Navigating romantic relationships has been quite challenging in this season. The ongoing pandemic has created bridges apart from our loved ones–whether we live with them or not. The ongoing uncertainty based on the time we're living in has just brought on more anxiety, depression, and isolation.
There is so much data out there saying the pandemic has either torn people apart or brought them closer together. Our whole lives got flipped over a year ago, which has caused a lot of friction for people to face their insecurities and underlying issues in their relationships.
For many people, this is the first time they have paused to address specific areas in their lives and question their intentions in every category in their lives. And often, when people see the things they have to work on, they may choose to push the other person out because it's what feels safe to them versus opening up and trying to work on things as a team.
The major issues couples are facing during the pandemic:couple yell GIF by Cam'ronGiphy
One of the unique factors that keep recycling itself during the pandemic is simultaneous stress. Most times in relationships, both individuals aren't dealing with stress coming at them from every angle, so it allows one person to be more supportive while the other person is trying to process the next chapter in their lives. However, COVID has made it challenging for both partners—whether they face job loss, which adds to financial stress, losing a loved one due to COVID or any other health condition, and having limited or no access to engage with other people and events to attend to take their minds off their issues for a moment.
I asked differentiation-focused therapist Dr. Paul-Roy Taylor, from online therapy platform Choosing Therapy, how he would advise dealing with simultaneous stress this season. His perspective was quite informative. "A little compassion goes a long way, which is easier when the stress is unrelated to the relationship. It's important to recognize no one signed up for this brand of coupling: together all the time, no external stimuli, no friends, working from home. It'd almost be unusual if stress levels weren't high right now.
"Start by separating those things that are actually within your control from those that aren't, then take a look and see which stressors you control as a couple, followed by talking about those particular concerns with your partner. This will help you diffuse the stress in the right directions while freeing you to focus on the stressors that are yours to bear and trying to disregard the ones that no amount of worry is going to fix."
The keyword is compassion because it's hard on everyone in this season. I know it's hard to be completely mindful regarding your approach to being present for your loved one, but the best you can do is try to be gentle and understanding as you'd like them to be for you. It's that little effort that will take both of you a long way.
Many people are also dealing with the lack of healthy boundaries during this season. Boundaries are essential because it allows individuals to deal with things first by themselves to function in their relationships. Due to the limited outside support systems like seeing family and friends to balance our emotional and mental headspaces, couples are now forced to rely only on each other for everything—which can add a lot of pressure and conflict to their union. Our amplified home lives leave very little room to separate work life, time for yourself, and couple time which interferes with maintaining a balanced routine.
Tips for maintaining a healthy relationship during the pandemic:high five tracee ellis ross GIF by HULUGiphy
Believe it or not, communication is the most essential aspect of any and every relationship. During this season, anxiety, stress, and depression are incredibly high and often lead couples to having more negative emotional reactions and arguments. And because tension is so high, it can lead to couples withdrawing from being more intentionally open about how they're doing and feeling on a daily basis.
I asked Dr. Taylor how he would advise individuals in relationships to communicate more mindfully or intentionally when they struggle with communication how they feel often. He mentioned a few insightful tips. "That's usually a problem with fear of conflict, the need for validation, a desire to keep the peace, trouble tolerating anxiety around difficult conversations, or some form of all four.
"I advise people to try out new communication skills with people they don't care about and work up. It's much easier to start working on communication skills when the stakes are low since you'll be building up your tolerance for when it really matters."
We all have topics we aren't as fond of speaking about in a relationship, but it's essential to actively deal with the issues versus suppressing them and having them blow up in the future because you're choosing to avoid it for temporary comfort. Life has been hectic as hell to get through, but we have to continue to seek new ways to support each other actively. Being mindful of our intentions is the root of our beginning to make things better, and it starts with being open to talking about how we can support one another. Instead of hanging on to every word your partner is saying, lead with being a good listener and stop taking things personally—constructive criticism is the backbone to our growth.
