FRIENDS, LOVERS & SOUL MATES
BY DEREK HOPSON Ph.D. & DARLENE POWELL HOPSON Ph.D.
By Luther Monday
WHO WROTE THE BOOK OF LOVE?
Derek S. Hopson Ph.D., and Darlene Powell Hopson Ph.D., both are well-respected doctors and practicing clinical psychologists. They are also soul mates, happily married, and African Americans. This is why any couple or single person wishing to find his or her soul mate would do well to listen to what they have to say. The Hopsons say it all in their book, Friends, Lovers And Soul mates. This book is basically a “how to” book for African American men and women who seek healthy, positive, loving relationships with members of the opposite sex.
In the book’s introduction, the Hopsons point out that in the isolated villages our African ancestors were taken from, there was a strong sense of community; survival depended on the tribe. Without the tribe no one would survive. During hundreds of years of slavery, the Black family was put through unimaginable trials and tribulations. Families were separated, there was rape and torture, still somehow, Black American families were, against all odds able to maintain a sense of family. The Hopsons address the fact that there is a “crisis of intimacy” within the African American community. The Hopsons also address the fact that this crisis is not only product of the holocaust of slavery and hundreds of years of oppression, but that there are many other factors which contribute to this state of crisis. Racism, misguided welfare policies, and economic struggle are among these factors.
“Why are Black men such dogs?” “Why are Black women such bitches?” These are questions, the Hopsons admit, that come up over and over in their clinical practice, and “…in conversations with friends and colleagues.” Clearly, all Black men are not “dogs,” nor are all Black women “bitches.” There is a great need in the African American community for information that will help to bridge the apparent communication gap. In their book’s introduction, the Hopsons declare, “We believe it is time for a truce. We must set aside our weapons…At a time when Black families are besieged by troubles that originate with racism and poverty, we must reclaim our heritage and the bonds of love that have allowed us to travel together thus far.”
Friends, Lovers, And Soul Mates is divided into four parts, Part I: “Setting The Stage For Love,” Part II: “Looking Inward,” Part III: “The Tools For Making It Work,” and Part IV: “Confronting The Tough Issues.” While these titles are somewhat self-explanatory, each of the parts contain insights that the layperson cannot get by simply asking their friends or co-workers for advice--- a practice, the authors remind us, is maybe the most widely used and least effective. Found throughout the book are questionnaires, scenario-based questionnaires, tests, exercises, and personality-type descriptions. These are all designed to help couples and individuals identify their own strengths and weaknesses, trends and misconceptions they may have fallen prey to, and increase their level of self-awareness.
Part I: “Setting The Stage For Love,” is divided into two chapters, chapter one: “What Is A Soul Mate?” and chapter two: “Heritage: Africa And The American Experience.” The authors use experiences of real people to illustrate their points and give life to their definitions. This is a tactic the Hopsons use throughout the book. In defining what a soul mate is the Hopsons site the marriage of a couple (Rachel and Bill), which has lasted forty years. They note that the couple in this marriage has weathered racism, a two-year separation (for economic reasons), an affair, and the tragic death of a son. Despite the challenges, Rachel and Bill remained together always valuing their mutual love and respect for each other. Part I contains a self-assessment exercise: The Soul Mate Of Your Dreams. There are statements that range from “We are emotionally intimate and can share feelings” to “The sex is really hot.” The reader is to score themselves from one to ten, ten being very important and one being not important at all. This exercise allows the reader to then assess whether the person they are with or the person they are looking for possess the characteristics that might fulfill them. The authors admit that simply having a “fantasy profile” is not the answer to finding fulfillment in a relationship. They go on to provide suggestions or “commandments,” as they call them, for those who “strive for intimacy.” These “commandments” include “Do some work on yourself,” “Look for common ground,” and “Keep the faith.”
Part I’s second chapter: “Heritage: Africa And The American Experience,” contains an outline of African American history divided into seven parts. Each part contains a historical fact, a myth that lingers and a more empowering belief. For example, the second part, “Extended families” states “The African tradition of extended families was unfamiliar to our European enslavers…The myth that lingers:... There is something wrong with me because I was raised by my grandparents…A more empowering belief: My extended family provides an enriching source of strength and support for my soul mate and me.” This entire chapter provides a historical perspective, which may give African Americans a foundation on which to build a relationship.
