Being stuck inside with your partner for months on end, sweatpants on rotation 24/7, and overall pandemic stress to boot – all factors that can be brutal for romance. Divorce rates have increased globally, and experts predict that the pandemic-induced break-up curve hasn’t peaked yet.
Even the strongest relationships have been tested in these trying times. Here are some tips to pandemic proof your relationship.
Prepare for Two Relationships Phases
Growing up with fairy tales and a steady diet of romcoms and love songs has created an unrealistic picture of what love is. The butterflies, can’t-wait-to-rip-your-clothes-off type of desire is common in the beginning stages where there’s an increase in dopamine.
Dopamine gets you excited about things that are in the future – it motivates you to pursue. It’s the strongest in new love. This passionate phase is when you’re blissed out on love drugs. It’s exhilarating, idealized, and about the possibilities of an exciting future. Desire is spontaneous, and the fact the apple of your eye leaves their socks all over the place is cute.
But it’s not humanly possible to sustain this intense high, and when the love drugs wear off in 12-18 months, you enter the next phase: companionate love.
This is when other chemicals start to run the show, and our brain transitions from future-oriented dopamine to present-oriented chemicals such as oxytocin, serotonin, and endocannabinoids. These are the bonding and trust chemicals that make you enjoy the present, appreciate what you have, and feel secure. These chemicals suppress dopamine. Also, your rose-tinted glasses come off that caused you to idealize your partner come off, and now you see them as the imperfect human they are, and those socks all over the place become really annoying.
If you’re not aware of this natural shift, you might think something is wrong with your relationship. It’s normal to miss the romantic rush of early love, and the good news is, you can try these tips to keep desire live and well even in a long-term, committed relationship.
Know Thy Partner’s Love Language
There are 5 main love languages (physical affection, quality time, acts of service, words of affirmation, and gifts). If you don’t speak your partner’s love language, you might be trying to express love and they’re not receiving it. For example, perhaps the way you feel loved is when you receive thoughtful gifts. You assume your partner has the same love language so you keep buying them gifts to show your affection – but they don’t seem to care. That’s because your partner’s love language is different. Perhaps it’s acts of service. They feel most loved when you cook and clean and do small things that help out around the house. The gifts aren’t registering in their mind as love.
To find out your partner’s love language, ask: “When do you feel most loved?” Make sure you also share your love language preference too.
Schedule Independent “Thursdays”
Agree on one day a week where both partners do their ‘own thing’. It’s a day of independence and creating intentional separation. That means you eat separately, keep conversations to a minimum and embrace the freedom to do activities for yourself without worrying about your partner. That might mean you catch up on podcasts or go for a solo hike, or bingewatch Bridgerton! Whatever you do with this free time – it’s time for yourself and the objective is to create some space in the relationship. Desire and passion need space to breathe, some element of mystery fans the flame. Allow space apart so you can build excitement to connect the next day. I personally do Independent Thursdays, and then follow up with a date night to connect the next day.
Set up Date Night
Set a date night for the following night. This doesn’t have to be over the top – it could be cooking dinner at home but you both dress up like you would in the early days of romance. It could be lighting some candles and taking a bath. Or take turns giving each other a massage. It’s not about what you do – it’s about how you do it. The goal is to put in some extra effort to make an experience more special. Agree to have phones off for a few hours so you can both be present with each other. That will feed the need for quality time. But if you’re constantly distracted with your phone, it doesn’t matter how much time you spend with your partner – you’re checked out and the lack of presence takes a toll on romance.
Start a Gratitude Ritual
Every dinner, commit to a gratitude ritual. Both partners (children can be a part of this too) take a turn to say what they’re grateful for and why. This helps you focus on the positive. It’s easy to get into a downward spiral of picking the faults of our partner and it’s helpful to create a system where you take the time to appreciate each other and say it out loud.
Use the Handshake Approach
Before you have an important conversation, ask yourself, am I going in with boxing gloves or a handshake? Boxing gloves is when you use accusatory language (you language), blame, and judge. You’ve already lost the conversation before it begins. Because when someone feels threatened, they become defensive. Their body responds by producing cortisol and adrenaline – which prepare their body to take action for fight/flight. The Handshake approach is when you express how you feel (I language), lead with compassion and curiosity. You start the conversation from a place of connection, not war. This gives you both an actual chance of having an adult conversation that can move forward.
Create a Pleasure Practice
In a partnership of two, there are three sexual relationships. Say what?
First, there’s the sexual relationship you have with yourself, second, there’s the sexual relationship your partner has with themself, and third, there’s the sexual relationship the two of you have together. Too often, we only focus on #3 and blame our partner for problems in the bedroom. You’ve got to first and foremost have a sexual relationship with yourself. If you’re hating your body, not taking care of yourself, and don’t ever get out of your sweatpants – that might add up to leave you feeling unsexy! You’re like in a sexy deficit and it’s a tall order to expect your partner to get you out of it and get you in the mood.
Find ways to get intimate with yourself – take a bath, use toys, rub oil on your body, put on a sexy song and dance to it. Experiment. Explore. What you do isn’t as important as the point that you’re setting time aside, for YOU – to activate your own desire, to love and nurture your body. That decision in itself is a step in building intimacy with yourself. And you can’t get intimate with others when you can’t get intimate with yourself.
Make a Yes, No, Maybe List
A concept made popular in the book Woman on Fire, this is a fun activity that can be done over a glass of wine (or kombucha, whatever your poison). Both you and your partner write a list (separately) of sexual activities and fantasies that you want to try or keep doing (that goes under YES), are curious to explore (MAYBE) and what is off limits (NO). You then compare lists and see what’s on the table and off. Note – if it’s a maybe, it’s a NO until it becomes a yes. For example, perhaps your partner suggests introducing sex toys. You’ve never tried using them before and might feel shy about it, but you’re not opposed to the idea. Items on the maybe list is something that can be discussed further, or put on hold until another time for discussion. See what’s mutually on the YES list, and now you’ve got some fun things to try on date night!
If some of these ideas resonate with you, great! Adding novelty and newness to a relationship can create that necessary space for desire to grow. But if you think that you can leave it to passionate love momentum and not have to make an effort to keep the relationship connected and intimate, you’re bound for a reality check at some point.