I was sitting on the sofa crying, when my partner Nikki came out of the bedroom. I thought the hour-long argument we’d been having about money was about to start up again. Instead, with her eyes filled with tears. “We should go to couples' counselling,” she said. We loved each other, but were having some issues. Couples' counselling seemed like a logical next step. But our situation wasn’t exactly typical. Whether you're married or not, relationships can of course be challenging. But we weren’t a troubled married couple who had been together for years. We’d only been dating for six months.
As I processed her statement, I thought, “Is a relationship worth saving if you need couples' counselling this early in?” Most would say no. But just three months prior, I’d packed up my entire life and moved to be with her. I couldn’t just give up, I had too much skin in the game. But it was more than that. I couldn’t imagine my life without her. I had to try to fight for the relationship. I exhaled, shook my head in agreement and said, “Okay.”
How did we end up here?
In the following days, I asked myself how we got to this point. New couples like us should be spending their time making out in public, having loads of sex, going on romantic dates and annoying their friends with how much they lovingly talk about each other, right? Instead, Nikki and I were constantly arguing and coordinating our schedules to meet with a therapist.
Perhaps, we should have seen it coming. We met through mutual friends, but our relationship started long distance. We took turns visiting each other once a month. I would fly to Atlanta for a few days and she would visit me in New York City. The weekends we spent together were romantic, entertaining and erotic. She met all of my friends in one weekend. Then on a trip to Atlanta over Easter, I met her entire family. On my next trip to see her, we got matching tattoos. The relationship escalated so fast and no one saw it coming. It even caught us off guard. She was charming and made me laugh. It seemed we had so much in common — politics, art and music. And when we were together, it felt like no one else in the room mattered. I was completely captivated. We fell madly in love and didn’t want to be apart anymore.
So after only four months of being together, I left New York City and moved in with her in Atlanta. And just like that, we had fallen into one of the oldest lesbian dating cliches: Uhauling [moving in together super quick] - Something so common with queer women, the community coined a term for it. That’s not to say straight couples don’t shack up quickly every now and then, of course. The ritual between LGBTQ+ folk was even turned into a famous joke by comedian Lea DeLaria. "What does a lesbian bring on a second date? A U-Haul."
The first few weeks of us living together were just like I imagined. I spent time getting to know her friends. There were plenty of fancy date nights, which we never missed an opportunity to post evidence of on social media. The sex was frequent and passionate. We seemed to be in sync. But things started to quickly shift.
"It was obvious our relationship was quickly crumbling around us"
When it came to the mundane yet necessary components of a partnership, like household chores, we weren’t on the same page. I wanted her to pitch in more around the house. She felt she shouldn’t have to because she worked more hours. After a while, we were at odds about everything, including how we navigated our finances. She wanted to split our bills down the middle. I didn’t think that was fair because she made substantially more money. Our arguments became more frequent and harder to emotionally recover from. Everything came to a head when we started throwing insults around out of anger and resentment.
It was obvious that our relationship was quickly crumbling around us, so we started therapy a few weeks later. In the beginning, it was challenging and emotionally exhausting. I blamed Nikki’s lack of communication for the chaos and vice versa. But our therapist wasn’t having it. She wasn’t going to let either of us off the hook. We both played a part in the communication breakdown. After a few weeks in counselling, the tension between us started to slowly dissipate. In therapy, we discovered the root of our problem wasn’t a lack of love; it was the failure to learn how to communicate and argue without emotionally harming one another.
Before packing up the moving van, maybe we should have had a few arguments to observe how we each deal with conflict. Unfortunately, those lessons were just another crucial component of the relationship we skipped over while impulsively shacking up. Being madly in love can sometimes obscure the hard reality about relationships - it takes more than just being in love for a relationship to be successful.
Throughout therapy, it dawned on me why hastily moving in with your significant other is something we try to talk our friends out of. You bypass the phase of the relationship where you learn about each other — skipping the important steps that create a foundation that strengthens your relationship.
Learning where we went wrong
We should’ve had more in-depth conversations about shared household expenses. And as an interracial couple, we also should’ve had deeper conversations about racial oppression and how it impacts our finances – outside of the general way two feminists would over a glass of wine. Instead, we behaved like a pair of lovesick teenagers, who were defying our families that didn’t want us to be together. We were so afraid of losing the passion and romance, we failed to learn how to be a couple when the butterflies fade.
"We failed to learn how to be a couple when the butterflies fade"
My partner and I never spoke to anyone about what was going on. We were ashamed and feared judgement from family and friends. There are many unrealistic societal expectations that a healthy partnership shouldn’t need professional relationship counselling. We’d rather believe most relationships look like the romantic comedies we watch instead of acknowledging what it sometimes actually is: disagreements over finances, family, career changes or household roles. Despite having many things in common, we come from different backgrounds and sometimes approach things differently — which can cause conflict.
I’ve now come to realise there’s no shame in seeking counselling at any point during a relationship. Therapy offered us a healthy, neutral space to speak honestly and explain our grievances and resentments with one another.
It’s been four years since we sought counselling. And as we celebrated our fifth anniversary this year, I’m reminded that Nikki and I beat the odds… the long distance, lesbian Uhaul odds, that is. The decision to seek couples counselling early in was a defining moment. And now, thanks to therapy, we weathered the storm. Our relationship is much stronger and healthier. Therapy helped us understand each other. We learned the tools to communicate more effectively (and argue. Yes, even healthy relationships will still experience arguments.) We could have ended it four years ago. Instead, we opened ourselves to the fact that we needed professional help. And it was the best decision we made.