How to Maintain Love and Intimacy During a Prolonged Crisis
Six ways to stay connected with your partner when times are hard.
Posted Apr 17, 2020
Countless couples are facing the stress and anxiety of the extended coronavirus crisis. We count on our partners for love and support when times are hard, but hardship can be a major challenge to maintaining love and intimacy.
I recently spoke with couples specialist Denise Wiesner about how couples can stay strong through stressful times. While she focuses primarily on struggles with fertility, the tools she offers are equally relevant to other sources of stress—including the challenge of being cooped up with your partner during a pandemic. These are some of the powerful practices she recommends.
Each of us has a fundamental need to be seen, especially by those who know us best. However, we often stop noticing our partners over time, much less actually seeing them. "We're so busy, and we're running from one thing to another," said Wiesner, "and we're looking at social media or we're texting." So we stop seeing the person we're with every day. It's a deeply touching experience to be seen by another person.
Practice: Take time to look into your partner's eyes. "The widows of the soul are in the eyes," said Wiesner. "You can see the vitality of our life in our eyes, and we get to really see each other." Use your awareness of your loved one's eyes to focus your attention entirely on them. (Just take care not to spook them with the intensity of your gaze, especially if it's been a long time since you've made significant eye contact with them.)
Wiesner noted that we can pay attention to our partner with more than our eyes. "It's actually all of our senses," she said. "It's touching each other, like spending a long time stroking your partner's face, and looking into their eyes and touching their arm. It's slowing down to revisit your partner in places you've never touched before."
Practice: Make a point today to touch your partner—a comforting hand on the back, a squeeze of the shoulder, a foot massage. Good human touch is healing.
Of course, you're always sharing air with your partner, but breathing with them on purpose is a powerful way to come together. You might do a short breath meditation with them—a "medidate," as it were—as each of you sits in silence with eyes closed, attending to the breath.
Wiesner offers the following joint breath practice, which she describes as a "very deep way to slow things down and get in sync with your partner":
Practice: "Sit across from each other. Put your left palm on your partner's heart, and they'll put their left hand on your heart. Hold your right hands and look into each other's eyes. Start noticing the rise and fall of your partner's abdomen and chest, and breathe with them. A really powerful energy starts flowing when you're breathing and touching their heart—it's a powerful way to create intimacy."
"When things get very serious," said Wiesner, "we forget about playfulness." Whether it's a pandemic, fertility struggles, a family member in crisis, or some other prolonged problem, it's easy for the chronic heaviness to crowd out the possibility of lightness between partners.
When possible, find ways to be playful with your partner. It won't take away the gravity of the situation you find yourself in, but it might give you a temporary break from feeling the full weight of it. Wiesner suggested the "Bee Breath" exercise:
Practice: "You sit back-to-back with your partner, and you kind of buzz like a bee," she said. "You feel the vibration of your partner on your back, and you just buzz together for a little bit." Don't worry if you think this sounds strange. "I know it sounds silly," Wiesner said, "but it does something to our bodies, and it's a great way to discharge stress and reconnect. It's kind of fun, too."
Fear often kills intimacy and crowds out closeness. Wiesner recommends trusting the natural flow of the universe as an antidote to anxiety and fear. That doesn't mean giving up or resigning yourself to whatever happens, and it doesn't mean you stop caring about things that are important to you. It just means letting go of the illusion that we have ultimate control over our lives, and finding some rest there.
"We really don't know what the future has for any of us," said Wiesner, "and we can't force things. And it's important to allow things to come to you as you live each moment in each day." She recommends expressing gratitude in the midst of your struggles as a potent way to practice trust. "It's the greatest thing each partner can try to do," said Wiesner.
Practice: We often take our stress and anxiety to bed with us, dwelling on things that went wrong during the day or remembering things we're worried about. Try focusing instead on what went well. Don't worry about trying to "feel grateful"—just notice the good things in your life. This practice can set the tone for how you feel not only as you drift off to sleep but for when you wake up in the morning.
Place a pen and paper at your bedside so they'll be there when you go to bed tonight. Just before you turn off the light to sleep, write down three things you're grateful for about your day. Your list might include the people you love, daily experiences (like the food you ate), something you did well today, or whatever you like. Allow what you write to fill your mind as you turn off the light and go to sleep.
(This practice is adapted from the free e-guide, 10 Ways to Manage Stress and Anxiety Every Day.)
Finally, find ways to release the stress that accumulates in your body and mind in difficult times. As you release tension, you'll have more bandwidth to notice and connect with your partner.
"Stress puts us in sympathetic, fight-or-flight mode," said Wiesner. You can activate the calming parasympathetic part of the nervous system through various practices—ones that connect you with your body and breath can be especially helpful. "Practice meditation. Do yoga, qi gong, or Pilates. Any type of practice where you move, breathe, and feel your body."
Practice: "Go through your body parts and shake them," said Wiesner. "Your left arm, your right arm, your left leg, right leg, shaking your whole body. You can do it to music or on your own." Admittedly this shaking practice is a bit unusual, but it's a well-known way to release stress and tension (and I can tell you from personal experience that it's helpful). "If we look at animals, they just shake their whole body if they're stressed out, and they shake it off. So it's a great way to consciously discharge energy that's stuck in our bodies."
The full conversation with Denise Wiesner is available here: How to Maintain Love and Intimacy During Baby-Making Sex.
Wiesner, D. (2019). Conceiving with love: A whole-body approach to creating intimacy, reigniting passion, and increasing fertility. Berkeley, CA: Shambhala.