Set up a clear routine to help add some form of structure to help motivate each other. Pencil in work time, you time, us time, and try your best to maintain those boundaries to help each other thrive in this season. If you're in a long-distance relationship, make sure you and your partner are staying on track with your FaceTime dates, whether daily or every other day. There are still many ways you can grow together, read books, watch movies and shows, play online games, or work out together on FaceTime.
Tips for couples interested in exploring couples counseling:
The pandemic has added many news issues in relationships, and it has also amplified existing problems. Some individuals are having a rough time dealing with how to deal with personal issues while still being present in their relationship. "It's important to differentiate a pure couple's problem from a problem that's affecting the couple," said Dr. Taylor. "Is each person a participant in this problem, such as with sexual foreclosure or boredom? Or is it that one person is having an issue, such as anxiety, depression, stress management, etc., and it's affecting the relationship? For couples problems, I do not advise individual therapy. I would suggest that unless it is a purely mental health issue, individuals should endeavor to solve relationship problems in couples therapy and not individually with their own therapist.
"After all, what do you have to say about your relationship that a therapist deserves to hear, but your partner doesn't? That sounds like avoiding intimacy to me. And it certainly doesn't help to be in both couples therapy and individual therapy if you just keep the peace in couples and then go talking behind your partner's back about the real stuff to your individual therapist, which is most often what happens."
You can pick and choose when you want to be open with friends, but transparency in a relationship is necessary all the time. Even when we have good intentions, and they end up making our partner feel bad, we have to choose to work through it together. This is why couples therapy can take the lead with learning how to hear each other more effectively and learn how to support each other in rough times.
I asked Dr. Taylor what advice he had for couples that are having a tough time in this season that are open to seeking couples therapy but aren't sure it can repair their relationship or maybe are just afraid of being vulnerable with a stranger. As per usual, he had some gems to share.
"The goal of couples therapy isn't to repair the relationship. It's not about supergluing you both together regardless of circumstances. Largely the first step in couples therapy is getting the partners to make a decision about whether they even want to try to be together. It's very common that one person sitting in the room has already left in their head, and they're just going through the motions. The second step is to agree on what the problem is. Couples don't always walk in on the same page with that issue. So I would say if you're considering going into couples therapy, if at a minimum, you have a goal of gaining a better understanding of what you each want in a relationship and a partner, as well as what kind of partner you want to be.
"If you go in with that mindset, it has a high degree of success—if not now, then in preparing you for couplehood down the line. It also helps you succeed because it does not depend on what your partner does in terms of how they handle themselves in couples therapy and their willingness to engage in the process."
I know times are rough for all of us in some way or form, but I just want us to take our time with ourselves and our significant others. Tread lightly and lead with trying to understand first rather than pointing the finger at your partner. We can't win being opponents; we can only win as a team to celebrate our shared victory.
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Ajeé Buggam is a content writer and fashion designer from New York City and an alumna from the Fashion Institute of Technology. She specializes in writing about race, social injustice, relationships, feminism, entrepreneurship, and mental wellness. Check out her recent work at Notes To Self
Exclusive: Gabrielle Union On Radical Transparency, Being Diagnosed With Perimenopause And Embracing What’s Next
Whenever Gabrielle Union graces the movie screen, she immediately commands attention. From her unforgettable scenes in films like Bring It On and Two Can Play That Game to her most recent film, in which she stars and produces Netflix’s The Perfect Find, there’s no denying that she is that girl.
Off-screen, she uses that power for good by sharing her trials and tribulations with other women in hopes of helping those who may be going through the same things or preventing them from experiencing them altogether. Recently, the Flawless by Gabrielle Union founder partnered with Clearblue to speak at the launch of their Menopause Stage Indicator, where she also shared her experience with being perimenopausal.
In a xoNecoleexclusive, the iconic actress opens up about embracing this season of her life, new projects, and overall being a “bad motherfucker.” Gabrielle reveals that she was 37 years old when she was diagnosed with perimenopause and is still going through it at 51 years old. Mayo Clinic says perimenopause “refers to the time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause, marking the end of the reproductive years.”
“I haven't crossed over the next phase just yet, but I think part of it is when you hear any form of menopause, you automatically think of your mother or grandmother. It feels like an old-person thing, but for me, I was 37 and like not understanding what that really meant for me. And I don't think we focus so much on the word menopause without understanding that perimenopause is just the time before menopause,” she tells us.
