History continues to repeat itself in our nation where black, brown, and people of color are continuously oppressed, silenced, abused and murdered. How racism impacts interracial couples can affect intimacy, communication and more.
At Center for Intimate Relationships, we commit to the hard and often uncomfortable work required, to help shift the paradigm of racism in our country.
We invite you to do the same.
If you follow our work, you know that we focus on helping couples create exceptional relationships.
What you may not know is that healthy relationships – of all forms – start with self-examination, an accountability process if you will.
So, whether you want to resolve something more personal, like a lack of intimacy or something larger like racism, the process starts with individual self-examination.
I’m not going to sugar coat this.
It’s not easy work.
The work of examining white privilege, implicit bias, microaggressions, systemic racism and systemic white supremacy is nothing anyone wants to own.
Sadly, many folks don’t even realize that through their denial and silence, they become complicit.
In the world of relationship counseling, this work is especially important for interracial couples where one partner identifies as white and the other as a person of color (POC).
As an interracial couple, you might find that you rarely talk about race. It’s as if there’s an implied belief that somehow, by choosing each other, you’ve overcome your own internalized racism.
Unfortunately, because racism exists, your interracial relationship sets you up to manage a lifelong conflict you didn’t ask for.
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What’s The Core Conflict for Interracial Couples?
Interracial couples can never fully know each other’s worlds. Ever.
Let me give you one example:
If you identify as white, no matter how much you might experience prejudice for having a POC as your partner, or bear witness to the experiences of your partner, or perhaps your children, you will never truly know how it feels to live in the world as a POC. Our current racial system does not have a level playing field. So by default, as a white person, you simply cannot truly know in a felt way, what they experience when it comes to race.
If you identify as a POC, because privilege is not something you experience, you will never truly know the experience of your white partner. Even when you build your life together and even if you experience some forms of privilege. Under the current racial system, as a POC, you will never experience privilege to the extent that your partner experiences it, which can feel painful and damaging.
These facts are unchangeable.
As long as systemic racism exists, this conflict remains active and alive.
An easier way to think about this conflict is this: inclusion vs. exclusion.
Yes, even in your intimate partnership.
No matter how hard you might try to be inclusive, this can never be fully realized.
If not acknowledged and processed on a consistent basis, this difference can sabotage your best relationship efforts.
This unspoken conflict can make you feel like you are pitted against each other instead of being on the same team.
It won’t always show up in big or obvious ways. Instead, it will create small, consistent arguments that result in “he said, she said” or “she said she said” conversations – that go nowhere.
Not that different from the larger social narrative of “us” versus “them”.
It leaves you feeling unseen and unheard, which for the POC, is all too familiar.
How Interracial Couples Can Resolve Conflict
How does an interracial couple work through the conflict of inclusion-exclusion? How do they manage this difference?
If you’re reading about this conflict for the first time, you might feel like it’s a kick in your gut. Hopeless.
Let me reassure you. There is hope.
Hope comes when you allow love to lead you through the necessary relationship work.
It starts with self-examination and having courageous conversations.
Here’s a 3 step outline to help you get started:
Step #1: Acknowledge this core conflict.
Upon reading about inclusion and exclusion as a core relationship conflict, you might immediately dismiss it. I invite you to sit with this idea for a bit.
Consider how this might fit your experiences as an interracial couple or how it might fuel conflicts or distance between you.
Make room in your mind and in your heart for the possibility that you consciously and unconsciously include and exclude each other, and, that you live in a larger system that fosters exclusive experiences.
Step #2: Recognize how you enact the conflict
Consider all the ways that you may create or feel inclusion or exclusion with your partner. Examine all of the relationship buckets. Everything from work to parenting, financial management, domestic labor, in-laws, extended family, sex, and more.
This requires you to really self-examine. Pay attention to how you may dismiss your partner’s perspectives when it comes to a particular subject area.
Pay extra attention to the areas where you know you might dig your heels in and fight to be right.
Consider how your offensive or defensive postures might totally exclude your partner’s views.
Step #3: Validate your partner’s experience with empathy and compassion
Once you can name the ways in which you may enact this conflict of inclusion and exclusion, say it out loud. Let your partner know that you are now aware of how you exclude their ideas, wishes, presence, perspectives, and more. Do so with compassion.
Name ways you will work to be more inclusive. Talk about the pains associated with never being able to fully know each other’s experience, the way other couples who share the same race may be able to do. Acknowledge the strengths that you do possess as a result of being an interracial couple. Celebrate them.
Once you are able to take these 3 critical steps, work on forgiving yourself for any pains you may have caused each other.
In my experience with counseling interracial couples, white partners struggle to be named as white because race is not a part of how they are usually defined, which is a contrast to a person of color.
If you are white, acknowledging white privilege, implicit bias, and microaggressions – and how it influences your relationship can feel unjust and angering at times. You may respond defensively to these ideas. You are not alone in your feelings.
Conversations about race can feel upending and confusing. But it’s important that you turn to resources that help you process what you feel.
I highly recommend this book: White Fragility, Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism to help you make sense of your thoughts, feelings and experience.
I also highly recommend that you and your partner watch the Netflix Documentary 13th.
No one asked to be born into a racist society. But here were. It’s up to all of us to do the hard but necessary work of dismantling racism.
Remember, love is a powerful force for good. As you navigate the complexities of your relationship, and as you support each other through the continued racial tragedies of our current events, let your love lead your way.
Let love lead your way.