There has been so much discussion about how the CoVid-19 pandemic has changed our social norms, adjusted extra-curricular outlets, altered working lives to remote, and resulted in endless home improvement projects. Yet, there has been less discussion about how the pandemic has also shifted our intimacy and quality of connection with our romantic partners. There is a misconception that having more time with our partners translates to increased desire for sexual encounters. Whereas couples therapists are seeing a different trend than what many would expect.
The pandemic has influenced our experiences with how we spend our time and how we relate to our partners. While it is true that for some, the pandemic has created opportunity to ignite a flame within their romantic relationship, for many others it has hindered their ability to keep the flame alive. What is this flame? For some it’s intimacy, for some it’s connection, and for others it’s desire, but for the sake of this discussion, let’s name it intimacy.
Intimacy is defined as “closeness,” but central is emotional closeness. Many partners report being in close corridors with one another, yet feeling emotionally disconnected. The pandemic accelerated and intensified the proximity between partners, an immersive experience where “closeness” was in overdrive. So, what happens when closeness is overworked? Renowned relationship expert, Esther Perel described it perfectly in her book Mating in Captivity (2007):
“When the impulse to share becomes obligatory, when personal boundaries are no longer respected, when only the shared space of togetherness is acknowledged and private space is denied, fusion replaces intimacy and possession co-opts love”.
Too much time with one another for some has been the opposite of a “turn on.” As a result, at times there may even be doubts about the romantic relationship, increased levels of irritability, lower tolerance for one another’s differences, blurred lines of communication, or even a loss of self. If you’re experiencing these and have concerns towards re-igniting the fire in your relationship … pause… take a deep breath… and grasp onto a new direction instead. It’s time to start a new flame, not re-ignite the old one.
This may look differently for every couple but here are some new directions to try:
1) Provide space for partners to have self-care such as exercising, reading, or acknowledging their preference for quiet time.
2) Leave room for individuality such as creating space for your partner’s interest. (Watching their favorite sport, listening to music, eating favorite foods, or trying new things.)
3) Give time for mini escapes such as visiting friends, family, or even a solo adventure outdoors in nature.
4) If you are running out of things to talk about as a couple, shift your view of what intimate communication looks like. Esther Perel discusses using body language vs. verbal communication. This can look like a wink, a high five, a squeeze of the shoulder, or a turning towards your partner and giving them your undivided attention.
5) Seek out Couples therapy to learn new ways of igniting the relationship.
There is much focus on the collective and individual loss resulting from CoVid and yet we must acknowledge that the extinguished flame is another level of loss. Instagramer MindfullyActive shed light to this mantra, “A fire reveals a path of renewed direction once the burning is complete”…. So let’s redefine intimate communication, create new individual spaces, shift love languages, and build spontaneity.