How are things going?
I know that can be a hard question to answer right now. So far we’ve survived a global pandemic, white supremacy is on the rise, and war is breaking out in Europe.
Remind me again which century we’re living in?
Working on your relationship may seem like a small priority with all the uncertainty in the world these days and so many big problems to address—but stressful times are when it’s most important to stay connected with loved ones and our support systems.
The pandemic was not kind to many relationships these past couple years. Raise your hand if you reached at least one breaking point (of some kind or another) in the two years of isolation and uncertainty. 🙋🏻♀️
As we work on rebuilding and addressing the collective and individual traumas we all suffered, it’s important to remember that this experience will continue to affect us and our relationships going forward.
It’s on each of us to decide what we do about it, together.
Communication and stress in relationships
Now more than ever, it’s important to communicate clearly and openly with intimate partners about ongoing stress and feelings.
Extreme and/or chronic stress can bring up old wounds, especially for people with trauma. And uncertainty is best put at ease through lots of empathetic communication.
When external or internal stressors are affecting communication in a relationship, regular moderated conversations with the guidance of an intimacy coach or therapist can help keep everyone on the same page and connected to each other through empathy.
I have a new client couple who’ve been having intimacy problems. In our first conversation it turned out both of them were feeling insecure and uncertain about different areas of their lives—and without talking about it, each was reacting to the stress in a different way which led to mismatched feelings of intimacy in the bedroom.
This is a very common problem in intimate sexual relationships. And most of us aren’t equipped to talk about intimacy in a clear, open, effective way.
When the couple were able to express each other’s frustrations and probe deeper into what was bothering each of them, they were able to understand better what the other was going through.
Which meant they could start addressing those concerns together and figure out how to meet each other in the middle.
Emotional regulation in relationship communication
It’s important to remember that you aren’t responsible for your partner’s emotions; just as they aren’t responsible for yours.
But most of us in loving relationships—whether monogamous or some version of ethical non-monogamy—want to help our partners feel safe and connected.
One of the best ways to do that is by getting vulnerable with each other.
As I’m sure you know, that can be easier said than done. Each of us has a lifetime of reasons to keep vulnerable bits hidden. On top of that, many of us were never taught how to express our feelings in person with another. And many of us were specifically taught to suppress our emotions and vulnerability at all costs.
And then of course most of us model our relationship attachments based on the earliest version we saw—our parents.
Allow yourself a little eye roll here. You’re not alone if your parents weren’t exactly prime role-models for relationship communication and empathy. (Read more about attachment styles here.)
But the great thing about emotions is, we can learn to recognize, process, and choose how we react to them—which is one of the things I help trauma clients with on a regular basis.
How to ask for things in a relationship
In any relationship you have the right to ask for things to fulfill your emotional and physical needs—and your partner has the right to say no.
Even in the closest partnerships, each individual retains their unique value and consent. No relationship should be about control or demands. Consent isn’t just about sex—it’s about feeling comfortable saying no—or yes—to any personal request without feeling judged, punished, or deprived.
Consent is about feeling safe enough to choose.
That’s true for sexual and non-sexual requests in both mono and poly relationships. Coaching sessions with my partnered clients often include discussions of requests one or the other has made, and the impact that has had on their relationship.
If you feel you can’t ask for something because of your partner’s emotional response, that could be problematic.
By the same token, if your partner feels they can’t say no without emotional consequences, that’s also something to discuss when you talk about your relationship and expectations for each other.
Listen to this podcast about several different ways to view requests in a relationship—and which versions may be toxic. (Though centered on polyamory, the same principles apply about your rights within any type of relationship agreement.)
If you feel a certain way about something your partner does or says, you have the right to communicate your feelings and be heard.
It’s not your partner’s job to make you feel better, but it is their responsibility to listen with empathy and without judgment, and help you problem-solve in a way that allows you to build a more intimate connection.
If you feel they aren’t listening—or they’re listening but not hearing—or you’re afraid to ask for things or to say no—a professional relationship coach can help you connect better and address these issues through various communication tools, exercises, and methods based on research and proven results.
How intimacy coaching helps relationship stress
Intimacy is more than just sex. Intimacy is about connection, trust, vulnerability, and closeness.
Sharing our inner thoughts and emotions with each other is how we develop intimacy and help each other feel less alone in this uncertain and capricious life.
Stress from any number of sources can cause relationship problems. And you might not even realize it’s happening.
That same couple in a different session revealed that recent anxiety-provoking events have stirred up a long-dormant trauma in one partner’s past. They were experiencing nightmares about the war and intrusive thoughts they didn’t recognize until something came up during our conversation.
At first they were afraid to talk about it and burden their partner, but it turned out sharing brought them closer for the first time in a while.
Making that connection helped us figure out a strategy they could practice to talk about these things as they come up, focusing on empathy and reassurance. The more they talk about it the less alone each one feels.
And as they did the homework between sessions, they managed to return to intimacy practices that let both of them feel secure and connected.
Coaching can provide a safe, moderated venue for partners to share difficult feelings they’ve been having within and outside of the relationship.
A trauma-informed relationship coach can help keep the conversation on track and probing deeper—as opposed to what often happens when couples don't talk enough and wind up skipping around the surface and bringing up too many things all at once, collapsing into a fight.
Especially when there’s trauma, professional relationship counseling is an essential tool for helping people communicate better about deeper feelings and needs.
Most of us want to help our partner(s) feel safe and connected.
But it’s easy to let work and other distractions blind us to the small ways we could be doing that better. And it’s the small things that help our partners feel close.
It’s also the small things that cause distance.
Prioritizing relationships doesn’t mean you have to spend all your time together—but it does mean communicating clearly about some things you each can focus on to help the other feel seen and connected. Even when you’re not together.
You’ll be amazed to discover how simple it can be to show your partner you’re in this together—whatever “this” looks like for you.
Leave quick love notes for them
Write a love letter–ideally by hand
Text them a selfie kiss
Take a walk together with no phones
Read a book about relationships together
Listen to a relationship podcast together
Play board games
Watch one of their shows for a change
Need some ideas for communication and exploration? Check out Lipservice, my self-guided workpack for partners.
Still have questions? Reach out and learn more about intimacy coaching.