How to Make Love Work: Conversation with Bashea Williams
A small and simple word. Yet, many of us find it a complex thing to manage and understand. Often, love can be complicated by the things we do to show our love. Even more confusing is when you love more than one thing. What happens when you love your career and you're in love with a person? What comes first? For many, it would seem an obvious answer. But, the reality isn't quite that simple.
There are many leaders---those managing teams and those managing businesses---who find having a loving relationship with a significant other to be a deep desire, but elusive goal. Our love for our work, our quest for success and significance, our dedication to results, and ambition can complicate platonic and intimate relationships. Often, we are misunderstood. Our passion for our work doesn't always translate into the same zeal for the people we are dating. Things tend to get lost in translation. It's like having a baby; that baby is our career, our business, and our spouse or significant other often feels left out.
I recently conducted a survey of leaders and was shocked to find that an overwhelming majority of them feel successful in their work but unsuccessful in their personal relationships. The responses for why they felt unsuccessful varied. Yet, there was an overall trend: they didn't feel understood or supported or valued for the thing that everyone else praised them for. I had a few answers, but this is something I struggle with, too. I wrote a whole blog post about the experience for Studio 351 where I unsuccessfully tried to do a guided dating series. However, that didn't quite pan out. Dating is hard; dating as an entrepreneur who is running two businesses and a brand, almost impossible. Mostly, for the same reasons that many of the leaders I polled were struggling. So, I decided to call in an expert.
I reached out to my friend, Bashea Williams, Intellectual Emotionalist, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist for some answers and advice. Bashea is the author of the Dear Future Wife® blog series and has gained a substantial Internet and social media following because of his sage advice and ability to communicate effectively with and as an intermediary between both sexes. He didn't let me down. He offered some insight for leaders who are looking for love, and those who aren't quite sure if they are ready (or open) to it yet.
Lauren Ashley: So, give us a little background. How did you get into this field?
Bashea Williams: I actually fell into the whole social work field when my mother was the property manager for several different places we lived. I grew up in The Bronx, a borough of New York City, and while a tenant in one of the places we lived my mother ran into some rent issues. To keep our apartment she made a deal with the landlord to become the superintendent if she could have rent for free. She already knew everybody in the neighborhood, so it worked out. As things got worse in the neighborhood, we moved to Virginia. We soon found out that it was a different type of the same situation we just left. Eventually, she became the property manager in one of the worst neighborhoods in Montgomery County.
Proudly, I watched as my mother managed to turn the neighborhood around. One of the things that helped was bringing in social workers and different programs. This had a great influence on me. I became one of the helpers and found I liked the idea of helping people, so long story short that's where it started.
Lauren Ashley: That's very interesting and inspiring. What specifically about marriage and family counseling was compelling to you?
Bashea Williams: Again, that goes back to my childhood and what I saw in the environment that I was raised in. There were not a lot of two-parent households or a lot of kids who were able to experience love from their mother and father in one household; there were and still are a lot of broken homes, couples who were always fighting. I really got passionate about people having healthy relationships when I found out that my parents' relationship wasn't what I thought it was. Dealing with my personal issues started my own personal journey of recovery. But, helping those who may have experienced some of the things that I experienced or helping them avoid those experiences drove my passion for families. I understood what it meant not to have a picture of or experience healthy relationships, healthy marriages, where two people come together to work together under one household.
BALANCING THE PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL
Lauren Ashley: As you know, being a leader is difficult. For those in a position of leadership, rising stars and entrepreneurs, we tend to be very driven---ambitious---and it can appear that your career comes before everything else. It appears that many highly motivated professionals succeed in their professional relationships, but find themselves struggling with their personal relationships. So transitioning slightly, as you have progressed and become successful in your career what are the some of the things that you’ve learned that could assist us? What are some of the foundations of a healthy relationship between partners that would lead a healthy family especially for those who are so busy?
Bashea Williams: First, it is about understanding what the foundation of a relationship is, and then it is about knowing that your professional relationship, the professional success, really has little to do with a relationship, in the sense that everything that you do to gain your success in the professional world does not really apply in a relationship with another person. You're not just out to individually gain something, you're not out to be something by yourself and I think that's where some people tend to mess up. That's the part they have a problem with, the one track mindset. They separate it and say, "My goal is to be a wife," "My goal is to be a husband," and then separately say, "My goal is to be successful in this way or that way." The problem is if you have that as your "goal" rather than just becoming it, you feel that if you don't have it somehow it takes away from the person that you are. Conversely, you end up not really paying attention to the person you're with or putting them first in what you want to do.
