What’s in it for me? Hard-won relationship wisdom.

Twelve years of marriage, twenty years together, and four kids – not bad numbers for a couple who, “didn’t want to get into anything serious” when they first started flirting as 18-year olds. Devale and Khadeen Ellis have been through a lot – career changes, financial difficulties, intimacy issues – and stuck together through it all.

What makes their relationship so successful? The pair credit their healthy, fulfilling romance to one thing: as a couple, they’ve always forged their own path together. And they’ve found that the path to a relationship that works is prioritizing your partner’s needs over your own.

Not convinced? Well, in this Blink to We Over Me, we’ll unpack just how this unconventional strategy works and how to implement it in your own life.


Putting “we” before “me”

Do you want to feel better, more recognized, and more appreciated in your relationship? Well, stop thinking about yourself, and start thinking about your partner.

This advice might notsound like it’s going to solve your problems. But believe it or not, it’s been tried and tested by Devale and Khadeen Ellis – the podcasting duo and social media sensations also known as “The Ellises.”

Here’s the rationale behind putting “we” before “me” in relationships. In any relationship you have to ask yourself, Do I have the desire and capacity to serve this person? So many people make the mistake of focusing on what their current or potential partner can do for them, whether it’s to support them emotionally or provide for them financially. But if you’re only focused on what you can get out of a partnership, you’ll never grow as a couple.

You might feel that focusing on fulfilling your partner’s wants and needs feels more like putting you before me than we before me. But guess what? If your partner adopts this same mindset, they’ll be doing the work to put you first, too. And when you’re both focused on serving each other, then you’ll lift each other up – and as a couple, you’ll reach far greater heights than you could have dreamed of reaching as individuals.

In Khadeen’s words, marriage is a service-based industry. For your marriage to work, you both have to serve each other. Here are a few more counterintuitive lessons Khadeen and Devale have learned along the way:

Not everyone is equipped for a relationship. If you’re someone who knows you can’t commit to serving your partner, be honest with yourself about that. And if you’re partnered with someone who can’t – or won’t – commit to serving you, it might be time to move on.

Love isn’t easy. Sure, it might feel easy at first, when you’re riding that addictive high of novelty, romance, and lust. But beware anyone who tells you that your relationship should never feel like work. Without addressing problems, facing challengers, and navigating conflicts, your love can never last.

You have to love marriage, not just a person. When you marry someone, you can’t just commit to them – you need to commit to the idea of marriage, too. People change. They surprise you. They disappoint you. When you commit to marriage as a concept, you commit to weathering those changes, those ups and downs, together – and coming to peace with the fact that the person who was your perfect soulmate on your wedding day, won’t always live up to that ideal. And neither will you. And that’s OK!

Your marriage won’t solve your personal problems. Single people who spend a lot of time on dating apps often tell Devale and Khadeen how wild the modern dating world is – a jungle of inflated egos, unhealthy behaviors, and unresolved baggage. Guess what? Coupling up won’t cure any of those problems. If you’re in a relationship, use the tools you need – like meditation, journaling, and therapy – to keep working on yourself as well as your partnership.


Stop comparing yourself to other couples

Khadeen and Devale talk to a lot of couples who feel their relationship just isn’t as great as it could be. In particular, they feel their relationship doesn’t fit the blueprint for romantic partnerships – whether that’s the glamorous, loved-up couples they see on social media or the fairy-tale “happily ever after” pairings they’ve been exposed to since childhood.

Now, for these couples, the problem isn’t necessarily their relationship – it’s the blueprint. Love, romance, and partnership are not one-size-fits-all concepts. If you’re trying to twist your relationship to follow someone else’s rules, you’re already on the wrong track.

Your relationship, your rules.

Khadeen and Devale have been together since they were teenagers. They met before Devale found success in football and later in acting, and before Khadeen followed her own dreams to become a makeup artist, television personality, and inspirational content creator. They’ve weathered the highest of highs and the lowest of lows together. And they attribute the longevity of their relationship to their commitment to creating their own romantic blueprint.

When they started dating, as teenagers, Khadeen and Devale broke all “the rules.” They were both upfront that they didn’t want to be exclusive with each other, and both fooled around with other people before finally settling down. It was Khadeen, not Devale, who first initiated physical intimacy. And when Khadeen got pregnant when she was 19, and then had an abortion, the couple made the conscious decision to stay together and support each other through the trauma they felt in the wake of this decision.

As their relationship grew more committed, there were other rules they had to learn to break, too. They had to step away from the romantic blueprints they’d learned from their families.

Devale had learned how to win arguments from watching his parents fight, and he went into his relationship with Khadeen thinking that she’d never respect him if he didn’t win every point in his arguments with her. That’s something he’s had to unlearn.

Khadeen’s mother was stuck in domestic habits that she resented – that’s why she warned Khadeen not to get in the habit of fixing meals for Devale. But after giving it some thought, Khadeen realized she enjoyed making Devale’s meals – and felt rewarded and recognized for her efforts. So while she saw that her mom’s heart was in the right place, she rejected this advice.

