During These Turbulent Times, Here’s How We Talk About Race in Our Interracial Relationship

Tips for turning an uncomfortable conversation about race into an opportunity for growth.
MAPODILE/GETTY IMAGES

The ironic thing about being in an interracial relationship is how rarely race comes up. When my partner and I fell in love, I wasn’t falling in love with a white man, and he wasn’t falling in love with a Black woman. It was just a man and a woman falling in love.

And unlike the groundbreaking show Mixed-ish, portraying a married interracial couple raising three biracial children, not every disagreement that comes up between us is a “learning moment” on cultural sensitivity or ways to fight racism. Discord for us is like most couples: differences of opinion, being triggered by something the other did or said, old emotional wounds, adjusting to 24/7 quarantine togetherness, or just being desperately hungry.

Race so seldom plays a role in our day-to-day lives. However, following the death of George Floyd, a Black man, at the knee of Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, and the subsequent protests, the whole issue of race became amplified as we grappled with these issues and complex feelings.

Coming from different cultural backgrounds and different ideologies can be a cause for some tense conversations around the targeting of Black people, police violence, and systemic racism.

Here are some things we do to take the heat out of talking about race.

To love, accept, and validate

Years ago we listed things we felt were important in keeping our relationship strong. Those things have become our communication vows: to love and accept each other and to validate one another’s emotional experiences. So rather than rush in to fix a problem, we try our best to listen first, ask questions second.

Without that kind of understanding in place, tough conversations would be almost impossible, particularly those touching on subjects as potentially volatile as race, police violence, and social justice.

The astonishing thing is that by now, these “vows” have become the invisible backdrop behind our talks, so we can fall into a place of listening with acceptance without thinking about it. This comes in handy when one of us voices frustration and the other is just able to take it in without needing to do anything about it.

If this doesn’t come easily for you (and it didn’t for us for a while) you can start with these 7 ways to be more accepting of your partner.

Actively listen

These conversations usually happen when we’re hanging out in our front yard or sitting together on the couch and the subject turns to the following: “So, how are you doing with all this stuff in the news?”

During those times, when we delve into tougher feelings, we aim for being a better listener by staying in the moment. This means putting down the book or the phone, blocking out the distractions of neighbors walking by, and fully giving our attention to the other. Here’s how couples can become better listeners and strengthen their relationships.

Listen to understand the other’s point of view

It can be challenging when we disagree on something we feel strongly about. The way we try to improve our communication at those times is to take a step back and start asking questions to better understand the other person’s point of view. It doesn’t mean that we’ll end up agreeing, but it lessens confusion and defensiveness when we can understand why the other thinks the way they do.

So, as we discuss our reactions to Floyd’s killing and the protests, we may ask the other, “How did you come to think that or feel that way?” And it’s not uncommon that it’s the first time we’ve had to think about how we formed some ideas on a specific issue.

My background of living in predominately Black neighborhoods until my teens and then predominately non-Black neighborhoods thereafter shaped my feelings on how Black people are treated. Similarly, his upbringing of being raised in a predominately Polish neighborhood in an area where different ethnicities kept to themselves, shaped his feelings on how people from different ethnic or cultural backgrounds treated each other.

We both grew up in segregated environments and were exposed to ideas and beliefs about other races that reflected our environments. Some of those ideas we abandoned if they didn’t fit our concept of the world and some we’ve kept.

To hear the other’s perspective, self-reflect on, and challenge ideologies we hold helps us refine our thoughts and see a wider picture of the world.

While it would be a tall order for him to feel what I’ve experienced as a Black woman or for me to feel what he’s experienced as a white man regarding racism, we can show empathy by striving to understand the context within which certain beliefs and opinions were formed.

Don’t worry about being politically correct

Whereas we want to be cognizant of each other’s feelings, playing nice by being politically correct doesn’t work. For one thing, that’s not our style. More importantly, though, being politically correct has no place in a frank discussion about race within our relationship.

We call it as we see it because of our core belief that our relationship is a safe place to be real.

So, when we’re talking about things we’re seeing on the news, there are things that are just unequivocal: These are images of white cops killing Black men or these are images of Black people looting businesses downtown. We don’t dance around the issue.

