Many of us are finding ourselves spending a lot more time at home due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, especially those of us in lockdown areas. For people who live with an intimate partner, this situation poses some unique challenges. I mean, a lot of us aren’t used to seeing our partners 24/7. And being stuck in a tight space with them—and only them—during such a high-stress time could very well lead to some conflict.
So what can you do to successfully navigate this situation and increase the odds that your relationship not only survives, but also thrives under these circumstances? As someone who studies sex and relationships for a living, here are some research-backed suggestions.
First, recognize that, as with any major challenge to a relationship, communication is key to getting through it. We see this in study after study—couples who communicate more not only tend to be more sexually satisfied, but they’re also happier in their relationships.
It’s therefore important that partners are able to tell each other what it is the they need and want—but also to remember that communication is a two-way street. You need to be willing to really listen to your partner and to make an effort to accommodate their needs.
Talk, listen, and do your best to be patient with one another.
Of course, this is easier said than done for some couples. Some relationships are already starting out stressed because they weren’t in a very good place to begin with. For these folks, the current situation is likely to prove especially challenging. These folks will need to back up and do some work on the underlying problems and issues in their relationship, so try to think of this as an opportunity to reconnect with your partner and develop a new intimacy.
Second, it is important that partners try to strike the right balance between having quality intimate time together, while also making an effort to give each other some space. Even in normal times, space issues often arise in relationships—but they’re likely to become even bigger issues under the current circumstances.
As many sex therapists, including Esther Perel, have argued, relationships—and especially sexual relationships—need space in order to thrive. Paradoxically, too much closeness can actually put a damper on desire.
Giving your partner space during a lockdown obviously presents a challenge—but it’s important to find ways to give each other some breathing room. Of course, this may look different depending on your living circumstances and the local restrictions in place.
However, as one example, perhaps you take turns going out for long walks or bike rides during the day so that you and your partner each have some personal time to do what it is that you want, whether that’s working on a hobby, having a virtual happy hour with your best friend, reading a book, meditating, or taking a relaxing bath.
Of course, if there are kids at home, maybe this involves you taking turns watching the kids while the other goes for a walk or gets to have alone time in a separate room.
Any way you look at it, the goal is to ensure that everyone has at least some space and time to themselves.
Third, it’s important to make an effort to maintain an active and exciting sex life. Research shows that sex is a great stress reliever for couples: on days couples have sex, they report feeling less stressed the next day. Sex also improves our psychological well-being: after sex, people report more positive moods and more meaning in life. Research has also found that people are more productive at work on days after they’ve had sex.
During stressful times like this, it’s therefore important to keep having sex not only for the health of the relationship, but also for our own personal mental health.
So how do you do this? How do you cultivate desire in such a high-stress situation? One approach is to take some time to “set the scene” so that you can spend an evening focusing on each other instead of the pandemic.
For instance, you might order takeout (if any restaurants are open) or perhaps make one of your favorite recipes. Either way, take the time to plate it properly and establish some ambience. Maybe you’ll dress up, light some candles, and open a bottle of wine so that it feels like more of a restaurant experience—or perhaps like a first date. Afterwards, perhaps you’ll cozy up on the couch to watch that movie you’ve both been wanting to see for a long time, and then see where the night takes you.
Think about it this way: just because you’re stuck at home doesn’t mean you can’t have a proper date night.
I would also suggest making an extra effort to incorporate more novelty into your sex life during this time. Research finds that couples who engage in more new and novel experiences tend to be more sexually satisfied. This is due, in part, to the fact that humans are titillated by sexual novelty, but also because new experiences tend to be more immersive—they capture our attention and prevent our minds from wandering.
It’s easy to be distracted by pandemic news right now because it’s all anyone can talk about—and that’s precisely why it’s important to craft sexual experiences that really allow us to let go and live in the moment.
So how can you do this? Start out by turning off your phones and laptops. Then just spend some time touching each other, perhaps by giving each other mini massages. Get rid of the distractions and start to relax. As you proceed to sexual intimacy, propose something new that you’re both likely to enjoy.
This could include trying a new position, surprising your partner with a new sex toy, wearing some sexy underwear or lingerie, playing a sexual game, sharing some sexual fantasies, or incorporating food with sex. Need more ideas? Check out this article for a list of 17 things that the most sexually satisfied couples are doing. Want tips for communicating about your fantasies? Check out Tell Me What You Want.
Lastly, don’t underestimate the power of touch when it comes to establishing and maintaining intimacy with your partner.
Touch is vital for connecting with a partner—and that’s why it’s the cornerstone of many sex therapy programs.
And don’t just touch each other when you’re having sex. Non-sexual touch throughout the day builds intimacy, whether it’s giving your partner a little back rub after work, holding hands on the couch, or cuddling in bed after sex. In fact, post-sex touch appears to be particularly powerful: couples who cuddle or spoon after sex report being more satisfied with both their sex lives and relationships.
The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and the social isolation measures that have been widely adopted are poised to challenge many relationships. However, the good news is that there’s a lot you can do to counteract those challenges and maintain a satisfying relationship for the long haul.
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Image Source: 123RF/Katarzyna Białasiewicz
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