Both Khadeen and Devale grew up in households where tensions were only aired behind closed doors; in public, the families were careful to maintain a perfect image. Neither of them enjoyed the pressure this created within their households – now, they’re known and loved for sharingtheir relationship, warts and all, with the public.

So, make your own rules and be your own blueprint. Because if you’re trying to emulate another couple, you’ll never be the best version of yourselves.


A firm foundation for your partner

Thanksgiving, 2011. Khadeen wanted to stay home and celebrate with Devale and their young son, Jackson. Instead, she was heading out to work crazy hours at a MAC makeup store in the lead-up to Black Friday.

For the Ellises, the honeymoon period after their 2010 wedding was lightning fast. Things got very real, very quickly when they realized that Khadeen had gotten pregnant during their Jamaican honeymoon. Meanwhile, Devale was transitioning away from his NFL career and trying to establish himself as an entrepreneur and actor. But the transition was proving tougher than either had hoped. Without regular paychecks coming in from the NFL, and with baby Jackson on the way, finances were tight. During and after her pregnancy, Khadeen worked full-time in retail at MAC to secure her family’s income and health insurance. Devale committed to being a stay-at-home dad.

The pair dealt with a lot of resentment during this challenging period. Both of them had internalized the idea that the man should be the breadwinner, while the woman should stay at home with the baby. Devale wanted to contribute more financially. Khadeen wanted to spend more time with Jackson. Instead of talking to each other about their expectations and frustrations, they became alternately irritable, combative, and withdrawn.

But when they started to communicate more openly, they saw that letting go of their internalized ideas about gender roles would help them move away from fixating on where they thought their partnership should be – and toward focusing on where it actually was. Crucially, they acknowledged that each was just trying to serve the other as best they could in the circumstances.

What’s more, once they put aside their own egos, they could work toward their common goals. Once Devale got enough acting work to join the union, he was able to secure his family’s insurance. He told Khadeen that it was his turn to hold down the fort – now, she could make a leap of faith. Khadeen handed in her notice at MAC and established herself as a freelance makeup artist. Within three months, she was making more than Devale was at acting. But without Devale’s foundation, she would never have struck out on her own in the first place. A good relationship doesn’t privilege one partner’s goals over the other’s – it pivots to ensure that both partners can achieve their common goals.

Living out their relationship as they do on social media, Khadeen and Devale are well aware that their service-oriented relationship has its fair share of critics. Khadeen’s been called “submissive” and Devale’s been called a “simp” – aka the kind of guy that lets his partner walk all over him.

Do they care? Nope.

Throughout their relationship, Devale and Khadeen have continued to serve each other by providing a solid platform from which their partner can reach for their dreams. Their setup may look a little different from the norm, but they couldn’t be happier.


Keep having sex!

The conventional wisdom holds that – post-wedding, post-children, post-decades-together – even the hottest couples will find that their sex life naturally starts to fizzle away. But the Ellises are anything but conventional when it comes to relationships. So, when sex started to feel like a chore and life in the bedroom was beginning to turn stale, Devale and Khadeen found ways to prioritize physical intimacy.

The pair don’t want to brag, but their sexual chemistry is off the charts. Their sex drives, however? Let’s just say Devale’s sex drive is much higher than Khadeen’s. In the early days, their relationship was off-again on-again. And their mismatched sex drives were responsible for a lot of those off-again moments. After having children, Khadeen was constantly busy and stressed-out – she had too much on her mind for sex to feel appealing. After having children, Devale was constantly busy and stressed-out – he needed the reassurance and release that sex provides.

How did they break this cycle and learn to live with their out-of-sync libidos?

First, they took the guilt out of talking about their wants, needs, and boundaries around sex. If Khadeen says she doesn’t always want sex, she’s not telling Devale he doesn’t turn her on. And when Devale expresses a desire for more sex, he’s not putting pressure on Khadeen, just openly sharing his needs.

Second, they got comfortable having the same conversation about sex over and over again. Devale wanted more. Khadeen didn’t. For a long time, the conversation didn’t shift. And it got pretty monotonous. But the key thing was that they kept talking about sex. Having the same discussion about sex over and over isn’t necessarily a problem – but not talking about sex is a deal-breaker.

Finally, they each figured out how they could serve each other sexually – without foregoing their own needs and desires. Khadeen got honest about the roadblocks to intimacy that her hormones and postpartum depression were creating. She helped Devale understand how her libido ebbed and flowed throughout different seasons of her life – and she sought help from doctors and therapists to recover her sex drive. What’s more, she had lots of fun finding non-penetrative ways to please Devale.

For his part, Devale acknowledged that while it was as easy as flicking a switch for him to get in the mood, things worked differently for Khadeen. He saw that as his wife moved through different stages of her life, the things that used to regularly turn her on didn’t always work anymore. He supported Khadeen in finding new turn-ons. Together, they discovered that travel and new experiences which provided a break from routine really got Khadeen in the mood. Now, kid-free quality time and weekend getaways are a regular part of their routine.


Final Summary

In a world that’s focused on individual empowerment above all else, Devale and Khadeen Ellis have taken the radical step to put their partner’s needs before their own. They credit this attitude of service and selflessness for their relationship’s longevity – and their individual successes within their partnership.