It's no secret that the coronavirus has quickly transformed every aspect of our lives—including dating, love, and intimacy. Couples around the world have suddenly found themselves either stuck together 24/7 or unexpectedly launched into long-distance relationships due to the quarantine and social distancing.
Dinner dates and movie-going have been replaced with DIY dishes and never-ending Netflix binges. For couples who are quarantining separately, quality time and physical touch have given way to Facetime and phone calls. Add the increased stress and anxiety, feelings of uncertainty, and overall heightened emotions that come with such extreme circumstances, and maintaining a healthy, stable relationship just got a whole lot harder. In other words: Quarantine relationship problems are very much real.
"This isn't going to affect any two people the same way, let alone any two relationships," says Rachel Wright, a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) and owner of the Wright Wellness Center based in New York. "Everyone's experience is valid. It doesn't have to fit into a box or a meme on Instagram."
It also doesn't have to put an overwhelming strain on your relationship, be it (suddenly) an LDR or years-long marriage. Here, experts share their top tips for not just surviving but *thriving* as a couple during quarantine. (Psst...picking up these hobbies during quarantine can also help.)
Take Some Alone Time
Going for a solo stroll, watching T.V. in a separate room, or even running to the grocery store by yourself can provide some much-needed "self-care," says Shamyra Howard, L.C.S.W., Louisiana-based licensed sex and relationship therapist and author of Use Your Mouth. "Intimacy is not only about how a person shows up for their partner, but it's also about self-preservation. This level of preservation helps set the tone for how you show up in the relationship." (Related: The Self-Care Items Shape Editors Are Using At Home to Stay Sane During Quarantine)
Equally as important as this individual space? Talking to your partner about it before going ghosting. "Be sure to communicate to your partner that you aren't interested in leaving them or the relationship, but that you need breaks to recharge and take care of yourself," says Howard. And then give them a head's up again before, say, going for a run, because "telling your partner of plans ahead of time helps them to feel included," she adds.
Just be sure to also dedicate time for togetherness and dating—yes, even if you're stuck at home. For example, spend a night (or two…or three…) in a separate room and then meet your partner at their 'place' for a late-night rendezvous, suggests Howard, who adds that for some, this nighttime separation can help couples miss one another despite the quarantine.
Check-In With Yourself…and Then Your Partner
Instead of, say, binging Bravo during your "me time," use this space for self-reflection by journaling or practicing meditation. "With so much going on in the world today, you need to check in on yourself, just as you'd do with someone you care about," she explains.
From there, Wright recommends you check in your partner every a.m., especially if you're in a shared living space. "If you know at the beginning of the day that your partner is feeling anxious, then you can start the conversation of 'How can I show up for you?' or 'What would be the most helpful thing for me to do (or not do) for you today?" says Wright. "If we can communicate about our feelings, how those feelings can manifest into action, and what we need from our partner—we're setting them up to succeed," she says. Assuming what your partner is thinking, feeling, or needs (or vice versa) is a recipe for frustration when you're in quarantine (and in general). (See also: 8 Common Communication Problems in Relationships)
Meet In the Middle
With millions of couples now confined to their homes in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19, tensions and tempers are inevitably going to rise. What may have started off as a minor disagreement may eventually escalate into a full-blown argument. The reason? "Human beings are not meant to sit around and be with one person all the time. We have a variety of friends, partners, and family members for this exact reason," says Wright. "[Plus] due to the stress and anxiety around the pandemic in general, our patience is lower. So, things that usually wouldn't bother us may be getting on our nerves just because of pure frequency."
Maybe you recently realized that your partner is the person who yells on conference calls—all. day. long. The good news: you're learning more about your partner. The not-so-good news: this headset-wearing phenomenon might lead you to pick a fight when, otherwise, you'd calmly ask them to lower their voice. When an issue like this arises, Wright suggests having each partner bring their ideal situations to the table and see where they overlap, similar to a Venn diagram. "Ask yourself, 'If I could truly have it my way, if I were coming from this super selfish place, what would I want?'" she says. "If both partners start all the way at their extremes, then they can usually find their way to the middle ground." (Related: 6 Tips for Healthier (and Less Hurtful) Relationship Arguments)
Social Distancing? Go Digital
"Couples who are self-isolating separately or in long-distance relationships are also experiencing challenges," such as feeling lonely, says Howard. "It is important for these couples to be able to discuss these feelings with their partner and agree on how to combat the loneliness in ways that aren't overwhelming for either person in the relationship." (And you might also want to learn more ways to deal with loneliness while self-isolating.)
Whether you've recently been ~stung by cupid~ or been dating for years, asking for more QT with your partner can oftentimes be challenging, bringing up feelings of shame or uncertainty. Make it easier by "simply asking for what you need," she says. "In this situation, one partner could say, 'I really miss you and I'm feeling lonely. Can we set some time aside for a video call later?'"
Speaking of video calls, don't be afraid to use these virtual tools to help spice things up. "Embrace your new temporary way of dating by using technology to your advantage. Eat dinner with each other via video call, watch a movie with each other via video call, or enjoy a virtual escape room together," says Howard, who also encourages couples to prioritize their sexy time. "Invest in an app-controlled vibrator, enjoy sexting, or try phone sex."
If you're feeling extra frisky and ready to kick your sexy scenarios up a notch, consider virtual sex (of any kind)—carefully. "Start with text, then move to audio, and then to video, if that feels better. Acknowledge that [virtual sex] is new and uncomfortable (if applicable), set ground rules, and have a safe word to stop. Also, decide if you want to use toys or not," she says. "It's only awkward if you tell yourself it's awkward."
Sex—and Libido—During Quarantine
For couples who are quarantining together, sex can also be a challenge. For example, one person may want sex all the time while the other person may have a lower desire. "Many people are experiencing variances in their libido, which makes total sense, and partners need to be understanding of that," says Wright. "It's quite normal for people to have different sex drives on any given day, let alone in this situation." (After all, stress is a huge factor in your sex drive.)
While spicing up your sex life is always fun (and these positions are perfect for getting steamy), Wright advises couples to go with the flow and avoid putting too much pressure on themselves unless they have the urge to do so. She also notes that compromise is crucial. "Talk about what you want, allow your partner to express what they want, and then find a middle ground," she says.
In times such as these, the most important thing you can do is communicate. "Being able to express your needs and feelings to your partner is very helpful and comforting," explains Howard. "It's even more comforting to be able to respond to your partner's feelings with a sense of understanding and support." (Up next: 5 Things Everyone Needs to Know About Sex and Dating, According to a Relationships Therapist)