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The Top 5 Relationship Questions I Get Asked as a Therapist (and My Answers)

I’ve always been fascinated with relationships. As a young child, I mainlined Disney movies and rom coms, with their happily-ever-afters. I was enchanted by the idea of finding a love that lasted. This passion drove me to read endlessly about relationships, at the age of eleven buying How to Win Friends and Influence People For Teen Girls (yes, there is actually children’s version) — and eventually to pursue a career as a certified sex and relationship therapist. 

I know I’m not alone in this curiosity about fulfilling relationships. In my work, I often find that, underneath whatever brings people into the therapy (or Zoom) room, many people long to find authentic, intimate, and meaningful connections. I see many people grapple with similar issues, and ask many of the same questions I have.

Here are 5 top relationship questions I hear in my work as a therapist and my answers to them, sharing how I’ve come to make sense of these challenges.

How often should we be having sex?

Ah — the million-dollar question! As a sex therapist, I see people grapple with this all the time. It can be a really sensitive topic, with mismatched expectations within partnerships, media pressures, and social comparisons. Feeling a sense that you don’t measure up can lead to a wallop of guilt and shame.

The good news is that there really is no magic number that indicates you’re having the right amount of sex. This is because you are the only person who knows what that is. The ideal frequency of sex comes down to the amount that leaves you feeling connected and satisfied — with yourself and in your relationship. 

It is completely normal for there to be seasons in your life where you have sex more and less frequently.

Stress is the biggest libido killer, and having your desire for sex change when there is a big life stressor is human. Our bodies weren’t designed to get horny when confronted with a grizzly bear (or in modern day let’s say deadlines, nursing a newborn, or 14-day quarantines).

If you are consistently feeling too stressed to even consider sex, that can often be a sign that there are larger factors at play that you should consider attending to. 

What do I do if my significant other and I feel more like roommates than romantic partners?

Before the pandemic, a lot of the work I saw with couples was based around increasing opportunities for connection. Cut to life post-March-2020, and this challenge has flipped: Space in the relationship has become the more precious commodity.

Psychotherapist Esther Perel speaks about the paradox that we all battle within relationships: We want closeness, trust, and stability, but we also crave passion, mystery and excitement.

In relationships where you feel like roomies, the scales tend to be tipped more to the side of security than adventure. This is not a problem to be solved, but rather something to observe and manage. 

If you find yourself feeling like the sexy side of your relationship is suffering, consider devoting more time to the things that light you up outside of your relationship. Cultivating your individual identity, passions, and friendships outside of your relationship will actually enhance the time you spend inside of your relationship — sexually and otherwise.

It can also be helpful to find ways to witness your partner with fresh eyes. Go watch them engage in something they are passionate about. Could you see them play in their band? Go cheer for them at their beer league softball game? Sit inconspicuously in the restaurant they are working in? There are a lot of ways to get creative with this.

If this feels impossible right now, it’s probably because you’re in a season of stress and disruption — this is life, it is normal and OK. 

When we are with our partners 24/7 we can become enmeshed with them. Enmeshment occurs when you are emotionally blended in a relationship with another.

It can show up as taking on your partner’s feelings as your own, struggling to hold boundaries, or assuming they can read your mind. When this happens, we can lose sight of the qualities that initially drew us to them when we stop seeing them for their individuality.

On the other hand, creating some distance helps us maintain our curiosity and value more of our time together. It gives us some stories to tell at the dinner table. 

I feel like I do everything around the house. How do I get my partner to share more of the workload?

This is another one of the relationship questions I see come up again and again. I often see heterosexual couples who consider themselves to be quite progressive, and still their distribution of household tasks continues to fall along traditional gender expectations.

Even in queer couples, or couples who fall outside of traditional gender norms, gender roles also tend to affect what work tends to “count” and what labor goes unseen.

To support these clients, my latest obsession is to turn to a card deck that my counselor colleague Ally Abrami suggested to me. It’s called Fair Play and was created by best-selling author and Harvard-trained expert in organizational management Eve Rodsky. The cards in the deck represent a plethora of household tasks. These include things such as calendar keeping, writing thank-you notes, keeping in touch with family — tasks that are often invisible and simply expected of the partner who takes on the more nurturing role in the relationship.  

The cards help to create an explicit system to divide up all of the household tasks from the visible ones like making dinner, to the less obvious such as planning playdates. You split up the cards with your partner, and whoever holds the card for a particular task is in charge of what she calls the CPE approach — the person is expected to conceive, plan, and execute the entire task.

What I love about this is that by fully offloading a chore like grocery shopping, budgeting, or laundry, you’ll also have fewer items on your to-do list. It can also help free your mind from the emotional labor of reminding your partner. This can sometimes feel negative and like “nagging,” which isn’t fun for either partner. 

How do I know if it’s time to break up? 

This is such a difficult question to answer, particularly because you alone will know what is best for you.

First, make sure you are basing the assessment of your relationship on who your partner has shown themselves to be, and not a fantasy of who they could be. Too often, we can justify staying in a relationship with the hope of who they will become, or the false notion that we can change someone. You can voice your feelings and desires, but after that it’s up to them. Your partner’s growth is theirs alone.

When I’m working with clients, whether individually or as a couple, I also like to have them reflect on what their non-negotiable relationship needs are and what their “nice to haves” are.

I consider something to be a non-negotiable need if you ask yourself, “If this is not present in my relationship, will I eventually become resentful, depressed, or withdrawn?” While you will never have all of your needs met within one relationship, laying out what you cannot compromise on can help put your frustrations with your partner into perspective and help you reflect on whether they’re breakup worthy. 

How do I improve communication in my relationship?

When I have my initial consultations with couples, they often tell me they’re looking for tools to improve their communication together.

There are a variety of communication models out there, such as:

I find many of them share a few main ingredients. One is the concept of picking one issue at a time. It is very difficult to come to any sort of resolution if we try to solve multiple problems at once.

When you are speaking, share only observable facts and “stay in your own lane.” This means, speak using statements of your own feelings and do not make assumptions about your partner’s experience.

When bringing up an issue, avoid finger-pointing statements. These often start with “you,” such as “you always” or “you never.” Instead, share your emotions that were brought on by the issue, take ownership of your assumptions, and be sure to make tangible requests about what you need. 

When you are listening to your partner, be curious and empathic. Ask clarifying questions, and reflect back what you hear to check your understanding. 

The final word

As many of us know by now, the idea of “happily ever after” is a fantasy made popular by Big Disney and Nora Ephron movies. Even so, the expectation that relationships should be smooth sailing can seep into our psyches. 

This belief can show up in your feelings of shame when you aren’t having sex as frequently as you think you should. It can come out as frustration when your partner can’t figure out what you need. Or it might make you feel a sense of doom after a fight. It might even lead you to feel like something is wrong with you if your relationship has come to an end.

But the truth is, relationships are messy, complicated, and ever-changing. 

As hard as they can be at times, they are also opportunities for finding meaning and experiencing profound growth.

Your most valuable relationship tool is the ability to tune inwards to assess your needs and desires, while also holding space to hear, learn from, and repair with another. Let go of relationship “shoulds,” and make space for what feels right for you.

Erin Davidson, MA, RCC, CST
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Erin Davidson (she/her) is a Registered Clinical Counsellor and Certified Sex Therapist working in private practice in Vancouver, British Columbia. She is a firm believer in the healing power of pleasure and being kinder to ourselves. Erin is the author of two books Break Through the Breakup and Thriving in Non-Monogamy. She is most proud of her new fluffball Marv who recently graduated top of his class in puppy preschool.