Behind the Veil: Real Advice from Real Couples for Marital Bliss

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Jessica and Nichole laughing

(Photo by Denis Largeron)

I love weddings. There’s nothing that brings my heart more joy than to see two people decide to love each other forever—warts, farts, and annoying habits, and all! It is not to be taken lightly how much perseverance it took for all couples in the Unites States to have the freedom to wed, but that alone has made me realize how much LGBTQ couples had to fight just to establish relationships—let alone marriages—in a climate that at one time refused to legally acknowledge them.

Being at the helm of the Say I Do! Wedding Expo, I have the honor of meeting some of the most amazing LGBTQ couples with love stories that rival any mushy motion picture. But as weddings and marriages are still quite new to our community, a lot of couples have no clue how to even begin the process of a wedding, let alone what it takes to establish a lasting marriage once they say, “I do!”

As a member of the wedding industry, we are always asked for best practices: what’s the best advice for cutting costs, your favorite first dance song, how to invite Aunt Margret (twice removed and thrice divorced) to the wedding; you name it, there’s an article about it. But in this season, I felt like it was imperative to go behind the veil and ask real couples some questions about planning LGBTQ weddings and sustaining LGBTQ marriages. Because who else can relate to you better than someone that’s been through it?

Each of the featured couples is at a different stage of the marriage cycle, and each has a bit of valuable wisdom to share.

 

NEWLYWEDS

Aiyi’nah & Eleadah

Married: March 16, 2017

Aiyi’nah is the Executive Director at The Future Foundation and Eleadah is an author.

What was your favorite wedding or wedding planning memory? What was your least favorite memory?
Our favorite wedding planning memory was choosing Aiyi’nah’s dress. It was not as they depict on television. Aiyi’nah knew exactly what she wanted and we were out of there in less than an hour. I convinced Aiyi’nah to leave the dress at the store. I presented it to her the night before she had major surgery as a surprise. It was my way of letting her know I’m here and I’m serious about our forever. The hardest part was attending all of the wedding expos because some are a scam. We did a lot of research online as well. Ultimately, the kindness and community at Say I Do! led to us using several vendors from the event.

What was the hardest decision/hardest aspect of the planning process?
We made a firm decision not to invite anyone to our wedding, not even family. We also decided to postpone our wedding reception into a wedding anniversary a year from now. We worried about what people may think, but they can’t execute our vision or pay for it. Our goal is to win and not just look like we are winning.

What advice would you give to couples planning their wedding post-marriage equality?
It’s going to get more challenging but making the marriage happen and taking advantage of our rights are what’s most important. Don’t let anyone treat you or your spouse with disrespect. Also, having a wife is way different than having a girlfriend.

 

Newlyweds Zekeera and Thérésa looking at one another

(Photo by Denis Largeron)

Zekeera & Thérésa

Married: August 19, 2017

Zekeera (36) is a Marketing Executive and Thérésa (35) is a Psychiatric Research Data Manager.

What advice would you give to couples planning their wedding post-marriage equality?
Be patient with the process and vendors, and don’t take offense. Some of our vendors hadn’t worked with same-sex couples, so there were questions that came up in terms of terminology and how to modify traditional wedding standards to accommodate our needs. There were small things we ran into, so you just have to be prepared for it. However, we had an AWESOME team, who were very accommodating and went above and beyond to make sure our wedding was perfectly crafted to fit us.

What was your favorite wedding or wedding planning memory? What was your least favorite memory?
Thérésa’s favorite wedding planning memory was finding the perfect wedding dress. Zekeera’s was finding/settling on the perfect venue. Finalizing the guest list was our least favorite part of planning.

Interesting fact about your wedding.
We decided to incorporate Thérésa’s West African heritage in the wedding by having a West African–style rehearsal dinner. She and I both wore Ankara print outfits. Our bridal party also matched us, wearing traditional head wraps and satchels.

Best advice for a lasting marriage?
Definitely fostering a partnership based on open communication.

 

FIFTH ANNIVERSARY

Jessica and Nichole laughing

(Photo by Denis Largeron)

Jessica & Nichole

Married: April 13, 2012

Jessica (27) is a Mobile Radiologic Technologist and Nichole Renea Berry (29) is a #1 Mom

Why was it important for you to renew your vows after you’ve transitioned?
I felt that it was important after my transition to renew my vows with Nichole because I wasn’t the same person anymore. So much had changed since the last time I said, “I do.” I was no longer in the military, I had completely changed my career field, and most importantly, I was living the life I had always wanted as my true self: a young energetic woman. Nichole had also changed in the fact that she was no longer a shy and withdrawn woman. She was free to be the lesbian she is because her family had oppressed her. Nichole is much happier because we are both being ourselves and that to me seems like a good reason to renew the love we have for each other.

What advice would you give to other couples who want to start a family once they’re married?
In our case, Nichole and I had a child before I started my transition. Natalie is the best thing that has happened to us. We planned for her and we knew she was coming. The advice that Nichole and I would like to share is that you should enjoy married life before having children. We waited over a year before we started trying to have a family. Enjoy each other and truly discover what it is that draws you to one another. Once you know that, you are ready to share that gift with a little one of your own.