MAPODILE/GETTY IMAGES

Keep the dialogue flowing even if we hit a sore spot

To say that talking about race doesn’t press some sensitive buttons would be a lie. The worst thing to do, though, is to clam up and stop talking (or stonewall) because we’ve become upset. That can lead to passive-aggression and resentment. Or the opposite: speaking out of anger and saying things you should never say to your spouse or partner.

What we do instead is keep talking until both have stated their point of view and if we can’t come to an agreement, let it go and move on.

What I’ve seen happen in our conversations is that when we hit upon a provocative issue like where to draw the line between social reform and community responsibility (or if such a delineation is even useful), after a couple of turns in sharing our thoughts and hearing the other person out, we’ll eventually get to, “Yeah, I see what you’re saying.”

Be all right with opposing opinions

We have to be all right with the other person having a different opinion because we’ll never agree on everything 100 percent. Since we base opinions on feelings or ideologies and not facts, they can be contentious if we hold on to them firmly.

Knowing that we try to be clear by saying: “This is just my feeling; I’m not saying it’s a fact or that it’s even right. It’s just how I feel.”

When it comes to discussing things like social justice, we both have opinions on what should be done to address the issues, the points that should take priority, and who should shoulder responsibility for what.

And since we are not part of a governing body, but a couple having a conversation on their couch, it’s just better to allow for the fact that we see some things differently.

Build on common ground

Because discussions about race and social justice can be fraught with tension, we’re sensitive to jump on things we agree on. We take some fire out of the conversation and reestablish our connection by taking a moment to acknowledge the points where we overlap and say, “You’re right about that, or I agree with what you just said.” Those moments feel more affirming than the moments of asserting our individual point of view.

An easy point for us to agree on is that the protests are good for raising awareness, propelling social reform, and showing global solidarity against racial injustice; while looting is untenable and deplorable, detracts from the movement, and gives those who already hate people of color evidence to prop up their hatred.

Come from a place of mutual respect

We can easily reduce differences of opinion on race within a group of acquaintances by saying, “s/he just doesn’t get it” and writing the person off. Within a couple, though, where you have history and know this person intimately, you also know the following: 1.) They have a genuine interest in doing the right thing and 2.) Dismissal would be disrespectful and damaging to the connection.

One of the signs that your relationship is solid as a rock, is your mutual respect of each other. One way we show that is in the value we place on our connection and the steps we take to keep that connection strong.

Mind you, these conversations don’t go perfectly every time. We’re human and sometimes we don’t get the words right. However, we know that we’re coming from a place of wanting to understand, to be understood, and to gain a wider perspective.

These could be some of the hardest conversations interracial couples have and as we move through this moment in history together, it’s important to remember that we’re on the same team.

On the macro-level, as we hold conversations across cultures in the United States, the same holds true: We’re on the same team.

Next, read how to support the Black Lives Matter movement and become anti-racist.

For more on this important issue, see our guide to the Fight Against Racism.

[Article first published on Reader’s Digest.]

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Tamara Jefferies MA is a freelance wellness writer and holistic counselor/coach based in Long Beach, CA. She has worked in the wellness field since 2005 and holds a Master’s in Somatic Psychology from John F. Kennedy University, several certifications in the specialization of trauma and trauma resolution, and is a certified yoga teacher and holistic practitioner offering transformational counseling to women.

Writing on topics that help women heal, grow, and live fulfilled and happy lives is her passion as is writing for wellness businesses, publications, and brands. She is a regular contributing writer to the wellness brand, The Candidly, and a Brand Ambassador to ADORAtherapy.

Contact her at info@growandthrivewellness.com for all your wellness writing or counseling needs.

Or just fill out the form below.

Be Well!

What My Holistic Counseling Practice Is All About

This short video gives a brief introduction to my work as a Certified Holistic Practitioner and my approach to working with clients.

According To Neuroscience, This One Unexpected Thing Will Wildly Improve Your Focus

woman-using-laptop

If it feels like your attention span is getting shorter and shorter with every new iPhone release and Netflix drop, you’re not wrong. Toss in an international pandemic, and most of our ability to focus is out the window completely.

Neurologists have found that we can maintain focus for about 20-minute intervals at best. So while we shouldn’t feel guilty about our wandering minds, we’re also not opposed to seeking out new strategies to help us focus for longer periods of time. Thankfully, neuroscientists have discovered a way to extend our focus, and surprisingly, it has everything to do with sound.

