesn’t have to, the experts say. Many Black couples in healthy and stable relationships can and do disagree without becoming disagreeable.

But the image of the constantly bickering Black couple has taken over popular thought to such a degree that most people assume it is the norm, says Tiy-E Muhammad, assistant professor of psychology at Clark Atlanta University. “Many people believe that couples must have dramatic occurrences–cursing at one another, being put out of the house, keying somebody’s car–in order to appreciate one another,” Muhammad says. “WRONG! It is very possible–in fact, it’s the norm–for a couple to have a nice, respectful relationship without all of the drama that society is starting to make us believe is normal.”

The way to avoid having your relationship dispute degenerate into screaming matches is to learn how to fight fair. Don’t choose the moment of a dispute about money to hit your partner with a “low blow” about sexual performance or inattention to your emotional needs. “Make sure that what you’re fighting about is really what you’re mad about [at the time],” says Kathy Grant, a Miami marriage counselor. “When arguments blow up into huge, dramatic fights, there’s more at work there than what people say they’re arguing about. That’s why constant communication is important.”

4. All Black Men Cheat On Their Partners

This is such a widely accepted belief, many Black men won’t even dispute it. But while monogamy can be hard, it’s a behavior many Black men conform to with the love and support of strong Black women.

But due to the myriad social and environmental forces that have not been supportive of strong, Black male role models, “a lot of Black men don’t know how to be a husband or father,” says Dr. Smith. “But if you work with him, nurture him, talk to him, you can help him to be the husband and father you want and need him to be.”

Smith also cautions Black men not to allow ego and insecurity to push them to live up to the myth of the Black superstud at the expense of their relationships. “A lot of times, as Black men, our huge egos are all we bring to the table in a relationship, and when that ego gets hurt, we strike out with the one weapon we think we have,” Smith says. “But a lot of Black men, with the help of their women, are learning to open up. They’re learning how to deal with frustrations in their relationships in other ways besides having a woman on the side.”

But women also bear some responsibility for the promulgation of the belief that all Black men cheat. “A lot of women withhold sex as a form of behavior modification or punishment when they’re angry with their spouse or boyfriend,” says Dr. Grant. “That’s not only not healthy, it doesn’t work. It’s the surefire way to send a man looking elsewhere, especially since society is conditioning him to believe that’s what is expected of him.”

Both Grant and Smith say communication and maintaining an active sex life are essential to keep a man from straying. “It can be tough,” says Grant. “Especially for the working mother, who on top of her job, still takes the lead role in caring for the kids and home. She’s often just too tired for sex. But you’ve got to find ways to make that a priority in your relationship. Help him see how sharing in the housework and taking care of the children will also help in the bedroom. Don’t withhold sex if he doesn’t do those things. But help him to see how rewarding it can be when he does.”

5. Black Women Can’t Hold Relationships Together Because They Are Too Domineering And Demanding

It is ironic that the strength and determination for which Black women are revered as mothers and stalwart family supporters are also the qualities around which a great deal of relationship mythology is centered.

Part of the problem is the ambivalence many men have about what they really want in a partner/mate. “Modern-day men enjoy having an independent woman,” says Tiy-E Muhammad. “Most men will say, `I want a woman who’s got it going on.’ But after the relationship has begun, those same men will now want that woman to submit and be a part of his vision and his dream. He will want to be the dominant figure in the relationship in order to feel whole.”

In relationships that work–those that endure for decades–the individuals who make up the couple take turns allowing the other to be “boss.” “You don’t have to be totally submissive,” says Lurline Cotton, “but sometimes you go along with what he wants to do, even if it’s not exactly what you want, and he goes along with what you want to do, even if it’s not exactly what he wants.”

This only works if there is trust in the relationship. “You have to be secure in the feeling that your mate is operating in your best interest,” says Dr. Grant. “But a lot of Black women have had experiences that may lead them to believe that every guy is trying to get over on them, and that’s a hard barrier to get over. So men have to work hard to show them that they’re deserving of that trust. It may take time and a lot of effort on the man’s part to get through that barrier, but a lot of couples manage it.”

Black women also must relinquish some control, especially on the home front, which many women see as their dominion. “Just because he doesn’t feed the baby exactly the way you would or make dinner exactly the way you would, you don’t just take that away from him or degrade his approach,” advises Dr. Smith. “If you nurture him and show appreciation for the way he does-things, you’re showing him respect and building up that trust in the relationship.”

The bottom line is that Black couples do make it–more make it, in fact, than our society ever really acknowledges. And if more people followed the examples of the couples whose relationships do endure, and the tips from the experts who help struggling couples get over the hump, perhaps the myths about Black male/female relationships would fade–replaced by more stories like those of Lurline and Wendell Cotton, whose 59-year marriage is still going strong.

“It takes a commitment to what you’re trying to build together,” Lurline Cotton says. “But if you have the respect and the love, the commitment is a lot easier to maintain.”

Note: COPYRIGHT 2002 Johnson Publishing Co. COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group Posted on Tuesday, June 06 @ 12:26:56 EDT by found on



  1. I couldn’t agreed more that communication and trust is the core point in a marriage, but if it is only avail to black people, may not necessarily be true. If people believe in God, as many many as black people I knew, then a marriage would stand forever coz it has rooted to their faith and fear of God. Excellent writing, I enjoyed reading yr article!


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