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The effects of racism are insidious and far-reaching, particularly when it comes to intimate relationships.
As a mental health professional, I’ve seen firsthand how race-related anxiety and
depression erode a couple’s connection when either partner experiences racism in their daily lives.
One client explained how this impacted him…
He said, “Once again, they gave the $30k additional salary and $20k bonus to a younger junior salesperson, who is White. I walked through the doors of my home angry, irritated, and defeated because once again I had been denied the promotion that I know I earned.” My client elaborated, “I have been with a financial agency selling insurance for 15 years. For the past five years, I have out-earned and delivered 33% more clients than anyone in my office including my immediate boss.”
He concluded, “Expressing to me that he showed ‘the most improvement’ simply solidified all the other micro aggressions I have experienced. I don’t want to start over at another company. I would have to start from the bottom again and I have a family to support.”
It’s so important for Black couples in particular to have the right tools to communicate what they’re going through and find strength in their connection as they come to terms with an injustice they’ve experienced.
Where we normally might suggest changes that allow them to avoid the problem, the change necessary to alleviate the sting of racism would be a change in skin color.
Since that is not possible, we must look to the research to validate and inform
relationship modifications for coping with this social ail.
As mental health professionals, we know from research that race-related anxiety and depression result from psychological distress when racism is encountered.
Psychological distress impedes intimate connection when feelings of anger, anxiety, fear, frustration and helplessness-hopelessness, isolation, paranoia, sadness, self-blame, and self-doubt are present in the relationship. It is more difficult to desire physical touch, discuss hopes and dreams, express positive affirmations, exude empathy, remain open to new experiences or realize quality time in the relationship overall.
Research has shown that racism has a direct correlation to anxiety and depression across socio-economic status in Black American homes.
The impact of racism on the mental and emotional health of the individual can lead to domestic violence, infidelity, and substance misuse and abuse.
Anxiety and depression have astonishing impact on a family’s ability to communicate. These families experience greater degrees of avoidance, criticism, contempt, defensiveness, disengagement, and resentment. While there are other contributing factors, being vulnerable to the psychological effects of racial discrimination means Black American couples are more susceptible to diminished pleasure, financial stress, and divorce.
The menagerie of color in our community is not going to change and we face headwinds of racism in systems throughout America, so a solution is to master healthy mental and emotional functioning at home in an effort to combat the outside suffering.
Here are a few examples of coping skills that may help
- Safe Spaces
a. Create a home of peace. Remember, you are not one another’s enemy. When each of you arrive home, be intentional about greeting each other immediately before retreating into down time.
- Be Intentional about Intimate connection.
a. Allow an opportunity to recover from the day and set aside time to recap the
events that need immediate discussion.
b. Then find moments to create intimate connection. Cognitive, emotional, spiritual and physical intimacy is established in finding commonality.
- Acknowledge Random Expressions.
a. These are simple acts of turning toward one another. Making it a point to
recognize that your partner is speaking to you or making a bid for your attention
in small ways. Discussing a news report, exchanging ideas of changing the color
of a room, or sharing effective self-care practices, can have connective power.
- Ask for emotional bandwidth.
a. Ask if your partner can receive from you at this moment. Sometimes, your partner may not be ready for a deep conversation. They may be mentally or emotionally distracted. You can avoid feeling dismissed or ignored by ensuring your partner is available.
- Set expectations.
a. If you want your partner to help you find a solution or allow you to simply vent,
express the need up front. As the listening partner, if the expectation is not clear.
Ask for clarification.
- Create survival strategies.
a. Sometimes, we have to create a plan to use the current situation as a springboard toward more education, financial stability, and career enhancement. This allows us to connect intimately around familial goals for advancement.