What would you change if you could plan your wedding all over again?
Looking back on it and myself being a transgender woman, I wish we could have walked down the aisle together in our wedding gowns in a beautiful chapel. With family and friends happy to see us tie the knot but that’s what the five-year anniversary is for: making up for missed opportunities.

Best advice for a lasting marriage?
My wife and I believe that an open line of communication with each other is essential for a lasting marriage. We should be together on things and not be divided because all that will do is create a rift between us.

 

Joi and Lindsy wedding photo

(Photo by Exclamation Imagery)

Joi & Lindsy

Married: October 13, 2012

Joi (34) works in private security and Lindsy (33) is a Director at a non-profit organization.

What advice would you give to couples planning their wedding?
There are so many small details that you think you need to worry about. But in the end, it’s the two of you joining your lives together and no matter what ends up happening, take it all in stride and let the day be special.

What was your favorite wedding planning memory?
We decided on doing cupcakes for our wedding cake and meeting with the baker to taste all the yummy options was Joi’s favorite memory. I also loved the tasting, but my favorite part was working with a dear friend on making the bouquets, corsages, and boutonnieres. We used fake flowers, feathers, and wooden roses, so my bouquet sits on my dresser now looking the way it did on our wedding day.

What would you change if you could plan your wedding all over again?
We both actually really enjoyed our wedding day and can’t think of anything we’d change.

Best advice for a lasting relationship?
Lindsy’s advice is don’t just be lovers, be best friends. Joi’s advice is laughter. She says, “As long as she can make me laugh, she knows we’re going to be okay.”

 

THIRTY-FIFTH ANNIVERSARY

Toni and Arlene embracing

(Photo by Denis Largeron)

Arlene & Toni

Married: Pre-legal: 12/23/85; Legal: 10/18/2012

Toni is a IT Specialist, Business Consultant and Tax Preparer and Arlene is a retired Police Lieutenant.

Interesting Fact.

We connected on a spiritual and emotional level. We knew we wanted to be wed, but LGBT marriage was not legal. Because of that, we had to pledge our love and speak marriage over ourselves in 1985. When my job finally recognized same-sex unions for health benefits, it was still not legal in Maryland where we live. We were legally married in my mother’s Washington, D.C. home on October 18, 2012. We chose that date as a remembrance of Toni’s uncle, who was like her big brother. He had passed away one year after being rescued from Hurricane Katrina. We wanted to honor his legacy of always finding something to smile about and his cherished laughter and all of its healing powers, so we chose to celebrate his life and legacy by getting hitched on the anniversary of his passing to bring smiles to those who cared about him and us, rather than sadness.

We knew it was a blessed day when Arlene’s mom, who up to that point, had not accepted our relationship, agreed to have our wedding in her home. Arlene was in such shock when she offered that she still cannot completely remember having that phone conversation with her!

Best advice for a lasting marriage?
In the midst of all the mess life throws at you, remember why you said “I do.”

Pray for and with each other daily. It is deeply endearing to actually hear the prayers your partner makes for you and your life.

To end a disagreement or to come back together after a disagreement do this: grab and hold your spouse’s hands in yours, and while lightly massaging their hands, look deeply into their eyes, and think about all the things you love about them. Take a deep breath. This melts away any lingering bad feelings, puts the issues in perspective, and allows you both to talk and move past it.

A relationship of this length is beautiful and very rare nowadays, for both straight and LGBTQ couples. How are you able to sustain your love and keep that spark after so many years together?
Read The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. It helps partners to realize that they may not have the same expectations of loving actions. This can help couples avoid a lot of frustration and confusion.

Pray, laugh, and cry together. Whatever you go through, do it together. Support each other through it.

Continue to feed your relationship. Be affectionate, do little things to make each other smile, try something different together every so often to stir the adrenaline and keep it fresh!

What has been the hardest lesson/experience you’ve faced as a couple, and how did it change the dynamics of your relationship?
Once one understands the rhythm of the relationship and all of the baggage we all bring, we can unpack those things, one by one. You can then share the hurts that it caused you and begin the process of healing so that you can be fully present in this relationship. Rather than focusing on the demons of the past, both parties now know the past and can fully appreciate the person those experiences helped to shape the person that you are married to.

 

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LET’S GET SOCIAL!

We asked our Say I Do! community to chime in on advice for couples planning a wedding and here’s what they had to say:

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@realgirlrunway
It’s your wedding day! You don’t have to play by anyone’s rules but your own!

I

@unforgettablehair
My advice as an upcoming bride is do it for yourself and no one else. It’s y’all wedding and invite those who support you 😊

I

@krfcards
Remember each other… things are going to get hectic the closer you get to your big day. Just breathe!! Lol

 

 

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Sharia Barksdale
Sharia Barksdale
Sharia Barksdale is your straight-ally bff. She’s been shaking, sticking, and moving in the hospitality industry for the last 10 years. She’s been at the helm of the DC Say I Do! Expo (www.sayidoexpo.com) for the last two years, and she has yet to meet a piece of chocolate she doesn’t like! She’s also the CEO and Resident Rock Star of Eclectic Fete, an event company that’s kinda dope.