Making Black Love work

February is a month dedicated to love. Couples who have seen the peaks and valleys of a relationship know better than anyone what it takes to make it succeed. Whether they’re new to this, longtime or second time, most can attest that maintaining a warm and loving relationship takes work. The Defender spoke with three Houston couples at different states in their marriage to get their thoughts and advice on making love work.

The Tillmans

Karen and Hugh Tillman

By ReShonda Tate

Married: Six and a half years, Second marriage for both

For years, Karen and Hugh Tillman sang next to one another in the choir at Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church. Married to others, they were strictly friends. After both of them divorced, it wasn’t long before Hugh knew he wanted a lifetime with Karen.

“I proposed in Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church after a service,” Hugh said. “The minister of music agreed to help me – then he forgot and service was over. When I reminded him, he stopped members from leaving. I gave a little speech talking about Proverbs 31 because Karen embodies what Proverbs 31 is. I got down on one knee right there in church and proposed.”

Not only was Karen shocked because Hugh had done everything, even picking out an outfit for an engagement photo shoot, but she was ecstatic about starting over with someone she considered a friend. The two found common ground in their love of Christ, laughter and a healthy and fit lifestyle.

“I really cherish and value most, first and foremost our friendship. That’s the foundation of our relationship, and that it’s rooted in Christ. He is a God-fearing man and he truly is my best friend,” Karen said. “I also love the way he loves on me and our family and is fiercely protective of us all. I call him my Superman. I don’t ever have to worry about being afraid of anything or anyone because I know he’s got me.”

The couple both brought children to the marriage, so it was important that they devote time to blending their families.

“When we started dating, it was like, ‘We’re a package deal. You’re not just dating me. You’re dating them too,’” said Karen, who had two children, Christian and Faith.

And Hugh, the father of a son, Mitchel, was grateful to blend the families.

“We would do things together. We would have outings together. Our dates would be together at times in advance of us officially being blended as a family in marriage. That made it much easier, more organic and natural once we did get married.”

No matter how great things are going, the Tillmans make it a point to do regular marriage check-ups and go to marriage counseling at least every six months.

“When you think about marriage in terms of your body, you can’t build muscle in your body without working out and without putting the right things in your body. And you have to be consistent with it. If you do not work out, your muscles will atrophy, right? You get weak. I think about marriage the same way. If you’re not putting that work in, that marriage is going to get weak. And so we really work at it. We have daily devotion in the morning. We attend Wheeler’s Marriage Ministry and we see a counselor at least every six months. You’ve got to work. But the final product is an amazing thing.”

Advice to couples

-You cannot have a strong marriage without having God as your foundation.

-You both have to be equally yoked, believe in the same God and pray together.

-Regularly work your marriage muscle to keep it strong.

-Take at least 20 minutes a day (no matter what) to talk to your spouse. Be very intentional where there’s no distractions.

-Be present. If you go places and someone says “I didn’t know you were married, that’s a problem.”

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The Williams

Lindbergh and Kim Williams

By Aswad Walker

Lindbergh and Kim Williams have been at this Black Love thing as a married couple for nearly a decade. And for the majority of that time, they’ve also been business partners, creating and selling Jinka, a turmeric-based all-natural anti-inflammatory product with a wide array of health benefits, which can be found at over 40 H-E-Bs.

This pair is not short on energy, as they bounce conversation and answers off each other in a way that is playful, hilarious and beautiful, all in one.

“The connection was easy,” Lindbergh said. “Communicating was easy. Loving was easy. And to me, the added force and push she brought was like, Okay. We can do something different. There’s more out there that we can reach for. And that was intriguing. That was really what I needed.”

No matter their busy schedules, the pair works at keeping the spark going.

“I’m naturally adventurous and I wanna try new things at all times. So, we’ve never really had a problem entertaining ourselves and creating fun,” Kim said. “And we can do that on a daily basis. But, since we’ve been together now for nine years, our spark comes differently because we work so hard with Jinka. One of our favorite things to do together is go to the spa and relax.”

The couple admits that they have to be intentional about making time for each other, especially while running a business, though Lindbergh would prefer some separation between work life and home life.

“We are completely in, 24/7, and it drives me crazy,” said Lindbergh laughing, before sarcastically adding, “There’s always time for a meeting.”

Added Kim, “Now, I will say, “Is it an okay time for a meeting right now?’ But we’ve merged it. We have two kids, so we’re consciously putting them in the process of what we’re doing. So, they know H-E-B. They know the product. They know the steps and the things, the meetings, and they’re part of all of that. So, it’s balance for us because we’ve put it all in one.”

Advice for couples

-Make sure you know who you are individually. So, when you come to the table with a partner you can communicate that stuff and then it doesn’t turn into bad stuff. Before you even hook up, there should be a level of self-awareness.

-Be comfortable with yourself despite it all. No matter what you’ve been through, if you’re comfortable with yourself, you know yourself.

-Be clear with each other when it comes to communication.

– Be strong when your partner is weak and vice versa. Fill in the gap for each other.

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The Modupes

By Laura Onyeneho

Have you ever been in a situation where you see or meet someone for the first time and instantly believe it’s “love at first sight?”

It might sound cliché, but for Olaniyi Modupe, when he first saw his wife Lola on a dating app, he knew he had found the love of his life.

Olaniyi is a Nigerian-born Houston millennial who had his share of heartbreaks in the dating scene. He knew he was ready for the commitment, but struggled to find his “missing rib.”

In March 2022, he figured he’d try his luck on a Muslim dating app called Salams; and the rest was history.

“Immediately, I saw her on the app, I said, this is it,” Olaniyi said. “It was her picture for me. From there, I asked her some questions to see the kind of person she was.”

Lola got acquainted with him and eventually the two started dating. During the process, Lola better understood what kind of person Olaniyi was. And bingo; he checked all the boxes regarding her expectations of an ideal partner. However, Lola says she engaged in self-sabotage of the pair’s potential because she believed Olaniyi’s actions toward her were too good to be true.

“[I] went through that ‘Men aint s—t’ type of phase. Every guy [before her husband] was trash. I gave up on men [at one point], and said ‘I’m going to marry myself,’” Lola confessed. “My friend kept saying, ‘Manifest…it worked for Ciara’. But I ain’t rich, so that was two different things. I prayed, cried and nothing worked until I got on the app and met him.

“I kept self-sabotaging every situation, but I think the moment for me was when I was sick, he picked me up and took me to the Emergency Room. He came with a bouquet of roses,” Lola said. “At that time, we weren’t together, and it wasn’t Valentine’s Day. I felt so special. I never had a guy who prays for my family, who prays over me when I’m sleeping. It was different.”

After a few months of dating, in January 2023, they had an intimate court wedding and are planning their extravagant Nigerian wedding ceremony in November.

“I feel like we are still dating [as a married couple]. I cook for her, I clean for her, I tell her we need to pray,” said Olaniyi. “It has been wonderful. It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had.”

Advice for couples

– Be friends first.

– Men need to learn how to put the toilet seat down.

– Learn to tune your mind out during arguments.

– Don’t give up on love. It takes time.

– God’s time is the best time.

– Love yourself first.

– Notice your [behavioral] patterns.

– Normalize girls’ nights. Spend time with friends