(The Root) — With all the fuss over what’s keeping black women and black men from jumping the broom, black married couples have been lost in the fray. Yes, of course, they exist! In fact, the vast majority of black women and men do indeed get married.
Of course, many of us are putting our own spin on how we love and make it work. The “traditional” route — love, marriage, then the baby carriage — works for some, but for others, love comes in the form of a blended union, a lesbian wedding or a multipartner (not-so-legal) marriage.
In a three-part series on black love and commitment, The Rootwill celebrate Valentine’s Day by taking a look at how black folks are loving each other, the problems the community faces and the solutions for making it work.
To kick off the series, The Root caught up with Divorce Court’sJudge Lynn Toler. She took over the bench on television’s longest-running court program in 2006, and since then, she’s seen it all when it comes to what makes — and, of course, breaks — a marriage.
Here, Toler, also the author of My Mother’s Rules: A Practical Guide to Becoming an Emotional Genius,breaks down when it actually makes sense to get divorced (rarely); two major issues that black folks overlook when it comes to picking a partner; and how to avoid unnecessary problems — like Facebook — in your marriage. “I’m a big fan of black love,” says Toler, who has been married for nearly 23 years. “Black marriage is a great thing.”
The Root: According to statistics, black couples marry less and divorce more than other segments of the population. What steps can we take to keep the marriages we do have intact?
Lynn Toler: Our people tend to meet each problem as it arises. Black folks that want to make it in an environment where marriage is not as common need to preplan with their partner by having conversations about how they are going to change in order to support the marriage. You have to say, “I am comfortable with this, and I am not comfortable with that.” You have to decide how much hanging with the boys and girls is still comfortable. You have to decide if you’re comfortable with who of other genders is coming in the house.
When you’re in a community that isn’t married, the rules about all of that — texting and on Facebook, who you can talk to, how flirty you can be — are different. You have to decide to change those habits to support your marriage.
TR: I’m glad you brought up Facebook. It, along with social media in general, is commonly blamed for divorce these days. How do social media play into a healthy marriage?
LT: You have rules about what you do when you’re married, about who you can go out with, go to dinner with. We haven’t made those rules about social media, so it’s such a slippery slope.
Social media is seductive in its relative ease and its seeming innocence. You’re not really cheating. You’re typing a couple of words; you’re not touching anybody. You can do it from home. You’re not going anywhere. But what happens is people find themselves on the wrong end of disrespectful.
People always ask me, “If you’re flirting online, is it cheating?” I don’t think that’s the question. The question is, “Is what you’re doing online disrespecting your spouse?” Where you draw the line is if it would hurt your spouse to know what you were doing.
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