The Coronavirus Hurts Romance, Too
Relationship survival in the face of COVID-19.
Posted Mar 20, 2020
Stuck at home and going stir crazy? That’s the unfortunate reality for so many of us right now. We are living the perfect storm of increased stress, limited room to move, and fewer distractions than we are used to. Even in the best of times, being alone with ourselves isn’t always easy. But the lack of certainty about our health, as well as the health and welfare of our families, our nation, and our world can leave us feeling out of control. Life stress makes self-control more challenging. If we aren’t careful, it will become all too easy to take out our tension on our loved ones. If it’s easier to treat other people more kindly during this time, but you are more irritable with your partner, this essay is for you.
When we are tense, stuff that normally would seem unimportant can become more upsetting. Feeling a lack of control in our lives may make us inclined to want to control others. Stress and tension close our hearts and our bodies. Rather than make your partner the recipient of all this negativity, here are some ideas to get you through the quarantine without damaging your romantic relationship.
- All couples get used to a certain amount of physical and emotional space in a relationship. When this physical distance gets altered – such as when you are together on vacation or in social isolation at home – you may need more breathing room to balance this change. This dance of intimacy and space is ongoing and will likely be challenged in these next weeks and months. Try to manage it consciously and pre-emptively with designated alone time. Otherwise, you may be more likely to create it unconsciously with arguments or rude behavior that makes your partner want to pull away.
- Try not to use sex as an outlet for your tension unless this is your partner's way of coping, too. If sex gets repurposed as a way to distract or soothe yourself, you risk your partner feeling used. Instead, make it really clear that you want intimacy with them. How? Maintain eye contact and talk to them during sex play. Tell them why they are hot and/or why you love them. In this way, they will feel like an integral part of your erotic experience, as opposed to a vehicle for your pleasure.
- Take a few minutes every day to relax and open your body and your heart. In times of tension, our hearts and bodies naturally tighten and close. This place of closure creates opportunities for arguments. Instead, counteract this tendency with stretches, meditations, or deep breathing. In this way, you will not only be more open to giving love but also more open to receiving it.
- Stop talking and just be together with your lover in silence. If you are in the same space for extended periods of time, you risk driving each other crazy with conversation. Your quiet presence can be more powerful and sustaining – as long as you really are present and not distracting yourself with your phone or computer.
- Touch calms the body and reminds your nervous system that you are safe. Tender touch can be more soothing than words because it’s such a deep, body-level communication. Don’t underestimate the impact of holding hands, slow dancing in the kitchen, or relaxing into each other on the couch.
- Write your partner a love letter. Remember the lost art of putting pen to paper? Take advantage of this time to resurrect this sentimental gesture. Express why you love your partner, why you respect them, and what they’ve added to your life. Recognizing how life without them would feel prevents you from taking them for granted in this stressful time.
- Now is the perfect time to remind yourself that sex is so much more than intercourse. Enjoying the moment by moment process of lovemaking ultimately offers more pleasure than focusing on the outcome of orgasm. To prove this point, sometimes I suggest to my sex therapy clients to make love with their clothes on. This sensual experience highlights the fact that there is much pleasure and connection to share even without genital contact.
- Take care of yourself during this time of isolation. Your relationship will suffer if you ignore your own needs. Create a structure and schedule for your days that include designated work and relaxation time. Find ways to be active even if you can’t get outside or go to the gym. Our minds can be relentless generators of unhelpful thoughts. Release tense thoughts and feelings by journaling. Practicing mindfulness meditation can help you develop the skill of taking these thoughts less seriously.
- In the heat of the moment, words can be exchanged that you could regret later. Whatever brief moment of satisfaction angry words offer won’t make up for the pain that follows. If you are at risk for arguing cruelly, take a timeout. Timeouts aren’t just for kids, so use them liberally if tensions are high in your household.
Stressful times are capable of bringing out our best as well as our worst. For the next weeks and perhaps months, most of us will show both of these sides to our partners – and they will do the same for us. Try your best to remember that this too shall pass. Let’s help each other get to the other side of this crisis with as much compassion and tenderness as possible.