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'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
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7 Sex-Related Problems That Ruin Sex (And Possibly Your Relationship)
Not too long ago, while in an interview, someone asked me to define one of the main purposes of sex in a long-term relationship: “Probably the most intimate form of communication that we have is sex because it’s an act that connects one’s physical, mental and emotional state to another human being simultaneously — and communication doesn’t get much more profound than that.”
That’s part of the reason why the term “casual sex” irks me to the billionth degree (check out “We Should Really Rethink The Term 'Casual Sex'”); it’s because, even if you think that sex with someone is next-to-nothing, there is so much going on within you (oxytocin highs, if you’re unprotected, fluid bonding, chemical reactions in your brain, etc.) that doesn’t know if someone is “the one” (in your mind) or not. So, in many ways, it acts like they are (check out this YouTube video from a Catholic woman who studies some unexpected ways that sex affects us physically here; sex goes deep, y’all!).
Yeah, sex is so much more than a notion, and that’s why I’m a firm believer that it is such a barometer for long-term relationships overall — because, as I’ve shared before, I once read that, “Good sex in a relationship is 10 percent of the relationship while bad sex in a relationship is 90 percent of the relationship because sex tends to set the tone for what’s happening in the rest of the house.”
And that’s why I think that there are certain sex-related issues that can not only damage your sex life with your partner but could also end up ruining your relationship if you’re not careful (very careful). Let’s get into seven of them now.
1. Being Unaware of Your “Body Clock”Giphy
I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve had who’ve come to me in some serious trouble, in part due to their flailing (or partly nonexistent) sex life. When I ask them if they went to premarital counseling (if you’re engaged, please do; you have a 33 percent greater chance of avoiding divorce when counseling transpires), many say “no” and the ones who say “yes” usually say that it was no more than 3-5 sessions and the topic of sex barely came up (le sigh). Meanwhile, with my premarital meetings, I try and stick with intimacy for three months if I can because there is a lot to unpack, from what you learned as a child, to your first time (or if you are a virgin), to your needs and fantasies, to how you see it from a spiritual perspective — like I said, there is a lot to unpack there.
Take the mere practicality of sex, for example — and more specifically, your body clock. Do you prefer to have sex at night or in the daytime? A lot of couples struggle with intimacy because one prefers the former while the other likes the latter. Do you keep track of when you’re ovulating? It’s pure science why you are probably hornier during that time of the month (because your body is signaling that it’s time to conceive) vs. the fact that you might not be the most interested in sex when you’re PMS’ing. Are you premenopausal? Hormones shift a lot during that time, and here’s the thing — while menopause only lasts a year, the premenopausal stage (which typically starts between 45-55) can last between 7-14 years. Even paying attention to when you have more energy (some do in the day…morning sex, anyone? While others do early in the evening) can play a role.
So yeah, getting to know your body clock (and discussing your partner’s clock with them) can play a role in how much — or how little — sex you have…and that can add life or drain it from the relationship overall.
2. Comparing Your Present with Your PastGiphy
There is a wife of almost 20 years I know who, when I asked her if she thought that her husband was good in bed, she paused for a second, shrugged her shoulders, and simply said, “I was a virgin when I got married, so I have nothing to compare him to. I mean, he’s good to me.” On the flip side, there’s a now divorced couple who I also know (who almost made it to 20 years) who had multiple partners before each other while also having a deep interest in porn who once said to me, “Sometimes, there’s as much as 15 people in our bed because of all of the people from our past and the porn that we’ve seen that’s running through our heads.” Yeah, y’all can act like body counts don’t matter, but there is so much evidence out here that says otherwise — that couple just gave one that doesn’t get talked about as much as it should.
You know, one of my favorite throwback shows is King of Queens (Kevin James, Leah Remini). A few weeks ago, I watched a rerun where Doug and Carrie were talking about the images that come up in their minds, sometimes during sex. Neither was too happy about it, and I can totally see why. I mean, if sex was just about “getting off” (and it’s not), then whatever. However, AGAIN, it’s also about connecting with your partner on a mental and emotional level, and that’s hard to do if you’re there with them in the body while you’re fantasizing about a celebrity, a porn actor (porn is usually acting, don’t let it fool you) or an ex (check out “You Love Him. You Prefer Sex With Your Ex. What Should You Do?”).
