Black love. Everybody’s always talking about it. Wanting it. Preaching about it and even trying to define it. Yet with all the conversation on Black Love, so many of us still find ourselves in relationships with people who say they love us but have a hard time showing it in a healthy way, and vice versa. There are many reasons for this, but it’s often because we don’t always understand how to practice love as a behavior. We don’t always have the language or tools to ask ourselves, “How do I give love in ways that my family, friends, and romantic partners need?”
“We all screwed ’cause we never had the tools”- Jay-Z
As the Executive Director of BEAM (The Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective), and a long time mental health advocate, I’ve had the privilege of using and coming across numerous tools that help us do just that. So in that spirit, here are four that I highly recommend to my clients who are looking, and ready, to make a change.
1 The BEAM Healing & Accountability Wheel
We spend so much time talking about what we don’t want in relationships, that we don’t know what we do want. The BEAM Healing & Accountability wheel attempts to fix that. Revised annually and put together by wellness activists and advocates, it gives us a roadmap for how loving relationships can look like in the modern era. Sitting down with your partner, you can review it and see different skills you want to grow, or even illuminate places you are doing really well. It’s a great conversation starter! Download a free copy here.
2 The 5 Love Languages
Written by Gary Chapman, The 5 Love Languages helps us identify how we give love, and also how we want to receive love. The love languages are: Acts of Service, Quality Time, Gifts, Words of Affirmation and Physical Touch. And this doesn’t just govern romantic relationships. They can help with your family dynamics as well. For example, as a child, I often didn’t know if certain family members cared for me. I was too young to understand, but my love language was physical touch and my family was not affectionate. Most of the adults in my family instead used gifts as their primary love language. That disconnect made me often feel unloved as a young person, when actually they gave love in ways that were different from how I wanted. Understanding that as an adult helped me see and appreciate their love, and also learn to ask for the hugs I wanted from my parents, aunties and uncles. You can take a free quiz online and or check out books and tools on the website.
3 The Imago Technique
Communication is often cited as one of the top reasons we have breakdowns with family and friends. One technique that I have found extremely helpful is the Imago technique, made famous by Dr. Harville Hendrix via Oprah. These techniques can be helpful when you feel like you aren’t able to hear your family or see things from their point of view. There are three main steps with The Imago Technique: mirroring, validation and empathy.
Mirroring: This is repeating back what your partner has said verbatim, without analyzing or critiquing. It forces you to listen without trying to come up with a rebuttal, and actually pay attention to what they are saying, helping them feel heard.
Validate: Validation means you affirm their concerns and their feelings. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. It means you have heard them and their feelings are understandable given their unique experiences.
Empathy: Last but not least you empathize. You take the time to step outside of yourself and imagine how someone could feel the way they feel, based on what you have heard. Identifying with your partner’s experience can help them feel connected to you, and is a proven method of maintaining intimacy.
Learn more about practicing the technique here.
Astrology is one of the easiest tools to access that helps us see how we all experience the world differently. One step is knowing your sign, another step is knowing your element. For example, water signs are motivated by feelings. Scorpio: a drive to protect their sensitive nature and feel powerful. Pisces: a drive for sensation and to feel pleasure. Cancer: a drive to feel power through nurturing and taking care of others. Knowing these traits can be really helpful in developing strategies to build and maintain love together. Astrology may not fit everyone perfectly, but it’s a great tool to start the conversation. Check out BruhStrology or Chani Nicholas for amazing tips and insight.
Yolo Akili Robinson is a mental health advocate and founder of B.E.AM. Check out his work in CASSIUS’ 2018 Wellness Guide.