Yes. Sound.

These burgeoning fields of neuroscience and psychology, called auditory neuroscience and psychoacoustics, study how our perception of sound affects the brain, our thoughts, and feelings. And these new scientific fields have spawned the development of something called “streamlined music,” which is thought to help improve cognitive functions, i.e., the way we think, process, and yes, focus.

The Science of Staying Focused

Neuroscientists have extensively studied how our brains take in external stimuli, process it, and focus on a single thing, blocking out everything else. When we’re able to focus on something with laser-like, narrowed concentration, that’s called selective attention.

The process for selective attention is complicated, so I’ll spare you the endless jargon and focus on this one word: norepinephrine. Norepinephrine is a neurochemical transmitter that works as a stimulant— it’s released from your brain stem (at the base of your brain) when you take in external stimuli, and it acts on your decision-making faculties. Basically, it helps your brain decide what to pay attention to, as it’s part of our arousal response of fight, flight, or freeze. For example, if you encounter something dangerous, norepinephrine tells you to pay attention to it.

The neocortex (or frontal lobes of your brain) is also incredibly important for focusing. While the brainstem plays a role in selective attention, the neocortex regulates something called executive attention. Executive attention calls the shots; it can override the selective attention of the brainstem and decides what to pay attention to, and what to ignore.

The last piece of the pay-attention puzzle is habituation, which is when you adjust to your surroundings until they no longer distract you. So, when you’re working from home, and your kids are playing video games, and your partner is listening to NPR, and your dog is barking at the neighbor’s cat— at first, all of this is hugely distracting. But after 20 minutes or so, you might start to drown them out, and they become background chatter. That’s habituation.

When you’re focused and efficient, then all these aspects of attention are working for you. But, at some point you’re going to get bored — remember, we can only maintain focus for about 20 minutes. Your mind will begin to wander, and when this happens, it’s called goal habituation, which means that you’re no longer interested in what you were doing (old goal), and now you want to do something else (new goal). This is when attention and focus can fall apart. If it’s not the noise and clamor of other people in the house distracting you from the task at hand, it’s your own brain, looking for something novel to pay attention to.

We need novelty. Every 20 minutes or so, we need something fresh to engage us, so that our minds don’t trail off into rabbit holes of Pinterest or YouTube videos or Amazon shopping. This is how sound helps.

The Right Sounds Can Help You Stay on Task

Neuroscientists are still studying how and why sound affects mood and our ability to focus, and they’ve found that people who listen to music while they work are more productive and happier. So like DJs in lab coats, neuroscientists have started playing with beats. Monaural and Binaural beats, to be precise.

Specifically, neuroscientists are interested in how we perceive these two types of beats. We can hear a monaural beat with one ear, but we can only hear binaural beats when we listen with both ears.

Beats are measured in frequencies. With a monaural beat, you have two frequencies being played together that the ears are hearing, but as the ears perceive the sound, the sounds either cancel each other out, or they amplify each other. With binaural beats, one frequency is played into one ear, and a different frequency is played into the other ear; from this combination of frequencies, your brain perceives a third sound. That third sound is what makes binaural beats intriguing because no one knows what makes it.

What they do know about binaural beats is that after listening to these sounds for a while, different areas of the brain that were pulsing at different frequencies begin to pulse in synchrony. While the evidence is far from conclusive just yet, this synchronization of disparate parts of the brain could be the reason people are better able to focus.

Participants in experimental studies have been found to have positive reactions while listening to binaural beats, like a slower heartbeat, feeling calmer, and improved focus. According to a study from the University of Southern Denmark, “there is also cumulating evidence suggesting that listening to binaural beats may increase sustained attention.”

To test this out, I played binaural beats as I worked on this article. YouTube is flooded with them— here’s one, if you want to listen. And though I can’t say for certain what helped me focus, I enjoyed the calming tunes and felt more focused overall.

If the number of binaural beats videos on YouTube is any indication of popularity, then it’s no surprise that all sorts of apps offering binaural beats are popping up, including one called Focus@will.

Focus@will has taken binaural beats and the idea of streamline music to create customized beats for its customers, and reports that customers are experiencing “decreased self-awareness, timelessness, and motivation known as ‘flow.’” Sounds good to me.

