In the 1990s, Fox’s Thursday-night lineup featured a young, black couple for the hip-hop generation attempting to make their relationship work amid a changing world.
In the comedy Martin, Martin Payne (played by comedy icon Martin Lawrence) is the loudmouthed brother following his passion at a local radio station. The college-educated Gina Waters (played by Tisha Campbell-Martin) is his prim-and-proper girlfriend with a blossoming career at a white-shoe advertising firm.
Viewers watched as they weathered storms about career pressure, money—more specifically, who made more money than who—and whether it mattered, difficult mothers-in-law, eccentric neighbors (Hey, Shenehneh), nosy, but well-meaning, best friends, and whether two people from opposite sides of the track could truly be together forever. Peruse through dating-advice websites today and it’s clear that couples are still being confronted with these kinds of issues.
As a nod to The Root’s poll that asks our readers to vote for the greatest black TV shows of all time (Martin is on the list), here are six segments from the Lectures to Beats Web series that feature real-life couples therapists giving advice about Martin and Gina’s relationship and how men and women today can learn a thing or two from it:
1. Martin should go easy on the inflated expectations he has for himself as a man and as a romantic partner because they are smothering both him and Gina.
Krystal Stanley explains that because Martin doesn’t see himself fitting the bill for what a man is and because he has very explicit ideas about how a boyfriend should provide for his girlfriend, those insecurities emerge in unhealthy ways. His famed “I’m a man!” chant was cute and funny for prime time, but in real life, men would suffocate their Ginas with that kind of behavior.
2. While it’s OK that Martin and Gina are at different stages in their careers, there is a very strong possibility that insecurity may set in with the person who is not formally educated if he or she doesn’t address it.
Sylvia E. Rosario sees African-American couples like Martin and Gina come into her office with similar dynamics. The problem is not so much that one person is mad at the other for being better educated but that typically, people without a formal education cannot articulate themselves in the same manner as their partners. Rosario has some interesting advice for black women (check out the video), since they’re typically the formally educated partner.
3. Martin gets major kudos for opening up about his desire to provide for Gina and his disappointment when he cannot.
Drew Joseph—whose work is informed by Buddhist principles—admires Martin’s ability to communicate his career anxieties to Gina, something that most of Joseph’s male clients struggle to do. Laurel Fay, another therapist, adds that if more men were expressive about that evolutionary instinct to provide, it would allow women to honor that intention and be more compassionate when trying to reach a middle ground about everyone’s moneymaking abilities.
4. Like most relationships, there are vulnerabilities lurking in the majority of Martin and Gina’s arguments. Therapists say they need to be identified—immediately.
Lurking amid every single argument is the emotion of fear, and so couples like Martin and Gina should ask themselves of what are they fearful. Laying everyone’s fears on the table—however mushy and pride-stripping that conversation might be—will make for more productive disagreements and smoother resolutions.
5. Divorce? Martin’s self-imposed exile convinced one therapist that he had the burning desire to improve his character and make his marriage work.
Rosario candidly explains why she believes Martin and Gina’s relationship wouldn’t last. She argues that at the core, Martin has way too many insecurities about his capabilities as a man, and being in a relationship with a woman who—on paper—is seemingly more capable than he is, he will ultimately fracture the union. Fay, on the other hand, found that Martin’s self-imposed exile showed a depth to his character that she felt demonstrated his resilience, which is something that makes for long-lasting, healthy marriages.
6. One therapist found Martin to be “great husband material” because he is emotionally available and vocal about what does and doesn’t work for him.
Joseph opened up about his understanding of the male mind and described the deficiency that he found a lot of men feel about certain things. Contrary to popular belief, Joseph finds that most men envy women’s ability to express their emotions. That Martin is a bit more adept at displaying his raw emotions puts him leaps and bounds ahead of most husbands.
Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele is a staff writer at The Root and the founder and executive producer of Lectures to Beats, a Web series that features expert advice for TV and film’s most complex characters. Follow Lectures to Beats on Facebook and Twitter.