I think the goal should be "I want to have healthy relationships." That's end result. One of the bonuses is that you become a husband, is that you become a wife. Your focus is to learn "what does this person like", can we co-exist, can love each other, can we build a foundation or relationship where we learn and respect and grow together. Now, if it turns and it blossoms into a marriage, a family, a child, great. But, my focus is what are their needs and what are their wants, and what are my needs and what are my wants, so how can we build that together. That's how you build a foundation.
Lauren Ashley: With that being said you know there are a lot of people who have become disenchanted with---let's call it the environment---they must try and forge these relationships. They have very real concerns about external factors that can have a real impact on the success of a relationship. As young, intelligent people, who are success-driven and leadership-minded what do you say to them?
Bashea Williams: Well, I’ve talked about this before. Many times in the early stages of development, when our goal is to have a relationship---still puppy love and infatuation and lust---some event(s) may happen, possibly traumatic, or external events can happen to others and their relationships fail as a result, and instead of being able to or making it a goal to have both the career and relationship at the same time they say, "I'm going to focus on my career first because when I focus on relationships I get hurt." Rather than dealing with the potential for that to happen again, I'm going to block that [relationship] out and I'm going to focus on my career. Because I've been hurt too many times, my new boyfriend/girlfriend will be my career. But, when they do that it's hard to juggle and create the balance needed for a relationship. Their passion is in their career. So, when they meet people who are on the same wavelength, but not necessarily supporters---not purposely they just don't understand what you're trying to do---you end up missing that support system in the person you call your partner. I see this often with entrepreneurs.
Lauren Ashley: I'm trying to figure out how you got into my business. But, I mean if you've been hurt a couple times before and let's be real if the economy or your finances are looking funny why wouldn't you say pause? Shouldn't we be established individually (professionally and personally) before we even consider being together with someone else? How would you suggest that somebody juggle those competing interests and at the same time develop a healthy relationship?
Bashea Williams: You do it by finding someone who is trying to do both. By that I mean, someone who also has an interest and intention in advancing their career or business. Once you find that then you guys set the table where you're focusing on your career and you're focusing on a relationship. You meet each other halfway. Say, hey, lets both plan dates. Let’s both take the initiative to plan and do this and that understanding that we both are dedicated to our work and to each other. You can even have working dates. For these people you're talking about, it really boils down to being very strategic and purposeful with your dating. Being intentional about setting aside time where part of your break or part of your release is meeting with your significant other.
There is this new society where everybody is competing and is looking to be such-and-such, be at the top of their game, and everything else gets sacrificed, gets put to the side until you're at the top of your career. Meanwhile, life has passed and love(s) have passed you by. Now you’re looking like, look I have this degree, I have this job, but I don't have anybody to share it with. Sometimes, people ignore that on the way when there's the opportunity for them to share that with a person, but because they're so focused on the career because their boyfriend/girlfriend is their job, they pass those possibilities for genuine companionship and loving partnership up.
FINDING YOUR PERSON
Lauren Ashley: Ok, you're also an entrepreneur, in addition, to your professional career, so you know all about what I'm going to ask. When you're a leader jobs are demanding. As an entrepreneur, you work even harder and have even more responsibilities and stress than when you're working for somebody else. Realistically, it is very difficult to find the time, it's also difficult to find individuals who can appreciate that you don't have the quantity of time. What are your suggestions for someone who is focused on their career and trying to find time for relationships?
Bashea Williams: I don't think the hard part is really about finding the time because you can always make time for anything. The hard thing is finding someone who understands what your goal is, what your passion is, what you're trying to do and is willing to sacrifice, and you're willing to sacrifice for. Just like you're able to schedule time for meetings and just like we were able to put our schedules together for this interview, why then couldn't I "find the time" for somebody that I say I'm interested in. And there are times we don't always consider---we all need breaks---that's time. Really, you need to have open and honest communication with someone if you're really interested in them and work on creating a space for the relationship to exist.
As entrepreneurs, we look for outlets because we need them. But we have to have the open mind. Ok, part of my outlet is finding love. There are a lot of men who are not searching for love, they’re just searching for an outlet. The outlet can vary; it can be found in different types of women in different types of scenarios. You know, it could be one night I want to go to a cigar lounge and if I see somebody there I’ll talk to her for a night. I'll go to a bar and I see somebody else I’ll talk to her for a night. It's the same thing with women they might find different guys for different outlets. So, if we’re intentional about making that time and say ok we are each other's outlet, we are each other's peace, stress reliever, we are each other's goal as it relates to relationship, and we have understanding and communication, then when we create time for each other, we both appreciate that time and determine we’ll work on it together.
