Authentic Men’s Voices on Marriage and Romantic Relationships

Several years ago, a luxury automobile manufacturer started running commercials in which one member of a couple was surprised on Christmas morning with a brand new car with a big red bow in the driveway. In addition to being perplexed by how there could be snow falling from the sky and several feet already accumulated on the ground, but none ever landed on the car, I’ve also often wondered… wait, did they finance the car and does the spouse receiving the “gift” also get stuck with the monthly payments? In any event, seeing these commercials prompted me to think about the best and most valuable gifts to give or receive in a relationship.

Give and take are part and parcel to any romantic relationship. Therefore, it came as no surprise when the participants in Black Love Matters: Authentic Men’s Voices on Marriages and Romantic Relationships offered some insight into how the gifts of reciprocity, empathy and grace have benefitted their relationships.

In sharing their experiences, the men talked extensively about the importance of reciprocity in stabilizing and solidifying their relationships. Although the men were varied in whether they subscribed to traditional gender roles, most of them agreed that they saw their mates as partners with whom they wanted and desired to share the roles and responsibilities of their relationships. For example, one of the participants stated, “When you give a person 110% and they give you 110%, it’s a beautiful thing.” In response to being asked about the characteristics of an ideal marriage mate, another participant stated, “Some interdependency.” Not only did the participant express a clear preference for reciprocity, he went on to elaborate by saying, “A thing that really turns me off is a woman who talks about how independent she is. That’s fine ‘cause in a relationship, nobody needs the other person, at least not in the relationships I’ve been in. You don’t need the other person just to make it. You can make it on your own, so I get it. What I’m talking about is that interdependency, you know emotionally or whatever.”

Closely related to the idea that relationships benefit from reciprocity was the men’s endorsement of empathy. Most often, empathy was invoked as the men talked about the extent to which they and their partners were or were not willing to see things from the other’s point of view. Particularly noteworthy in this regard was a participant who described himself as uncompromising in the early days of his relationship with his wife. In reflecting on the ups and downs in their relationship, he shared, “I think it’s just I’ve matured to the point where I know that a lot of things that happen, aren’t the end of the world. There are some things that aren’t a big deal but people will make it a big deal and that if I’m gonna make it last, I have to work at be open and understanding of the other person.”

In addition to reciprocity and empathy, the men also discussed grace as a gift to their relationships. When grace was brought up, it was usually in the context of forgiveness for a previous transgression that had lingering effects hindering the relationship’s progression. The men also talked about the importance of assuming that their partners’ behavior was driven by positive intentions. If that happened, according to the men, it made forgiveness easier. In the following quote, one of the participants shares how appreciative he is for his wife and her willingness to provide him with grace. “Just like I said, the supportiveness and the fact that even though I’m flawed, every man’s flawed, every woman’s flawed, nobody’s perfect but she looked past all that and saw me for what I was and who I’m capable of being. She’s given me her love, I don’t have any trust issues with her.  And at times when I’ve been down, she’s picked me up so for that was major.”

As the holiday season comes to a crescendo and you are thinking about what to get that special someone, if the narratives of the men in Black Love Matters can be instructive, reciprocity, empathy, and grace make great stocking stuffers. For them, these gifts serve as the foundations of strong, healthy relationships. Perhaps, making a conscious effort to introduce them into your relationship can help you or your current or future partner as well.

What gifts do you bring to your relationship? What gifts would you like to receive? Share your thoughts in the comment section so that others may benefit and we can continue the conversation. Also, stay tuned for more biweekly blog posts covering topics that are addressed in Black Love Matters, as well as topics that you identify as important in the comment section.  As we move this dialogue forward, we will continue to examine these issues, culminating in a virtual town hall meeting featuring presentations, a panel discussion, interviews, and an interactive conversation related to Black love, marriage and romantic relationships. The town hall is scheduled for Thursday, February 11, 2021 from 1:00 to 4:00 pm (EST).

I hope that you will respond to the blog posts and join me for the town hall. You can register by clicking here

Armon R. Perry, Ph.D., is professor in the Kent School of Social Work at the University of Louisville. He can be reached at or 502-852-3234.

To order a copy of Black Love Matters, click here. Use the code LEX30AUTH20 at checkout for a 30% discount.

Posted by Armon R. Perry, Ph.D., MSW

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