Photo by Brian Thomas
"But you can experience a lot of the same things during that period that people talk about, that they experienced during menopause. So you could get a hot flash, you could get the weight gain, the hair loss, depression, anxiety, like all of it, mental health challenges, all of that can come, you know, at any stage of the menopausal journey and like for me, I've been in perimenopause like 13, 14 years. When you know, most doctors are like, ‘Oh, but it's usually about ten years, and I'm like, ‘Uhh, I’m still going (laughs).’”
Conversations about perimenopause, fibroids, and all the things that are associated with women’s bodies have often been considered taboo and thus not discussed publicly. However, times are changing, and thanks to the Gabrielle’s and the Tia Mowry’s, more women are having an authentic discourse about women’s health. These open discussions lead to the creation of more safe spaces and support for one another.
“I want to be in community with folks. I don't ever want to feel like I'm on an island about anything. So, if I can help create community where we are lacking, I want to be a part of that,” she says. “So, it's like there's no harm in talking about it. You know what I mean? Like, I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change. I'm just getting better and stronger and more intelligent, more wise, more patient, more compassionate, more empathetic. All of that is very, very welcomed, and none of it should be scary.”
The Being Mary Jane star hasn’t been shy about her stance on therapy. If you don’t know, here’s a hint: she’s all for it, and she encourages others to try it as well. She likens therapy to dating by suggesting that you keep looking for the right therapist to match your needs. Two other essential keys to her growth are radical transparency and radical acceptance (though she admits she is still working on the latter).
"I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change."
Gabrielle Union and Kaavia Union-Wade
Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images
“I hope that a.) you recognize that you're not alone. Seek out help and know that it's okay to be honest about what the hell is happening in your life. That's the only way that you know you can get help, and that's also the only other way that people know that you are in need if there's something going on,” she says, “because we have all these big, very wild, high expectations of people, but if they don't know what they're actually dealing with, they're always going to be failing, and you will always be disappointed. So how about just tell the truth, be transparent, and let people know where you are. So they can be of service, they can be compassionate.”
Gabrielle’s transparency is what makes her so relatable, and has so many people root for her. Whether through her TV and film projects, her memoirs, or her social media, the actress has a knack for making you feel like she’s your homegirl. Scrolling through her Instagram, you see the special moments with her family, exciting new business ventures, and jaw-dropping fashion moments. Throughout her life and career, we’ve seen her evolve in a multitude of ways. From producing films to starting a haircare line to marriage and motherhood, her journey is a story of courage and triumph. And right now, in this season, she’s asking, “What’s next?”
“This is a season of discovery and change. In a billion ways,” says the NAACP Image Award winner. “The notion of like, ‘Oh, so and so changed. They got brand new.’ I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
"I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
She continues, “So I'm just trying to figure out what's next. You know what I mean? I'm jumping into what's next. I'm excited going into what's next and new. I'm just sort of embracing all of what life has to offer.”
Look out for Gabrielle in the upcoming indie film Riff Raff, which is a crime comedy starring her and Jennifer Coolidge, and she will also produce The Idea of You, which stars Anne Hathaway.
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If you are looking to bring a little spice into your life, dating a fire sign is the way to do it. These bold lovers are confident enough to take the lead but may surprise you with how generous they are as well. Fire signs are the heat, the passion, the charisma, and the heart of the zodiac. They are often the initiators in love, and don’t mind making the first move. The three fire signs: Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius, love uniquely in their own way, but all have a lasting impact on those they meet.
You can feel a fire sign’s energy from a mile away, and getting close to them on a romantic level is a whole other type of heat.
Fire Signs in Love: What Is It Like To Date a Fire Sign?
Dating a fire sign is exciting, heartfelt, intense, and sexy. Fire signs are some of the most independent of the zodiac signs, yet they are also some of the most loyal. Their inner fire will warm your heart, but treat them badly, and it can just as easily burn. Due to fire signs' nature of feeling everything a little more heightened, they make empathic lovers, but they can also let their feelings overwhelm them and become easily irrational or agitated.