Self-respect is the first issue Friends, Lovers And Soul mates addresses in chapter three: “Learning To Love Ourselves.” Chapter three is the beginning of Part II: “Looking Inward.” The authors alert readers that often people are under the idea that there is a perfect person (“Mr. or Miss Right”) for each of us, and that the thing to do is to simply look until you find that person. The Hopsons tell us that if we are constantly pre-occupied with finding this perfect person, we may not be asking ourselves if we are actually ready for a long-term, committed relationship. This is where self-respect comes in. The book suggests that if you are alone, it is wise to use your time alone for reflection. The idea is that, if your ultimate goal is to be involved in a long lasting, committed relationship, you must first be aware of yourself, your needs, your fears, and your strengths. The Hopsons provide four self-esteem exercises in chapter three. Within these exercises are suggestions including joining a support group, changing your immediate environment, replacing negative thoughts with ones that are reassuring and encouraging, and making a list your own body parts that please you.
Similar to what it did in Part I, the book includes in Part II more historical perspective. In this instance, the historical perspective is discussed in relation to how racial identity is formed. The book illustrates some challenging factors involved in “becoming comfortable with your own racial identity.” The authors point out that incorporating traditional African philosophies and practices into life in modern, western society may often be difficult, especially to those of us who, by our own parents, have been bombarded as children with negative stereotypes of Black people.
Part III, “The Tools For Making It Work,” begins with chapter five: “Twelve Lessons For Developing Intimacy.” The sections in chapter five are exactly what its title implies; the lessons have titles like, “Target Your Anger where It Belongs,” “Keep Your Balance,” “Our Sisters Are Not Bitches,” “Believe In The Possibility Of Change,” and “Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help.” Within some of these twelve lessons are examples of actual couples’ experiences with relation to the lesson. Within others of the twelve, are self-help exercises/questions geared to help the reader. For instance in lesson 2, “Without Trust There Can Be No Victory,” there is an exercise along with a scoring system. These are designed “…to help you judge a potential mate’s trustworthiness.” In lesson eleven, “Recognize Warning Signals,” there is an actual list of warning signals like, “Your partner’s behavior changes suddenly” and “You and your partner spend more time with a friend of the opposite sex than with each other.”
Chapter six, “The Art Of Communication: Learning To Talk, Learning To Listen” is, like the entire book, full of suggestions and tools. The book tells us that learning to identify your own communication style is important in that, if you are not being assertive in your communication style, you may not be being understood. Your needs may not be being met.
There are four basic communication styles, aggressive, passive-aggressive, passive and assertive. We learn in chapter six about each type and ways of tailoring our responses to be more assertive than aggressive, passive-aggressive or passive. The aggressive person may make hostile statements in an accusatory or hurtful fashion. A passive aggressive person might state things in a deceitful way, perhaps agreeing to something like planning a party, while secretly plotting the party’s failure. A passive person tends not to express his or her own needs and desires and succumbs to the desires of others. There are scenarios in this chapter with each of the four possible types of responses to them. These help the reader to identify ways he or she might respond more effectively when similar situations occur in daily life. Along these lines, we learn the effectiveness of using “I” messages to avoid the heightening of confrontation when communicating. For example, “I feel hurt when you take my car and go to the club without asking me.”
Listening, of course is of the utmost importance in communication. It seems simple, however, as the book reminds us, it is easy to stop listening and become defensive when you are trying to handle sensitive or volatile subjects with a significant other. To help the reader acquire listening skills, there is a list of tips, like “Value your partner’s opinion.” Accompanying each tip are examples: “Cutting off communication: I don’t care what you have to say. Open listening: It is important that you tell me what you think.”
Part IV, “Confronting The Tough Issues” does just that. Infidelity, sexual hang-ups, money, religion/spirituality, ethnic identity, these are topics that are often delicate and usually difficult for couples to discuss and deal with in a calm, positive manner. Having dealt with all of these issues on a regular basis in their practice, the doctors Hopson are well equipped to give advice on the matter.
