Let’s face it: relationships are hard. Anyone who tells you otherwise has never been in one. For Black people relationships can be especially challenging, and it’s not because of the supposed statistical lack of available partners as the tired “no one loves Black women” news specials would have us believe.  The media’s constant promotion of our woeful marital prospects is what I like to call “The Black Female Thunderbolt Phenomenon”, which basically tells us that sisters are more likely to be struck by lightning than to find a suitable partner.  Their best “research” has concluded that there are no available men, we’re scientifically less attractive, and too mouthy for our own good. Hell, if we took their position as gospel, we don’t even have a need for any relationship experts…we’re doomed beyond hope!

The current relationship expert landscape has a huge variety of voices…including a few guys who are instructing women on how they can improve their chances at love by thinking more like the men, much to my womanist chagrin. These experts have identified the issues, but many have never actually lived in the solutions they propose.  And as far as I’m concerned, if you haven’t had to put it into practice, it’s only theory.

I’m proud to say that my “relationship expert” stripes have been earned through years of experience with what does and doesn’t work.  I know what it is to love. I know what it is to lose love. I’ve been cherished, cheated on and I’ve cheated. I’ve also experienced the ultimate breakdown in love as a victim of domestic violence (and a survivor for the past fifteen years).  And I’ve seen firsthand how the power of love can transform lives. Lord knows it has transformed mine.

Black love is in crisis and there’s a huge need for adjustment in how we approach dating and relationships.  My mission is to try and affect change by helping to shift our dialogue on what it means to be intimately partnered. And that’s where this column comes in.

For the past five years, I’ve been working full-time to empower men and women to make healthier relationship choices through writing, lectures and workshops. Among my writings have been a women’s empowerment based self-help book, various website contributions and a monthly column for a major national men’s magazine.  While many of the magazine’s readers expressed more interest in having off-the-chain sex than cultivating a good relationship, this experience still gave me valuable insight into what’s really on the minds of men.  And for the record, it’s true that the majority of men feel discussing relationships is about as enjoyable as getting a prostate exam.

Women, Black women in particular, have taken on an unfair amount of responsibility for the overall quality of our relationships for far too long.  In order for us to have healthier unions, we need to make it a more equitable distribution.  Let me be clear about one key thing: in spite of their sometimes contrarian and confusing approach to relationships, I love Black men…I am definitely “down with the brown.” And while I write from the perspective of a heterosexual woman, I do want my dear LGBT friends to feel that this space is for them to explore and interpret for their needs as well.

I’ve been single, shacked up, married and divorced – and at 41 I still haven’t given up on love. Within the ashes of every failed relationship are the tools for greater self-awareness and an increased capacity to love again. My work in the community-be it in churches, prisons, campuses or shelters-has shown me that we all have the same struggles in life and love – the outcome is often a matter of context.  Simply put, a healthy relationship is one of life’s greatest gifts. And a bad one can cost you your mind, if not your life.  

I believe that success in love is not based upon looks, age or experience…it’s about positioning yourself from a space of confidence and empowerment.  And it’s my life’s work to help others learn to love themselves and make smarter relationship choices based upon that self-love. So whether you’re determining if that new person is worth your time, strengthening an existing relationship, deciding whether or not to move on or going through a painful breakup, consider me your no nonsense girlfriend that’s going to give you straight shooting and grounded relationship advice without apology.

Sil Lai Abrams is EBONY.com’s Relationship Expert and the author of No More Drama: 9 Simple Steps to Transforming a Breakdown into a Breakthrough and a board member of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. You can connect with her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. Got relationship questions? Email her at [email protected]