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SADE(E): Easing the Pain of Racial Stressors as a Couple

Updated: May 12, 2022

Did you do this as a kid? My friends and I used to take an alka seltzer tab into our mouths, and then take a little swig of Dr. Pepper. The soda would bubble, froth, and fill your mouth as the tab dissolved. The winner was the person who could keep their mouth closed. This was almost impossible after a point. Your mouth would burst open from the force of the air and the soda bubbles. At the end, you looked like a rabid dog; foam all around your mouth, dribbling down your chin and to the ground. We had to play this game outside, or else feel the wrath of grandma for ruining her rug.

Maybe, to you, it feels like the outside American climate is a mouth about to burst from the building racial tension. There was a frothing up through 2020 and it is bubbling up into this new year. You can’t stop watching videos of people of color being treated unfairly, or having conversations over Facebook about what “White privilege” is. And. It. Is. Exhausting.

What’s worse is that these outside issues easily mess with your relationship with your beloved. Maybe you’re stressed, so you fuss, nag, and snap at them. This makes them stressed, so they fuss, nag, or snap back at you. But guess what? They weren’t the one you were mad at, so why did you take it out on them?

A study by researcher C. Bryant and others found in 2010 that racial stress can negatively impact couples' relationships. Often this is when partners are not equipped to handle what is bothering them, or they have little to no chances to cool down before interacting with one another (Bryant et al. 2010). Now, this study in particular was looking at African American couples in the US, but it is highly likely that others with different backgrounds feel this way too.

As a way to help you cope with racially charged mistreatments from others or societal structures, it may be helpful to lean on your partner. It's very likely that you may feel hopeless or helpless, angry, sad, hurt, or indignant. What most people need in the face of injustice like this is validation from their beloved.

How do I do that, Imani? It's easy, just remember SADE(E).

SADE(E) is an acronym adapted from the Racism Recovery Plan (2015). The Institute for the Study and Promotion of Race and Culture group created a missive on how to work through and have togetherness or relief from racially traumatic inequalities. SADE(E) is a method made for couples (or best friends, or siblings, or coworkers) to use to help each other when they need validation and care. It stands for Share, Accept, Discuss, Empower Now, (Empower Later).

This is how each step works.

Share—In the share phase, the partners face each other. The "sharing" partner talks about the situation that caused distress. The listening partner does simply that. Just listens.

Accept— After the “sharing” partner is done, the "listening" partner accepts (or validates) the experiences that the "sharing" partner shared. Whatever the sharing partner feels or however (s)he reacted is how they felt. It's how they reacted. There is no wrong way to feel in events such as these. You could be numb, you could be angry, you could be depressed. If that is what you felt or feel, feel it. The “sharing” partner should accept their emotions too.

(The Share and Accept portion can be repeated if the listening partner also had an experience recently that they too want to talk about. After that, they can move onto the Discuss step)

Discuss—The partners discuss what happened inside themselves, in that moment. Note feelings in your body (tremors, rage, sadness, cold sweat, tears), or what bodily cues arise when racism occurs (triggers, emotions, thoughts). These can be warning signs that you are going to need friends soon, that you are going to have a reaction, or that you have felt this way before. What do you normally do in situations like these, or what have you done? What do you wish you did or did not do after that event happened? The partners can explore what others have done in similar situations.

Empower (NOW)— After discussing what happened, the partners now work towards empowerment: how to feel in control now. This can be self-care or partner support. Find healthy ways to feel better and in power over your life, your feelings, and your experiences.

Maybe you want to go eat dinner together or take a bubble bath alone. This is the time for self (or together)-care. Journaling, blogging, or issuing complaints to the appropriate authorities are other ways partners can empower themselves and each other. The "listening" partner will support the partner’s decision and assist as necessary, and as much as the "sharing" partner wishes.

(Empower later AKA Resistance) Here, the “sharing” partner, if they so choose, can take back more control of their situation by peaceful and civil resistance. This discussion between the partners is what they can do to be supportive later. You can volunteer, protest, donate, or speak out about your experiences. The Empower Later step is only to the comfort level of the “sharing” partner. It is a way to validate your experiences by sharing with others and finding connections. There is strength in voices, in vulnerability, and in communities.

People in committed relationships should lean on each other, especially when times are rough and tensions are high. Hopefully, by remembering SADE(E) couples can find ways to be supportive and validating when their loved one needs it most.

Written by: Imani Lipp

Bryant, C. M., Wickrama, K. A. S., Bolland, J., Bryant, B. M., Cutrona, C. E., & Stanik, C. E. (2010) Race matters, even in marriage: Identifying factors linked to marital outcomes for African Americans. Journal of Family Theory and Review. 2 (pp. 157-174). Doi: 10.111/j.1756-2589.2010.00051.x

Jernigan, M. M., Green, C. E., Perez-Gualdron, L., Liu, M., Henze, K. T., Chen, C., Bazelais, K. N., Satiani, A., Mereish, E. H., & Helms, J. E. (2015) #racialtraumaisreal. Institution for the Study and Promotion of Race and Culture.


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