Dear Therapist’s Guide to Love and Relationships

Talking honestly and openly won’t necessarily save a troubled relationship, but doing so can clarify whether one can and should be saved.

Couple ready to take the leap.
Bianca Bagnarelli
Editor’s Note: With Lori Gottlieb on book leave, Rebecca J. Rosen, the editor of Dear Therapist, begins another month as The Atlantic’s “Dear Therapist” archivist, pointing readers to some of Lori’s most beloved columns.

Lori Gottlieb continues to work on her book, and I continue to bring you some “Dear Therapist” wisdom in her stead. This month, I’m exploring the theme of relationships: having them, not having them, and having them fall apart.

Choosing just four columns was quite a challenge. No surprise, many readers write to Lori with questions about their relationships; sex, heartbreak, children (and whether to have them in the first place), and how to take care of a suffering partner are all struggles of the most common sort. This isn’t to say that they are banal, but the opposite: The desire to find and sustain love is an essential part of being human—something nearly everyone has, in the deepest sense, in common.

As I read through Lori’s columns on relationships, one central theme emerged: the necessity of honest, vulnerable communication. That doesn’t mean making one’s case, but doing the work required to understand one’s own feelings, to express them in ways that are respectful and truthful, and then to stop talking and listen, without being defensive and without judgment. “Bring honesty into all of your relationships,” Lori advises, “knowing that it’s the soil from which everything healthy grows.”

Talking honestly and openly won’t necessarily save a troubled relationship, but doing so can clarify whether one can and should be saved. Communicating, in this sense, is a process of both connection and self-discovery.

In the four columns I’ve selected below, Lori coaches readers in the conversations they need to have to get through tough situations. My hope is that these examples can be models for anyone needing, in this time of pandemic isolation, to feel closer to a partner or a friend or family member, as certainly this advice is not relevant only to those in romantic relationships. Because when communication works, it connects—and that connection to another human fulfills us and lifts us.

illustration of two people holding hands

Dear Therapist: I’m Afraid My Boyfriend’s Sexuality Will End Our Relationship

He says he’s bisexual, but I’m worried he’s actually gay.

illustration of a large baby sleeping between two parents in a bed

Dear Therapist: My Husband and I Don’t Have Sex Anymore

I miss the closeness we had before our baby was born.

illustration of one person hugging an outline of another person

Dear Therapist: My Boyfriend Loves Me, but He’s Not Affectionate Enough

I’m tired of feeling like I’m putting more effort into our relationship than he is.

two people standing on a tightrope between two cliffs

Dear Therapist: I’m Having an Affair and I’ve Never Been Happier. Should I Confess?

I feel incredibly guilty and am worried that if we come clean, we will lose the respect of our children and become pariahs in our community.

Dear Therapist is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental-health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. By submitting a letter, you are agreeing to let The Atlantic use it—in part or in full—and we may edit it for length and/or clarity.