After a year of noticing each other at open mic sessions and political rallies in the Bay Area, Nefertina Abrams and Zotunde Morton started dating. The two quickly bonded over their passion for dance and reggae music. And by the time they realized that there was a 13-year gap in their ages, they were already in love.
However, after six years of dating and two children, Nefertina, 41, and Zotunde, 28, are now growing apart. She is tired of delaying the next step in their relationship: marriage. But he wants to address the miscommunication between them before taking the relationship any further. Nefertina recently left the rough neighborhood where she and Zotunde shared a home and moved to a suburb more than an hour away, making it even harder for them to bridge their emotional distance.
"When I was growing up, my father was the stabilizing force in my life. He taught me the value of a good man who knows how to treat his woman, and the importance of always putting family first. I'm not trying to teach Zotunde how to be a man, but I think he could take a lesson from my dad. "With my father's death in 2004, I lost my rock. I realized that tomorrow isn't promised and that Zotunde and I needed to stop taking each other for granted.
"After taking a long look at my circumstances, I made some big decisions. The first was to move out of the apartment that Zotunde and I shared with our two sons and my two sons from a previous relationship. Our neighborhood had become violent and the school system was terrible. It seemed like Zotunde wasn't ready to make that move, so I left.
"My children come first, and marriage would offer additional stability for them. Any doubts, fears or hesitation I had about our relationship were put aside after our second child was born.
"Over the past year I've watched a lot of Zotunde's close childhood friends get married to women they didn't even have children with. He has examples of people his age who are growing up. Playtime is over. It's time for us to get serious. I'm through with dating the father of my children."
"Communication between Nefertina and me has never been very good. From the beginning of our relationship, Nefertina has had certain expectations of me to which I was totally oblivious, like contributing financially to the household, helping with the kids, and prioritizing our new extended family over my lifelong friends. Instead of telling me what she needs, her favorite line is 'You should know.'
"Nefertina and I are not able to disagree without attacking each other's point of view. While we've discussed marriage as a future possibility, she's never expressed that she wants to get married right now! To this day, there's never been a sit-down about how we can make this happen without her forcing me to accept an ultimatum.
"After a really intense argument last year, Nefertina told me that she didn't feel as if I was making our family my number one priority, and she broke up with me. She even changed our plans to move to a home in the immediate area together. Instead, she chose a house far from my daughter from a previous marriage, my job and school. Every time our relationship gets difficult, Nefertina wants to end it. She only told me a month ago that she really wanted us to work things out.
"I'm not ready to marry Nefertina. I learned from my first marriage that people change. And you just don't know if you'll love the person they'll become. I've seen it happen in my previous relationship, and with both my parents who've been married multiple times. Being married won't change the problems we need to overcome in our relationship. I'd like to see us successfully work through our issues before we add more to the list. I am willing to try my best to work on the issues that keep coming between us-I'll even go to counseling with her. But this process will take some time."
AN EXPERT'S OPINION
By Dr. Gwendolyn Goldsby Grant
Nefertina's right: Playtime on the romantic roller coaster must come to an end. But that doesn't mean it's time to jump the broom. Living and loving in mature ways means communicating effectively and finding the right ways to express grievances, something Zotunde and Nefertina really need to work on. Here's how they, or any couple with similar circumstances, can begin to break their deadlock:
ï¿½ Write It Out. Six years of assumptions, miscommunication and turning a blind eye to their differences is starting to show its harsh effects. Zotunde and Nefertina should each make a list of hot-button issues and make an effort to discuss various ways of handling them. Using a list will help them keep arguments focused on resolutions. It will also help measure their progress on their recurrent problems, like marriage, work, money and location.
Stay Flexible. They must choose their battles and be willing to compromise. This might mean that Zotunde has to stop working in the city or Nefertina has to settle for less of a financial contribution from her man, but know that he'll spend more time with the kids. You might not get everything you want, but you can at least meet in the middle.
Set Expectations. Cohabitation is a trial period but not necessarily a commitment, as Nefertina and Zotunde have learned. Once communication gets back on track, they must create new standards for living together. They can set a probationary period with mutual agreements about location and divisions of responsibility. This might be the perfect way for them to resolve the mistakes they made the first time around.
Get a Third Opinion. Couples therapy will help them iron out conflicts sooner rather than later. Having a third party mediate their disagreements might offer insight into how they can move their relationship forward at a healthy pace. Or they can talk to a priest or pastor who offers premarital counseling.
Psychologist Gwendolyn Goldsby Grant is a contributing writer for Essence and author of The Best Kind of Loving: A Black Woman's Guide to Finding Intimacy (HarperPerennial).
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