Think back to the last time you had a challenging moment with your SO. Chances are, you don’t have to think too hard. Relationships are tricky to navigate, and even your best friends can’t always make things easier when you’re struggling.
Fortunately, a new UK-based comedy on Netflix is here to help. Sex Education is crazy relatable, and exactly what you need to distract yourself from a fight—or inspire you to kiss and make up afterwards. Your call. The show, out January 11th, is centered around an awkward teenager named Otis whose mother is a sex therapist. It highlights the complexity of sex and dating in the 21st century, and it’s a good reminder that when it comes to relationships, sometimes we all just need a little help from our friends—and by friends, we mean licensed therapists.
To kick off the new year on the right foot, we asked two relationship experts for their help solving real-life dating woes. Ready to relate? Read on below.
1) I’m meeting my partner’s parents for the first time, and I’m super nervous—any advice?
Start by understanding that it’s totally normal to be nervous, assures relationship therapist Rachel Sussman, LCSW, who practices in New York City. “Step one is to calm yourself down with that realization, because everyone is at first,” she says. Next up: Ask your partner if there’s anything in particular you should know about their family dynamics, like if they’re super formal or really relaxed, and would they appreciate a welcome gift (and if so, what kind).
Finally, do your research and show up prepared with questions—just like you would if you were going into a business meeting, advises Sussman. If you know that one parent is a writer, for example, read some of their work before you go. (Or Google the company they work for.) “Having some questions prepared helps you feel more confident going in,” she says.
2) I’m in a long-term relationship, and it feels like my partner never makes time for me anymore.
The trick is to work together on this, rather than placing all of the blame on your partner, explains sex and relationship expert Emily Morse, PhD, host of the “Sex with Emily” podcast on iTunes and radio show on Sirius XM. “Everyone thinks of time differently, so it helps to actually sit down and have a real talk about exactly what your expectations are, instead of waiting for your partner to magically change,” she explains.
Once you’ve done that, consider finding new ways to spend time together each week—like taking a cooking class, starting a new game together, or planning more weekend getaways—to keep things as exciting as they were in the beginning.
Another tip: Plan for some time each week without digital distractions. The truth is that it can often feel like you aren’t spending a lot of time together, but you actually are—you’re just on your phones instead of with each other. “Some people do a 15-minute check-in, where you get home and put down your phones and talk about your day,” explains Morse, “while others do at least one dinner out each week where they leave their phones in the car.”
It doesn’t matter what you do, just do something phoneless: “To maintain a healthy relationship, it’s really important to connect without distractions,” she emphasizes.
3) I’m scared to talk to my partner about money—what’s the best way to do it?
It’s all about getting to the root cause of your money beliefs—especially because spenders and savers can easily end up together, says Morse. “Most of our views about money come from our childhood, so it’s important to talk to each other openly and honestly about how your parents approached money,” she continues.
Be upfront, even if it’s difficult. “Say something like, ‘My parents were penny pinchers, so that’s why I’m all about saving,’” she advises. On the flip side, be sure to listen to your partner’s point of view, too. “Then figure out a way to compromise where you’re going to spend and where you’re going to save.”
4) I think my partner may be cheating on me. What should I do?
It depends on where you are in the process, begins Sussman. If you’ve noticed the telltale signs of cheating—like your partner is constantly on their phone, or they change their password, or they’re traveling a lot for work but not checking in—then it’s best to try to find evidence before confronting them. You should never accuse them before you have proof. “If you accuse them of having an affair without evidence, they might just lie and cover their tracks even more,” cautions Sussman. Or, you could be wrong, and accusing them of something that intense could damage your relationship.
But if you haven’t noticed any of the signs and are instead acting on a feeling or intuition, the problem could be coming from within the relationship. “At that point, the best thing to do is simply ask your partner what’s going on,” she advises. Say something like, “I’ve noticed that you don’t let me hold you when I hug you anymore—is there something you want to talk about?” More often than not, once you sit down to talk about the issue that was tipping you off, it actually has nothing to do with infidelity, explains Sussman.
5) I’ve asked my partner to change a couple things about his behavior, like how he parties a lot, but he hasn’t stopped any of them. I know he really loves me, so why won’t he change?
Try to understand your partner’s behavior patterns, because there’s usually something bigger going on that doesn’t have to do with the actual act. “Sit them down and ask them why they’re doing what they’re doing—like, ‘Why do you feel like you have to party every night?’” advises Morse.
The answer will often reveal itself during that conversation, but if not, you can also try modeling the behavior you want to see, she continues. “Showing your partner, not [just] telling them, can also influence them to change their ways,” she says.
Letting them know how it makes you feel is a good option, too. If your partner has a habit of speeding, for example, “saying something like, ‘When you drive really fast in the car, it makes me feel nervous and anxious’ is a good idea,” Morse explains. It makes it seem less accusatory, and more like something you’re working on together.
If all of these tips don’t work, you may want to reconsider your relationship—because at the end of the day, most people don’t change in big ways unless they want to change, explains Morse. “We often date on potential, thinking our partners will change over time, but we can’t force that. If you’re with someone thinking it’s conditional based on a future behavior, you’re setting yourself up for failure,” she says.
6) I find myself getting crazy jealous when my partner talks to other women, even though I know it’s nothing. How do I stop?
Typically, feeling insecure in your relationship means that you may feel insecure in other areas of your life as well, explains Morse. So even though it may seem counterintuitive, do things that build up your confidence outside of your relationship, which will help you build up your self-esteem and feel better within your partnership.
Try challenging yourself more at work, or joining a club, or starting a new hobby—anything that will make your life feel even more full. “It’s definitely an inside job that doesn’t really have to do with your relationship at all,” Morse continues. If you try to find confidence elsewhere and the jealousy is still tearing you up inside, you could also try seeing a therapist to help you see just how amazing you are.
Now, check out the trailer for Sex Education to laugh slash feel all the feels, and don’t forget to tune in starting January 11!