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10 things I’ve learned in 10 years writing about sex and relationships

By December 26, 2020No Comments

After accidentally becoming a sex and relationships writer for magazines a decade ago, Aisling Keenan is now immune to being shocked by anyone’s love life revelations. Here are ten of the biggest lessons she’s learned in that time…


1. Everyone is lying

Okay, maybe not everyone. But a solid 90% of people, in my experience, are putting up a front about their sex lives, their relationships and how great things are going. And comparison, like in every other aspect of life, is the thief of joy here too. Particularly when you factor in the reality that you’re comparing yourself to something unknowable.

I can guarantee you that the friend who effusively brags about their ten-times-a-week sex life is probably not having half as much fun as they let on. And the pal who says she and her other half never argue? Little do they know that that’s a really negative sign in a relationship. Which leads me on to my next point.

2. The biggest relationship issue: Communication breakdown

This applies to both sex lives and romantic relationships. If you’re not talking to each other, regularly and with honesty, chances are things will get tricky… and fast. I have interviewed so many women (and men) who tell ME all the things they want to say to their other half, and yet don’t communicate those thoughts to the very person they – in theory – should be able to say anything to.

If you’re reluctant to be up front with your partner about aspects of your life together, examining why that is, and rectifying it, can do wonders. Talk, talk again, talk more. I promise it helps.

3. Bad advice is the WORST

I’ve also spent a good amount of time countermanding terrible relationship advice. I’m not an expert, I don’t have a degree in relationship psychology, but I’ve interviewed enough professionals to know what patently bad advice looks like. And it’s everywhere.

The internet is full of ill-conceived notions about how best to conduct your relationships, and much of it is utter tripe. Likewise, your friends are not reliable sources of advice, as they will likely project their own needs, wants and history on to you. A single friend, for instance, might encourage the rift between you and your other half based on their own feelings about being single at the time. If you’re really struggling with something, talk to a professional.

4. There’s a lot more relationship overlap than we let on

This is something I didn’t realise went on until years into my relationship writing and research. We tend to check out of relationships, mentally, long before they officially end. Whether it’s fear keeping us there or guilt of hurting someone, many people know a relationship is over long before it is.

When that happens, lots of us, of every and no particular gender, start the process of moving on early, and quite often have a feeling or have an inkling towards someone new before the current partnership breaks down. When you start mentally checking out of a relationship, the kindest thing to do is keep the other party informed, tough as it might be.

5. You can’t expect someone else to know your thoughts

Again, this one comes down to talking. I hear over and over again people writing themselves an internal dialogue about something that hasn’t happened, and expecting their partner to have made the same leap. Often, what goes on in our minds is entirely different to what’s happening in our OH’s mind, and neither side can be blamed for developing a perspective or feelings that turn into a conflict.

What can be achieved through communicating those spiralling thoughts, however, is clarity. No one can read minds. Unless you’re dating that Sally the Psychic lady, but I think she’s spoken for.

6. Trust is paramount

I always say it, but aside from maybe communication, trust – or lack thereof – is the biggest mover and shaker in your relationship and can cause all sorts of upset. I’ve spoken to so many people for whom trust being broken is at the core of every single seemingly unrelated issue they’re having.

If trust in your partner is broken, whether it was you who broke it or the other person, it’s incredibly difficult (but not impossible) to repair. Without it, doubt and suspicion and niggling thoughts will eat away at the partnership until nothing but mutual despair remains. Grim? Yes. But this is where good communication comes in. See point no.2.

7. People change

And that fact can work to your advantage and your disadvantage, but in both cases, change and growth should be allowed and understood.

If, for instance, someone was unfaithful in a relationship, with real work and dedication, trust can be rebuilt. The notion of ‘once a cheater always a cheater’ applies only some of the time. Change also applies the other way – a previously solid relationship can morph over time when people get older, mature and grow separately. And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, talking about any of those big, noticeable changes can prevent them imploding your previously easy breezy partnership.

8. Everyone needs therapy

If you’re consistently having relationship issues and can’t seem to break a cycle of negative ones, you might need to chat out some issues with a professional. It’s one of the best things you can do for both your own mental health and the health of every romantic (and non-romantic) relationship in your life.

Working through any leftover traumas from childhood or past relationships can do great things for every future romantic situation you might find yourself in. Building self-awareness is always a worthwhile endeavour.

9. People love in different ways

As magoo as it might sound, there really ARE different love languages. Some people need constant reassurance verbally, some people see acts of kindness as the best expression of love, and some people crave physical affection more than anything else.

It’s always worth remembering that you are unique, as are your needs, and asking your partner to fulfil them is not only acceptable, but encouraged. They can’t intuit your deepest desires independently – help them, and let them help you be a better partner, lover and friend. Everything gets easier when differences in requirement are understood.

10. Love is a daily commitment

That exciting, all-consuming, lustful love you first have for your partner is powerful and amazing, but doesn’t last beyond maybe three or four years if you’re lucky. Not without work, anyway. That’s not to say couples lose all those elements after that point, but it just doesn’t happen organically anymore.

Choosing to love someone, fancy someone and be with someone has to be a daily decision. Through good and bad, showing up to take part in your relationship is what will make it last and what will ensure it remains a happy environment (for the most part). Recommitting is as vital as committing.


Photo by Djim Loic on Unsplash