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The Secret To Navigating Romantic Relationships During The Pandemic

We can't win being opponents; we can only win as a team to celebrate our shared victory.

Love & Relationships

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.

Here is a run-through of some of the major issues many romantic relationships are facing and some tips for improving your love lives during these challenging times.

The major issues couples are facing during the pandemic:

couple yell GIF by Cam'ron Giphy

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 partnerswhether 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 everythingwhich 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 HULU Giphy

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 personallyconstructive 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:

Shutterstock

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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Featured image by Shutterstock

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

This article is in partnership with Staples.

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