Lauren Ashley: So, how do we find that? What should we be looking for?
Bashea Williams: When you're in a position of power, and you're used to controlling things in your life, when you look for someone who is outside of that world (not an entrepreneur or in a highly visible leadership role), when you come home, you shouldn't come home and try to control and demand, and be this person who has to schedule everything. You're looking for peace, calm, relaxation, understanding, you shouldn't be looking to fight. Because that's what you're doing as you build your professional world, you try to create and disrupt, but when you come home you want someone who is supportive. You want a relationship partner, a helpmate, a purpose mate, you want those things in your relationship. You want someone who is the opposite of the world that you live in outside of the home. You don't want to have to be the boss, wear the cape all day. But, I'll add that as much as you want that you also have to be a person who can have that.
Lauren Ashley: Basically, you're saying it's important to find someone who can help you turn off. But, someone who also understands that your very nature makes it hard for you to turn off. So, I'm getting that we should be looking for someone who is "our peace" but is forceful enough to challenge us when need to be challenged. Especially, as it relates to making sure that we are present and emotionally available in the moment. I know for me that it is one of the most difficult parts of relationships, someone who understands the dualities that exists within me. I see that many of the people I know in similar positions face the same challenge. But, my question is how do you deal with the natural conflicts that will occur and most likely will ensue because of being challenged?
Bashea Williams: I'm guessing you're not talking about deal breaker conflicts, but rather a crisis in communication?
Lauren Ashley: Yes, exactly.
MANAGING INEVITABLE CONFLICTS WITH YOUR PARTNER
Bashea Williams: I know I've said this a few times, but it really comes down to having an open and honest communication and understanding with your partner. You need to let them know that this is what I need. I don't want to keep having this same conversation or I feel like I'm still at work. Give your partner an opportunity to understand where you're coming from. I've been in relationships where we're constantly talking about what I'm doing and my work, my business, all of that stuff, which sometimes I really just didn't want to talk about. It seemed that all of the questions surrounded what I did rather than who I was. So, I think, you need to make it clear that you want to have discussions that are about "us." Encourage your partner to be an active participant in the relationship, too. Let them know that even if you bring up your work, they should bring up theirs, too. Empower them to speak about themselves, speak about their goals, their relationship goals, random off-topic stuff. Let them know that although it may happen out of habit, you don't want to keep talking about this. However, you both have to understand that it will take time and attention to learn when those times are and how to manage them. You won't learn it in a few weeks or months.
When it will become an issue---a deal breaker---is when the partner doesn't really have a lot going on or they're not confident in what they're doing. Granted, they might be very excited and enamored---supportive---with what you're creating, but that will become problematic when you're driven because there are times when you don't want or need to talk about that. That leaves a lot of empty space in the relationship and they can't fill it.
Lauren Ashley: What suggestions do you have for the partner to pull that person out of "beast mode?"
Bashea Williams: Again, it's about them being confident in themselves. Are they confident enough to be assertive and say, "let's talk about something else" or confident enough to talk about themselves? Confident enough to believe that they have ideas and can discuss other topics. Purposely, "derailing" their partner's ongoing conversations about themselves and what they're doing at work and for their business. Just as simple as if their partner is discussing again the frustrations of the job saying, "Babe, let's take a break from that, it's ok, that will be there tomorrow. Right now, let's take a second not to focus on that." Because an entrepreneur they need that. Highly motivated leaders need that. They need that time to refresh their mind because their minds are constantly thinking, wheels are constantly spinning, and you're constantly coming up with ideas and finding fresh problems and you can't take a break...so to the other person, you need to help them redirect so they can take that break and refresh and recharge.
EXPRESSING AND SHOWING LOVE TO YOUR PARTNER
Lauren Ashley: What do you feel are some of the ways that a man can feel loved by the woman that he is in a "power couple" relationship with?
Bashea Williams: One way is that she has an investment in him. Second, being intentional about not only knowing but understanding both sides of his reality. When he needs to step away from being "the boss" and when he needs to feel empowered. Third, he needs to feel secure in the knowledge that when he's struggling with something that she will have his back even when he makes mistakes---in business or in the relationship---that she still feels that he has her best interests at heart. Fourth, that for him being a leader means he puts importance not only on the relationship but on his employees and/or business as well. So, being supportive and understanding, letting him know that she's there. Letting him know that she is with him. Showing him that she knows that the things that he does are not about neglecting her, but sometimes he does need to take some time out of the relationship and focus on his business.