Fire signs can get heated quickly, and dating an unevolved one can get messy as they love to put on a show. They need a partner who is a good balance to their fierce nature, but someone who isn’t going to put out their inner fire in the process.
When it comes to who fire signs are looking to date, they look for partners who can love just as passionately as they can, and expect an unwavering type of loyalty. They are also looking for confident lovers, as they aren’t one to play games or beat around the bush. They are the type of partner to be your biggest cheerleader and will support you in all your endeavors, building up your self-esteem in the process.
These lovers are ready to risk it all when it comes to their relationships and love, and dating them is a fun adventure, to say the least. These are creative, confident, romantic, and heart-warming souls, and dating a fire sign is inspiring.
Dating an Aries
Aries are independent lovers. They are free spirits that are a little hard to settle down with, as most fire signs are, yet you will know how much they are willing to give and put into the relationship through their efforts. You have to be going at the same pace as them in life, and they need to see you as someone who can keep up with them to gain their respect and commitment. Aries have a vision when it comes to their life and love, and are looking for a partner that aligns with their plans or goals that they have for themselves.
Aries, at their best, are loyal and exciting; at their worst, they are competitive and brash.
When it comes to dating an Aries, they want to do things that keep their energy moving and stimulate them. They are fun lovers and are constantly doing things as a young soul does, fueling their spirit. Aries doesn’t want to feel restricted or limited in any way and seek relationships where there is a certain amount of freedom, which in turn sometimes leads them into emotionally unavailable relationships. An evolved Aries seeks their balance and finds themselves in long-lasting partnerships where they can still feel authentically themselves.
Dating an Aries is a compelling adventure.
Learn how an Aries pairs with each sign of the zodiac in love here.
Dating a Leo
Dating a Leo is like entering a rom-com movie. Leos are bold, outspoken, and dramatic lovers. They tend to prefer a spotlight on them, but when it comes to love, they are usually willing to share the stage. Leos want a grand love. They are all about outrageous romantic gestures, complete and utter loyalty, and a little spice. Leos want to be adored, and when you are dating one, they want all of your attention to be on them. Evolved Leos understand they cannot be the center of everyone's world, but Leo’s still going through their love journey may find themselves entertaining drama and controlling the scenario.
Leo’s, at their best, are playful and loving; at their worst, they are irrational and disruptive.
All in all, however, Leos can make some of the best partners to date as they rule the 5th house, the house of romance, dating, love, and flirtation. They are fun partners and are often the ones planning the dates or outings, and creating an atmosphere that is happy and inviting. They are the type to create an uplifting energy in their relationships, and you can expect a lot of laughs in this pairing. Leos don’t hold back when it comes to most things in life, including love. They will express their love and admiration for you often and will expect the same respect in turn.
Dating a Leo is a statement.
Learn how a Leo pairs with each sign of the zodiac in love here.
Dating a Sagittarius
Sagittariuses are hard to grasp, but if they decide to let you into their world, you’ll find a space of wonder, adventure, and magic. There are many different stages a Sagittarius moves through in love, and as much as they like to do things quickly in all other aspects of their lives, when it comes to dating, they tend to take it more slowly. They are not the type to be in a rush to define the relationship and take their time when opening their heart. You will feel their love, their personality, and their attention, but getting to know their deepest selves, their goals, and their dreams is going to take time for Sagittarius, and they prefer to have some fun with you while they get there.
Sagittarius, at their best, are warm and hopeful; at their worst, they are harsh and disingenuous.
Being ruled by abundant Jupiter, Sagittarius lives larger than life. They want a love that feels like it was destined by the stars, and it needs to make sense and fall into place for them with ease. They are looking for all types of synchronicities and signs when dating you, and once you make it past this stage, they truly have their eyes open to you. Sagittarius wants to go on adventures, learn, travel, and explore the world and you while dating. This is a spontaneous sign, and if you can match their energy of passion and wanderlust, then this is a good match for you when it comes to love.
Dating a Sagittarius is a journey.
Learn how a Sagittarius pairs with each sign of the zodiac in love here.
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