And what if that is what’s going on? I once spoke with a sex therapist about this very thing. What she said is people should be less concerned about celebs (if it’s on occasion) and more concerned about that ex because rarely is sex with an ex…just about the sex.
And that’s why this point made the list. If you’re physically with your partner and mentally or emotionally with your ex at the same time, please don’t ignore that. There are definitely some unresolved issues there that you need to work through, whether it’s with a therapist, counselor, or coach, a trusted friend (who won’t add fuel to the literal fire), or even with your ex — although you might want to run that by your partner first because…I’m pretty sure you’d want him to do that with/for you. RIGHT?
3. Not Being Clear About Your Sexual NeedsGiphy
Question — if someone were to walk up to you right now and ask you what your top seven sexual needs are, along with what your top five sexual dealbreakers are, would you be able to answer? It really is kind of wild how many people get upset with their partner for not being able to sexually satisfy them when even they can’t articulate what they need/require in order for that to happen. Yeah, it’s another article for another time about how many people UNREALISTICALLY (and yes, I am yelling it) think that someone loving them well means that they should be able to read their mind. Nope.
It truly can’t be said enough that sex — especially good sex — is about communication. Hmph. It makes me think about a clip that I saw from Tonight’s Conversation podcast (can’t find it at the moment; sorry) where a woman asked how she should tell her partner that he hasn’t been pleasing her, I believe she said for years. My first thought was if he doesn’t know that, she must be faking orgasms (more on that in a bit) which is not only lying — well, it is —, but it’s also pretty counterproductive because while he thinks that he’s “getting the job done,” she’s not fulfilled and resentment is setting in.
Please don’t let rom-coms (fiction) and social media (which is oftentimes fictitious) have you out here thinking that a good lover is someone you automatically gel with who knows exactly what to do; sometimes that is the case, and oftentimes it isn’t.
So, if the sex-related issue that you’re having in your relationship is that your sexual needs aren’t being met, first do you (and your partner) a favor by doing some sex journaling (check out “The Art Of Sex Journaling (And Why You Should Do It)”) so that you can tangibly see what those needs are and then plan time within the next week or so to pour a couple of glasses of wine, put on some 90s R&B and discuss with your partner what you need. Because actually, what a good lover is, is someone who listens and retains. This brings me to the next point.
4. Minimizing Your Partner’s Sexual NeedsGiphy
A husband once told that when he and his wife were in premarital counseling, something that he mentioned was a bona fide need was fellatio. According to him, his wife told both him and their counselor that she loved giving head. Fast forward to eight years of being in their union, and guess how many times that act went down? A measly four. FOUR TIMES (check out “Sooo...What If You HATE Oral?”).
It’s another message for another time, the amount of people who will “false advertise” during the dating stage in order to get to their goal of marriage. It’s also another message for another time how much that is a form of manipulation that tends to backfire in ways that the manipulator is oftentimes not prepared for.
For now, what I will say, is never think that just because something may not be a need for you that it isn’t a legitimate one for someone else. I mean, how would you feel if that’s how someone treated you? Yeah…exactly.
Yet that is just what happens in a lot of relationships, including when it comes to their bedroom. They will think that their needs should be met, hands down, yet when their partner comes with what’s important to them, all of a sudden, there is dismissiveness, nonchalance, and/or excuses — and how could that not rear its ugly head on so many levels?
Your partner’s sexual needs are essential, even if they are not your own. Never assume that you automatically know everything about them. Also, never assume that what worked two years ago is what will “scratch the itch” now. Hmph. Come to think of it, while you’re sipping on that wine and clearly articulating to him what turns you on, use that as an opportunity to ask him to return the favor. Listen with humility, receptiveness, and intent — the best kind of relationships process their partner’s needs with this kind of vibe…across the board.
5. Taking the “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It” ApproachGiphy
Lazy lovers. When you hear that phrase, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? If it’s someone who is just lying there during sex, that would certainly qualify; however, I’m actually speaking of a different kind of laziness here. Believe it or not, some synonyms for lazy include words like apathetic, inattentive, tired, passive (cough, cough), procrastinating, neglectful, and slacking. So yeah, if you and/or your partner can use any of these words to define what sex is consistently like between the two of you — red flag, red flag…RED FREAKIN’ FLAG.