Lauren Ashley: Good stuff! Conversely, what are things that you feel that women who are "bosses" would like from their significant other that they may not be getting? Or is it the same thing?
Bashea Williams: It is the same thing! But, also, some men are intimidated by women who are entrepreneurs, women in leadership positions. One of the reasons is they are intimidated because they feel the energy that a woman puts in to her business should be put towards making him happy. They don't really understand the go-getter woman. They think that men are go-getters, but women should not be. You often hear them say stuff like, "You know I understand that you're doing that, but I still need you to be the housewife, I still need you to be the nurturer, I still need you to be..." Yet, they're being selfish. They're not understanding what she's trying to accomplish and not mature enough---in their feelings and emotions, or secure in where they are, especially if they're not successful at her rate or at all, or they’re in a regular 9-to-5, or just whatever job---and they see a woman advancing in her career and/or starting this business that’s growing, or that’s blooming, or even at the beginning stages, and not understanding the sacrifices because they are not there themselves. So, a big thing is letting go of their ego and allowing that woman to blossom.
RAPID FIRE Q&A WITH BASHEA WILLIAMS, Intellectual Emotionalist
Lauren Ashley: What do you think your greatest insight as the "intellectual emotionalist" is as an entrepreneur?
Bashea Williams: My greatest insight is understanding where the heart and the mind meet. Understanding the emotion plus the thought process behind it. Just letting both sides meet and understanding that you need both to accomplish anything. You will always need a little bit of heart and a lot of your mind or a lot of your heart and a little bit of your mind. But, in everything in life you need head and heart in order to be successful.
Lauren Ashley: Interesting. That's what my coaching practice is based on. I've learned that the best leaders lead from their heart and their head. One of my favorite leadership classes was taught around balancing the head and the heart and how you bring them into your leadership role. Good stuff. Now, what's your favorite quote that would apply to what we’ve talked about?
Bashea Williams: Commit to your breakthrough or submit to your breakdown.
Lauren Ashley: Good one! A book you would suggest that leaders read to help them build their relationships?
Bashea Williams: Actually, I have a book coming out soon that will deal with this topic. Loving as a leader. Finding balance in your relationships. In the meantime, I'd suggest The Five Love Languages. It's a great book.
Lauren Ashley: Really!?!?! Where and when can we get this book?
Bashea Williams: I am currently finishing up my book. For right now, people can visit my blog. But, I am finishing my book. It’s called Dear Future Wife: A Man’s Guide and Woman's Reference to Healthy Relationships.
Lauren Ashley: That’s perfect, when do you expect it to come out?
Bashea Williams: It's should be out around Valentine's Day.
Lauren Ashley: OK, that's great. Will definitely be on the lookout for that! Now, what do you think is the biggest challenge individuals in relationships today?
Bashea Williams: Social media! I say that because of the memes, because of the comparisons based on what they see online. The instant gratification, or the facade of what they think a healthy relationship looks like. They see a picture that they think is a healthy relationship when it's just two models smiling for the camera. Or they do see a successful relationship but don't also see the hard work or what happened on the way to the photo shoot. So yeah, I think social media. Too many experts, too many opinions, too many distractions.
Lauren Ashley: Ok, any last words for singles as they go out into the dating world to find that person to partner with?
Bashea Williams: I would say be honest and open and prepare yourself. Really get to know yourself before you start dating and have those necessary conversations with yourself (or a therapist). Once you do that you can be honest and open with someone else and know exactly what you want, know what you need in a relationship. Don't sacrifice your morals. And do your homework; don't just settle for anything.
Lauren Ashley: And for married couples or those in committed relationships...
Bashea Williams: If you feel like something's struggling, seek counseling, talk to your partner. Don't let outside voices control what's happening inside your household. I have something I say often, "Be very careful of [developing] emotional mistresses and manstresses; where you’re staying in a relationship because you have an emotional outlet for what you’re not getting from your partner." You want to get what you need from your partner and not let emotions flow into outlets outside of your relationship. Lastly, I stress if you need counseling, go get counseling!
I had a great conversation with Bashea, and I hope you got as much out of our conversation as I did. He gave a lot of great advice. If you have any questions or comments, please drop them below. He is available for comment and is looking forward to talking to you!