Valentine’s Day Special: Secrets to successful relationships

Valentine’s Day is Tuesday, Feb. 14, a day devoted to love. Couples who have seen the peaks and valleys of a relationship know better than anyone what it takes to make it succeed. Maintaining a warm and loving relationship takes work. The Defender spoke with two Houston couples from different generations – one married and one engaged – to get their thoughts and advice on love.

Pastor Ed & Saundra Montgomery

Dr. Montgomery, founder and pastor of Abundant Life Cathedral, has been married to his wife for 40 years. The two met as teenagers in a church in Cleveland, Ohio, where they each sang in two different gospel choirs before Saundra Montgomery’s mother introduced her to him.

He is an author, musician and songwriter. She is an author, life coach and inspirational speaker who has worked alongside her husband for 30 years.

“Marriage first and foremost is a spiritual relationship,” Dr. Montgomery said. “It works best when two people are connected individually to God, walking with Him, obeying Him in the Scripture, and praying as individuals and as a couple.

“If you push the spiritual element to the side, you are ignoring the very God who created marriage and the One who can help you make it work.”

Saundra Montgomery said she has maintained their relationship like one would tend a garden with three tips her mother taught her.

“My mother taught me three components that I use today,” she said.

“The first is communication and being each other’s best friends. The second is giving him space. He likes to travel, attend speaking engagements, and further his ministry, and I know how important that is to him so I allow him the space and time to fulfill his dreams.”

Her third component for a successful relationship involves knowing how to cook.

“It sounds cliché, but the truth is, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” she said with a laugh.

While their marriage started off in bliss, they’ve faced various challenges and hardships through the years, including one of the most heartbreaking things a couple can experience – the death of a child.

“We have two adult sons, Eddie and Simeon,” Dr. Montgomery said. “But our daughter, Angela, passed away at the tender age of 14 after a long battle with cancer.”

Creating an “honesty space” is how he and his wife work through their troubles. He said communication is a key piece in healthy relationships, especially during the rough patches.

“To keep the lines of communication open to move forward, my wife and I created an honesty space, which is us sitting in the living room, in two chairs facing one another, and airing out our difficulties,” he said.

“This is where we take turns speaking and respecting the other’s thoughts and opinions, and then working it all out.”

In addition, Saundra Montgomery believes that as a wife, maintaining one’s appearance is important.

“Whatever my husband likes, I try to accommodate,” she said. “If he likes a certain perfume, I’d wear it. If he likes a certain style of dress, I’d wear that as well. It’s all about keeping up with whatever he likes and vice versa.”

Keeping up your appearance not only can make your spouse happy, it can keep the excitement going, she said.

“Knowing your partner, understanding and valuing their true selves is critical,” he added. “My wife and I try to make every day one full of love and we don’t take each other for granted.”

Philip Turner & Brianna Sims

Houstonians Philip Turner and Brianna Sims are planning an October wedding after dating for four years. He is a technology specialist for a credit card processing company and she is a beauty advisor at H-E-B.

He said honesty and compassion are crucial in a relationship. “It’s all about putting yourself in the other’s shoes and trying to understand how they feel,” he said.

The Texas Southern University graduates met through a mutual friend at church one Sunday morning and continued their relationship on TSU’s campus. Sims said it was Turner’s personality that first caught her attention.

“He had a contagious sense of humor,” she said. “Whenever he laughed, I found myself smiling as well.”

Sims says their relationship began after developing a close friendship, one that involves God and being true to each other.

“We have a deep friendship that comes first before our relationship where we can be complete goofballs around one another and joke like brother and sister,” she said. “It’s the ‘little things’ that truly matters for us, whether it’s leaving small notes for one another, sending random text messages throughout the day, getting dressed up and going out as a couple.

“Whether it’s to a club or a formal function, we just like enjoying each other’s company.”

Turner said it’s important to be able to comfortably confide in one another without being judged.

“In the beginning we both wanted to express and communicate to each other in full details and not leave any parts of a story out,” he said. “If there was ever a problem, I didn’t want someone to tell her anything that I had not already told her myself.”

Sims said she relates to the “five love languages” made popular by author Dr. Gary Chapman – words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch.

“I need words of affirmation from him daily,” she said. “On the other hand, he needs physical touch and quality time.”

Sims added that  “nipping it in the bud” immediately is imperative in terms of communication.

“When either one of us has something on our chest, we let the other know why we feel a certain way,” she said. “You can’t expect or assume for your partner to know what’s wrong with you by your actions or mood swings. You have to communicate to them why you feel that way, and express to them what made you feel that way from start.”

Turner said couples need to keep outsiders out of the relationship as well.

“When we are upset, we don’t spill all on social media which will only give room for others to be in the middle of our business,” he said. “That’s a sure way of ruining something good.”

Couples shouldn’t rush into anything either, Sims added.

“Get to know him or her first,” she said. “Become friends first. Know yourself and love who you are, because if you don’t love yourself, how can you expect for someone else to do so?”