Speaking of being passive, another potentially serious sex-related problem is taking on the attitude that if something ain’t broke, you shouldn’t fix it. What I mean by that is, just because you know that getting on top and riding for exactly six-and-a-half minutes is what will get your partner off, that doesn’t mean that it should be your automatic go-to all of the damn time.
Why? Because. While a part of the fun of having sex is “reaching the peak,” another component that should never be underestimated is discovering new territory: trying new positions, creating a sex bucket list, taking (more) sexcations, playing sex-themed board games (put that phrase in Amazon or on Etsy’s site and go ham!)…you know, doing what will inspire creativity and deter either of you from becoming bored.
That said, a husband of 17 years once told me, “A man can be satisfied with the same woman. We just don’t want the same kind of sex with her.” Words to live by. Yes, indeed.
6. Using Sex as a Deflection or Coping MechanismGiphy
A few years ago, I wrote an article for the platform entitled, “Make-Up Sex Might Be Doing Your Relationship More Harm Than Good” — and with good cause. Words cannot express how many divorced (or soon-to-be divorced) women have told me that a part of what kept them in their marriage, for as long as they stayed in it, was the fact that the sex with their husband was beyond amazing…even though so much other stuff completely and totally sucked. Hey, good sex isn’t a bad thing (c’mon now); however, if it’s the only real thing that’s keeping you with someone, it can turn out to be a toxic deflector.
The reason why I say that is the purpose of sex isn’t to make love; it’s to celebrate it. And if all you’re doing with your partner is f — king and fighting or avoiding issues by stripping down or thinking that sex will “make it all better,” all the while not really knowing what the problem/issue is or what needs to be done to get down to the root of it, that is using sex as a pacifier and again, that’s not what sex is designed to be. Sex doesn’t deserve the pressure of being the end-all to “fixing” ish.
So, if what’s transpiring in your relationship lately is very little talking and a whole lot of sexing, and then once the sex is over, something still feels “off,” that’s a good indication that you’re misusing sex on some level. Get out of the bed, put on a robe, and do some talking (preferably in a room other than the bedroom; leave that space for sex and sleep only as much as possible). Because remember — as much as the wives that I mentioned said that their husbands once had them climbing the walls, those men are still ex-husbands now. Bottom line, sex is good, yet when it comes to keeping a relationship together, it will never be enough. Again, it was never designed to be.
7. Faking ItGiphy
I will never be a fan of faking orgasms. Maybe it’s because I’m a Gemini (we may be a lot of things, but “fake” isn’t really our style). Maybe it’s because I’m a very word-literal individual, and I know that fake means things like “prepare or make (something specious, deceptive, or fraudulent)” and “to conceal the defects of or make appear more attractive, interesting, valuable, etc., usually in order to deceive.” Or perhaps it’s because I don’t get how acting like you’re sexually fulfilled when you actually aren’t is doing anyone any good. Whatever it is, whenever a client (or someone in general because men fakealmost as much as women do) tells me that it’s something they do, I immediately find myself on a mission to shut that mess down (check out “Why You Should Stop Faking Orgasms ASAP”). ALL THE WAY DOWN.
The main reason is that, regardless of if the motive is to hurry things along, not hurt your partner’s feelings, or it’s something more cryptic than that (cough, cough, some form of manipulation tactic), there’s no way around the fact that fakeness is tied to deception and deception is a word that should never be connected to a healthy sexual dynamic.
Besides, one could argue that faking is a form of deflection as well because…wouldn’t it be better to just get it all out in the open WHY you are doing it than to keep pretending when life is too short and great sex is too good to not get the absolute most out of it, as much as possible?
Besides, again, chances are that if you’re faking that you’re sexually pleased, you’re probably faking something else in your relationship (or situation), and how could that possibly be good, right, or beneficial?
Yeah, when it comes to being satisfied across the board, please don’t fake it. State your case in the way that you’d like to hear something said to you, and let the chips fall where they may. If you’ve got a good man, he’s gonna — no pun — rise to the occasion. If his ego can’t handle it, well…that’s something that you should find out sooner than later — when it comes to the bedroom and outside of it? Right? #shoyouright
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