The company claims that their beats can help you maintain focus for up to 100 minutes straight! And a study they did (which of course, take with a massive grain of salt, because any study done by a company selling a product could demonstrate bias) showed that their clients improved focus by 200-400%. They also tout a pretty solid fan base singing their praises.

To be fair, there are dissenting voices out there that say binaural beats are just a bunch of hype. These writers refer to the sounds as “auditory illusions.” They report that people are being tricked into thinking that they are hearing something they’re actually not and that the beats have no proven benefit. Is it a placebo effect? Maybe. But if you think it helps you focus, then isn’t it helping you focus?

But the bottom line is this; the right sounds can potentially do wonders for your concentration and productivity. Will it work? Try it. At worst, you’ll be relaxed. Which doesn’t sound half-bad right now.

[Article first published by The Candidly.]

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Tamara Jefferies MA is a freelance wellness writer and holistic counselor/coach based in Long Beach, CA. She has worked in the wellness field since 2005 and holds a Master’s in Somatic Psychology from John F. Kennedy University, several certifications in the specialization of trauma and trauma resolution, and is a certified yoga teacher and holistic practitioner offering transformational counseling to women.

Writing on topics that help women heal, grow, and live fulfilled and happy lives is her passion as is writing for wellness businesses, publications, and brands. She is a regular contributing writer to the wellness brand, The Candidly, and a Brand Ambassador to ADORAtherapy.

Contact her at info@growandthrivewellness.com for all your wellness writing or counseling needs.

Or just fill out the form below.

Be Well!

COVID-19 Causing You Anxiety Dreams? You’re Not Alone.

Sleeping Woman

A surprise to no one, our anxiety levels are at their absolute highest. And how we each handle our anxiety might differ, but our subconscious minds often cope through dreams. Lately, there’s been a huge uptick in vivid dreams.

“Many people have shared this has been like a ‘waking nightmare’ for them and are having more bizarre dreams than ever before,” says Linda H. Mastrangelo MA, LMFT, a psychologist and professor of Consciousness & Transformative Studies at John F. Kennedy University and Board Director of the International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD). The “dramatic shifts from our everyday routines, not being able to reach for our usual ‘non-essential’ distractions as well as experiencing more sleep and /or erratic sleeping patterns is a perfect recipe for more dream recall, as well as nightmares and recurring dreams,” Mastrangelo, shared.

And while anxiety, lack of sleep, and the massive disruption in our routines are all contributing to our crazy stress dreams, how and why our subconscious psyches are in overdrive is a bit more complex. As it turns out, our anxiety dreams might actually be trying to protect our conscious minds. To understand why, we need to turn to the field of dream studies.

How Anxiety Impacts Your Dreams

With this huge increase in everyday stress, our anxiety dreams are taking on an entirely different character. Themes of intruders in your home, or feeling terrified that someone is trying to hug you, or the very literal fear of actually contracting the virus are all popping up in dream studies right now.

And although dream analysis isn’t a “hard science,” the field of dream studies can offer some interesting explanations for this phenomenon. Dreams help us integrate what happened during the day, what we watched before going to bed, along with our conscious and unconscious realities; so, dreams are integrating the part of you that is totally stressed out about bills piling up, and the part of you that is just outside your awareness— the subconscious one that is desperately afraid of not being in control of your life.

The originator of modern dream analysis, Carl G. Jung, saw dreams as integral to our nature, speaking to us in a language we intuitively understand—symbols—and ultimately leading to a process he called “individuation,” or the pursuit of the psyche to become whole and self-actualized, rather than fragmented. Our anxiety dreams, then, are a method for our subconscious to integrate with the conscious mind. In a very real way, your subconscious is taking the weight off of your conscious mind, helping you process your anxiety while you sleep.

Think of it this way. We live two lives: a waking life and a dreaming life. Dreams work in service of integrating our two worlds and creating wholeness in our psyches. So even though anxiety dreams can unnerve, even carrying over into the day as this uneasy groggy feeling, they are working toward a greater goal of psychological wholeness.

Use “Active Imagination” To Uncover Your Emotions

Marriage and Family Therapist, Isadora Alman, suggests delving into the emotions of our dreams for greater insight into ourselves. However bizarre the dream (why are my teeth always falling outttt), it is the feeling underneath the scene that reflects the real core of how you’re feeling.