The Hopsons begin chapter seven, “The Enigma Of Sex, the Risk Of Infidelity,” by addressing sexuality and its centrality to a soul mate relationship. According to the text, emotional security, ability to reveal vulnerability, and compromise are some of the keys to enjoying physical intimacy in a relationship. The authors report: “…if there are impediments to your emotional rapport, or you are feeling uptight about other parts of your life, you are likely to feel vulnerable and insecure about your relationship.” They go on to describe the healthy, sexually adventurous and monogamous relationship of a couple they call “Amanda and Douglass” who are always exploring new positions. The couple is able to communicate openly and tenderly both in and out of the bedroom. The authors go on to explore what things interfere with good sex, and what one can do about it in order to, as the book puts it, “duplicate their (Amanda’s and Douglass’) accomplishments.”
As far as problems in the bedroom being a result of problems in other areas, the authors list stress, guilt, depression, anxiety, religious conflicts, and social stereotypes among them. Friends Lovers And Soul Mates states that messages received during childhood such as “sex is dirty” or “sex is nasty” can have an adverse effect on sexual relations between partners. The authors relate the experience of a patient they call “Christina” who was told by her mother, “Only girls from the projects enjoy sex.” Christina did not feel comfortable having sex with the lights on and “…was acutely uncomfortable with oral sex.”
To provide assistance in determining whether or not one has a sexual hang-up, the authors provide a sexual hang-up self-assessment exercise containing twelve questions beginning with, “Do you have sex less frequently than you would like?” and ending with “Do you avoid after-play, going immediately to sleep instead of talking, bathing together, or cuddling?” The book reports that “yes” answers to two or more of the questions may indicate a need for the answerer to “…devote some energy to exploring sexual issues.”
Further on in Part IV, in chapter eight: “Frank Talk About Work, Money, and Power,” the authors address the fact that in western society particularly, earning power is associated with power. More and more often people find themselves in relationships where the female partner earns more money than the male partner. This can cause problems. The Hopsons contend that an effective way of dealing with this situation is for each partner to label and recognize the contributions that he or she makes to the relationship. In the case of one couple chapter eight focuses on, “Althea and Jake.” Althea makes more money than does Jake. Althea tells Jake, “I hope we will not be confined by other people’s standards. I know you make many important contributions to the household and I’d like us both to enjoy our extra money.”
In chapter nine, “Dealing With Race,” issues of bias are introduced. One thing that has affected the African American community since the time of slavery is the issue of skin color. The authors make it clear in order to stop perpetuating ignorance regarding skin color and appearance, it is important to address the origins of skin color prejudice within the African American community. In times of slavery, the slave masters often treated slaves that had lighter skin and or features that were considered more Caucasian, differently. These slaves were considered by the slave masters as genetically superior to darker skin slaves, and often given the indoor jobs, less hard labor and were in closer contact with Whites. The book points out, “Many Black people have accepted these externally imposed standards of beauty…Sadly a fully enlightened perspective still eludes us.” The self-assessment exercise in this case is designed to help us identify our own biases. Each item is to be answered either, A. I never think that way, B. I rarely think that way, C. I occasionally think that way, and D. I often think that way. Two of the items listed in this exercise are as follows: “Lighter skin is more attractive to me than darker skin.” and “Most Black men are untrustworthy.”
The final chapter, “Family, Friends and Spirituality,” begins by discussing differences that may come up in a relationship such as one partner being used to celebrating Kwanza and the other partner being used to celebrating Christmas. The Hopsons admit that it can be hard to adhere to ones own family traditions and personal beliefs while at the same time honoring the beliefs of a soul mate. The Hopsons also insist that it can be accomplished with tools like open communication and mutual respect. Tips they suggest for maintaining this kind of relationship include, striving to accommodate each other, understanding the origin of your attitudes toward family, and speaking up for your partner.
Friends, Lovers, And Soul Mates by Derek S. Hopson, Ph.D., and Darlene Powell Hopson, Ph.D., is a well thought out source of advice. The authors, being both practicing clinical psychologists and African Americans, provide not only sound relationship advice, but advice given from an Afro-centric point of view. Their book takes into account the far too often overlooked historical ramifications that affect every person of color today. They give a keen insight into the reasons we think the way we think. They inspire us to be aware of ourselves. They remind us that only in being aware of ourselves can we strive to reach our true potential, and strive to find our soul mate.