So – you’re in quarantine.
The first thing on your mind probably isn’t your relationship. It’s more likely the pressing issue of your physical health and that of your loved ones.
Or the financial stress brought on by being sent home from work – unsure of when you’ll be able to return.
The pressure to somehow keep your life afloat while the world and everything around you is changing by the minute.
It’s stressful – to say the least. And quite frankly, terrifying.
Once you’ve settled into quarantine and the stressors surrounding your immediate health have been lifted (even if only ever so slightly), other issues can rise to the surface.
Even sexual problems.
Being forced to stay at home in quarantine, be it implicitly or explicitly because of COVID-19, can place extreme pressure on your relationship.
All those things that you’ve been pushing to the side for so long – are suddenly right there, screaming in your face.
You can’t avoid them anymore.
I want you to know you’re not alone and that there are ways of dealing with this, regardless of whether your problem is low libido, a sexless relationship, or just plain irritation.
Problem #1 You get on each other’s nerves
All of a sudden it’s like your partner or spouse is trying to annoy you.
The way they chew their food, their bad choice of Netflix shows, or their constant worrying about the situation is driving you crazy.
The last time you spent this much time with them was probably when you were madly in love, and now you’re finding it hard to remember just why you fell in love with them in the first place.
1. Reminisce about good times together.
By chatting about good memories you’ll be reminding yourselves and each other, why you’re so good together. Talk about when you first met and what drew you to one another. What did the other person do or say that was irresistible? Do they still do those same things? What do you love about your partner?
2. Do a quick intimacy inventory.
We usually think of intimacy as sexual – but according to researcher Stephen T. Fife, there are in fact 17 types of intimacy, sex being only one of them.
When you’re both driving each other mad, doing an inventory of the kinds of intimacy you share in your relationship or marriage can be a great way of redirecting your attention to the positives (and the things you’d like to work on together!).
If you’re in quarantine for a while (and you may very well be), you’ll have lots of time to work on your relationship.
When you do an intimacy inventory you work together to create the kind of relationship you both want.
First – make a note of which of Fife’s 7 out of 17 types of intimacy you share together. It’s not important you share all of them, but hopefully, you can find one type of intimacy that resonates with your relationship.
You connect by laughing together. You’ve got inside jokes and make each other laugh. You enjoy the fun side of life together.
You share the experience of giving to/assisting others. You get closer to each other when you jointly share the joy that comes from giving to/sharing with other people.
You share the responsibility of bringing up your children; meet their physical, emotional and spiritual needs. This includes you working together when it comes to teaching and upbringing, and that you love and worry about the well-being of your children.
You feel close and care for each other as friends.
Closeness comes from creating things together. You share intimacy by being creative together.
You get close to each other by dealing with problems and pain together. You stand united in the face of tragedy. You deal with adversity together, whether it’s about family, illness, aging, unemployment.
You bond with each other through conversation. The communication channels are open. You listen to your partner and appreciate your partner’s ideas. You’re loving, considerate, respectful, giving, honest, and open in the way you communicate.
Second – Talk about which of these 7 types of intimacy are strengths in your relationship. Again – talking about the positives reinforces your love for one another and will help minimize irritation. This is essential if you want your time in quarantine to be as pleasant as possible.
Third – Decide which aspects of intimacy you could stand to work on together. You’ll likely find you want to strengthen at least one or two or the abovementioned forms of intimacy.
Fourth – Plan how you’re going to work on your intimacy goals. If you’d like to share more humor intimacy, perhaps you could Netflix a stand-up show? If creative intimacy feels important to work on, maybe you could try making music together, baking or playing a game together?
Problem #2 You’re both stressed out
A pandemic is, thankfully, not the norm. But because we’re not used to it, it can cause massive amounts of stress. Finding ways of dealing with this stress isn’t only paramount to your own health and mental well-being, it’s also important for your relationship.
Oftentimes our stress is taken out on our partner. We don’t mean to do it – but it’s our coping mechanism. While in quarantine, try out the solutions below as a means of finding new coping mechanisms.
1. Tell yourself relationship stress is normal – because it is.
Being together 24/7 for at least two weeks isn’t the norm for most couples – so finding it stressful is normal. Getting on each other’s nerves is par for the course.
Nothing is wrong with your relationship just because quarantine is getting to it. You’re stressed, worried and anxious – potentially on an existential level. Remind yourself that this too shall pass. We don’t know when or how, but you won’t have to be in quarantine forever.
2. Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is all about being in the moment – regardless of what that moment looks like. It’s about learning to sit with your emotions and thoughts, even when they’re terrifying, exhausted or just plain annoying.
In times of stress, practicing mindfulness can help you acknowledge what’s running through your brain, and what is likely causing the cortisol levels in your body to rise. Once you acknowledge those thoughts you can let them go – and you’ll likely feel better because of it.