“I have found working with dreams can be a gentle yet powerful gateway for healing, especially when it comes to identifying and working with emotions,” states Mastrangelo. She recommends the practice of “active imagination,” which entails assuming that your dreams hold emotional wisdom for you to uncover, and then picking something from your dream to “dialogue” with it. This is best done right when you wake up while the dream is still fresh, and you’re still in a restful state.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Write down everything you can remember about your dream in as much detail as you can. Note the parts that held the most emotion.

  2. Next, select the part that was the most emotional and write about it, imagining that you can give it a voice. So, for instance, if you dreamt of a menacing animal lurking outside your home, you’d imagine that animal could speak to you and tell you why it’s there, what it wants, and what it has to say to you.

Whereas Sigmund Freud, the Austrian neurologist who created psychoanalysis, thought all dreams represented suppressed desires (Freud had a slanted view of sexuality, as witnessed in his Oedipal Complex), Jung saw dreams as representing parts of ourselves seeking fuller development.

Jung suggested that each symbol in our dreams represents an aspect of ourselves. So, by giving a voice to these dream symbols, we are actually talking to different parts of ourselves. Working with your dreams through active imagining is a deeper way into self-awareness.

Four Ways To Ease Anxiety Before Bed

As much as we can use our dreams as tools for self-knowledge, we also want to be able to sleep soundly without waking up in terror-sweats 15 times nightly. So try these 4 strategies for a more peaceful sleep:

  1. Decompress: Give yourself time to decompress before getting in bed an hour or so before bed, have some quiet time, take a soothing bath or a hot shower, read, use a gua sha, watch something soothing.

  2. Write out your worries: during your decompression time, you can also write down all your worries until you feel that you’ve got them all out. (I know this has worked for me when my mind stops generating worries and starts wandering and futurizing.)

  3. Make your bedroom a “Worry Free Zone”: Dedicate your bedroom to sleep, sex, and other pleasant activities, so that just walking into your bedroom puts your mind at ease. That means PUT DOWN FACEBOOK when in your bedroom.

  4. Try out different relaxation methods: Listen to a guided meditation, or a relaxation app (ASMR and binaural beats are hugely popular in helping people relax), do some light stretching, or restorative yoga, or try progressive relaxation exercises.

Carl G. Jung coined the phrase the “collective unconscious.” He used it to describe how we are intimately interconnected through myths and symbols, and how these themes show up in the dreams of people across the globe. We all share the interconnected experience of our psyches being impacted by the coronavirus. This pandemic is a global collective experience. And we’re all dreaming through it, together.

[Article first published by The Candidly.]

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Tamara Jefferies MA is a freelance wellness writer and holistic counselor/coach based in Long Beach, CA. She has worked in the wellness field since 2005 and holds a Master’s in Somatic Psychology from John F. Kennedy University, several certifications in the specialization of trauma and trauma resolution, and is a certified yoga teacher and holistic practitioner offering transformational counseling to women.

Writing on topics that help women heal, grow, and live fulfilled and happy lives is her passion as is writing for wellness businesses, publications, and brands. She is a regular contributing writer to the wellness brand, The Candidly, and a Brand Ambassador to ADORAtherapy.

Contact her at info@growandthrivewellness.com for all your wellness writing or counseling needs.

Or just fill out the form below.

Be Well!

What do Wellness Writing and Holistic Counseling have in Common?

Answer: Me!

Hi, and thanks so much for visiting my site!

I’m Tamara, a wellness writer and certified holistic practitioner.

Who is this site for, you ask?

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Are you a wellness professional interested in increasing your client-load and/or building relationships with new and existing clients? Could you use the specialized perspective of a fellow wellness professional who understands the mindset of those seeking your services?

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Are you heading up the marketing efforts of a healthcare or wellness industry brand and have deadlines staring you down, a staff that is already spread thin, and no bandwidth to take on one more writing project?

Whether you are a wellness professional in private practice, a marketing director, or an editor of a wellness brand, I can help you in creating relevant, engaging, and convincing content that increases engagement and converts leads into sales.

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My heart has broken many times, as I sat with a woman in session and listened to how she spoke of herself; the precise words she used, all revealed the layers of low self-worth and even self-loathing.

My commitment is in helping you to see yourself and the wisdom, power, and joy that you hold within you.

Living with depression and anxiety can make those things feel distant. I can help you reclaim them and start living the life you want.

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