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Valentine’s Day special: couples share memories, relationship advice

By Nicole Alcindor

Haitian-American couples, black love, Valentine's Day
Sandra Lisney and Pierre Antoine, of Baldwin, New York, fell in love more than 30 years ago. Courtesy photo.

This Valentine’s Day, couples share their stories of falling in love and keeping their relationships strong.

Antoine & Sandra: Love at first sight

When Pierre Antoine first laid eyes on Sandra Lisney, his heart immediately began beating faster, he broke into a sweat and his palms became damp. By coincidence, both Antoine and Lisney, both young adults at the time, were in Haiti for attending a child’s first communion. Neither knew about the other until that fateful day at the first communion party. 

“I instantly felt an intense inner desire to approach her because of her rare beauty,” said Antoine. “I knew that I had to get her number, but I also knew that the first few words I would ever say to her would make the biggest impact of where things would go.”

Whatever Antoine said apparently went over well. The pair, who live in Baldwin, New York, married 27 years ago.

“It was definitely love at first sight for me,” Lisney said. “My husband is always planning something, so I know for this Valentine’s Day, we will go out and have a huge dinner and he always buys me beautiful flowers.”

These days, as Antoine and Lisney celebrate their love, they also shared the secrets to maintaining a romantic relationship. At the top of the list: effective communication. 

Asking simple questions like ‘how are you feeling?’ has helped them improve their relationship and become more engaged listeners. 

“During arguments, sometimes it’s better to just let her talk because women talk a lot,” Antoine said, with a laugh. “But seriously, sometimes being the man in a relationship is being quiet and just being an attentive and active listener.”

“The man has to come down from that angry place and be silent,” Antoine added. “When everything calms down, then try to get things back to normal.”

To Lisney, compromise is not optional, she said.

“[Compromise] is an absolute requirement and sometimes that means you’re not always right,” she said. “Patience and love are key and that is only possible if you are talking and listening to your partner.”

Jesse & Gabrielle: Friendship before romance

Jesse Ulysse, 33, and Gabrielle Thomas, 26, were once best friends. Over time, their bond developed into more and they have been together for almost two years. 

Ulysse, of Valley Stream, and Thomas, of Franklin Square both write music as a hobby. That’s how they first met in 2014, during a musical writing session at Krematorium Studio in Elmont, New York.

Now, the couple often spend long hours together learning Creole, dancing konpa, exercising and working on their musical projects together. 

“I love Gabby so dearly and I want to protect her and take care of her because she is the most genuine person I know,” Ulysse said. 

Throughout their relationship, Ulysse and Thomas said, they make an effort not to dwell on arguments. They have also found more peace over the past year from attending art therapy sessions, which involves working on art projects while receiving counseling with a licensed art therapist. 

Haitian-American couples, black love, Valentine's Day
Gabrielle Thomas and Jesse Ulysse became friends after attending a music writing session. Courtesy photo.

“We really prioritize each other’s wellness, healing and mental health—which is the forefront of our relationship,” Thomas said. “In many relationships, the woman is always the one who is allowed to be more emotional. But, our relationship is different from other relationships based on the fact that we challenge gender roles because we are both emotional and vulnerable with each other.”

Ulysse added, “Embracing mental health in my romantic relationship has changed my life and we aim to continue to maintain knowledge about each other’s mental health.”

Patrice & Grace: A common bond to build on

When Grace Awo and Patrice Harvey met during medical school orientation two years ago, the Howard University students instantly bonded over their shared Chistian faith. Since becoming a couple 10 months ago, they have used scriptures and motivation to please God by communicating in a more patient and loving way with each other. 

“All couples should have God as the center of their relationships, great communication, the same moral standards, attraction towards each other, and the willingness to learn and grow with each other,” Harvey said. 

“God needs to be the center of the relationship,” Awo said. “Trying to get to the root of the problem using God’s biblical standards helps you to realize that it’s not about who is right or wrong, but it’s about trying to understand and love each other in order to resolve the problem.”

Nicole Alcindor

Nicole Alcindor is a freelance reporter for The Haitian Times, covering the community in eastern Queens and Long Island.
Feb. 14, 2021

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