Problem #3 Your sexual problems become unavoidable
Being forced together for 24 hours of every day has suddenly made the avoidable – unavoidable. You were perfectly fine living in a sexless relationship or experiencing low libido – until quarantine hit.
It’s usually said that when we have sex it takes up about 10% of our lives. But when the sex stops – it takes up 90% of our lives.
This partly explains why sexual problems can feel insurmountable and all-encompassing – especially when we’re spending every waking moment together and we’re obviously not doing it.
1. Address it.
In order to deal with your sexual problems or differences, you’ll first need to address them. This is best done by talking about them.
I know – having a conversation about sex can be both difficult and embarrassing.
Maybe you’re afraid your partner will feel hurt by your non-existent libido.
Or perhaps you’re worried the whole conversation might turn into a fight.
All of these worries are completely normal. But it’s important to not let them get the best of you, so you end up avoiding the topic altogether.
Living in close quarters and not addressing the issue (even if it’s only an issue for one of you), will put unnecessary stress on your relationship. You don’t need this when you’re in quarantine.
Instead of looking at the potential negative effects of broaching the subject with your partner – try looking at the potential benefits (of which there are lots!).
You’ll be getting vulnerable with your partner. Vulnerability can increase emotional intimacy which in turn, can increase libido. And increased libido can lead to more and better sex.
You’ll be increasing the chances of sex that you actually want to have. Sex you crave. If you want your partner to touch you in a different way, to initiate sex more, to help you orgasm, or to stop doing that thing that makes you not want to have sex – talking about it is going to let them know. And when they know, they can make the necessary changes.
Tips on how to talk about sex
1. Let your partner know how you feel
If you’re nervous – tell them. If you’re worried, let them know that too. By telling your significant other how you feel about the topic, you’ll be giving them important information that also serves as an ice-breaker. This will likely increase the chances of a better conversation.
Once they know how you feel they can try and make it easier for you (or share your feelings).
2. Tell them you love them
When our partner doesn’t want to sleep with us anymore it can feel disheartening – like they’re not in love with us anymore. If you’re still in love, let them know!
This will help buffer against conflict while talking about sexual differences or sexual issues.
3. Try avoiding the words “you”, “never” and “always”
When we’re stressed or feel criticized it’s easy to start saying things like “you always want sex” or “you never want to have sex with me”.
Instead – use “I” statements. “I don’t really feel like having sex right now – could we talk about this?” or “I know you want to have sex right now, but I’m not in the mood, even though I still love you and am attracted to you”.
When you move the focus from what your partner is doing wrong, to what you’re experiencing or feeling, the conversation is less likely to spark a conflict. And you’re more likely to solve your sexual problems.
1. Change what sex is.
When we haven’t had sex for a while, the mere idea of having it can turn us off.
It can feel like a chore. Like something we have to cross off of our to-do list, or a performance we need to put on.
When sex feels impossible and sparks anxiety or worry it’s important to know that this isn’t abnormal and that there are ways of getting past it.
For one reason or another – your brain now equates sex with something negative. To turn it around you need to get your brain on board with sex again.
A few helpful ways of doing this are:
- Placing a playful ban on the thing that’s stressing you out. Even if it feels like everything about sex is a turn-off right now – try and work out if there are any specifics about sex that turn it into an ordeal.
Perhaps it’s the idea of oral sex, or the way your partner touches you during vaginal penetration that makes you want to avoid sex altogether.
If this resonates with you – try removing it and see how you feel about having sex now you know it’s not going to happen.
When we remove common staples from our sex lives – we force ourselves to get creative. And when we get creative, we’re more likely to increase our libido and actually feel like having sex. This gives our brain a chance to experience sex as something different – hopefully something exciting.
- Talking about those times together.
Even if your sex life is subpar at the moment, hopefully, you’ve created some positive sexual memories in the past. Talk about them! You’ll be surprised how quickly this kind of conversation can make sex go from a turn-off to a turn-on.
For a lot of people, especially women, our libido is responsive in nature – not spontaneous. This means our brain needs to be reminded of how good sex can be.
By having an open conversation about sex you’ll be giving your brain and body an incentive to spark your sex drive. And when you’re in quarantine together, sex can be a great way to pass the time.
- Turn sex into something small. Sex doesn’t have to be 45 minutes long with simultaneous orgasms – and once we remove that pressure by turning sex into something small – our libido can return. Try making out, getting aroused together by reading an erotic story or watching something sexy.
Being stuck in quarantine is stressful for many reasons; we worry about our health, the health of the planet, and where our next pay-check is going to come from. You don’t need to add worrying about your relationship to this list.
- If you’re annoyed with each other – focus on the positives and do an intimacy inventory.
- If you’re stressed and taking it out on each other – find other coping mechanisms, like mindfulness and realizing that this will pass.
- If your sexual problems are looming – talk about it. Try removing the things that make it stressful, talk about the good times together and turn sex into something small and do-able.
Signed, a sex therapist who’s currently in quarantine.
Originally published here and reprinted with the author’s permission.