Reconnecting for couples who have been quarantined

Finding intimacy after COVID

Written by Abby Lee Hood 

It seems like there’s always new headlines about COVID-19. Vaccination rates are higher and lower in different areas, COVID variants are developing, and people are still getting sick. The situation is ever-changing, and 2021 looks a lot different than initial lockdowns in 2020. 

For some, that may have been an extremely difficult time. Many people quarantined indoors, and single people and couples alike faced unique challenges. Couples who quarantined together likely had trouble being stuck indoors, together, 24/7. But if there’s one bright side, it’s that partners who found ways to make it work likely learned incredible communication and coping skills that will help you work through future lockdowns or simply enjoy a stronger relationship from now on.

Even if you found the silver lining, though, it’s possible you need a fresh start or to shake things up. Whatever COVID and dating looked like for you, let’s talk about some ways you can reconnect and find communication and intimacy again after such a hard year.

How COVID and dating changed during lockdown 

There’s just no question COVID affected the way we date, love and connect. In the early months of COVID, the New York City Health Department put out a viral press release about safer sex during quarantine. It stated “you are your safest sex partner” and gave advice on using condoms, long-distance hookups and even tips for sex workers who were at a high risk for COVID infection.

In addition, dating apps like Tinder reported increases in activity. Tinder says the app saw 11% more swipes and 42% more matches last year according to a recent report. The increase in dating wasn’t only for younger users, who you might assume were the most active during quarantine. An AARP report found that in March 2020, Luxy Partners, a dating app for wealthy singles, said 87% of senior singles wanted to wait to meet in person until the pandemic was over. But by June, many had changed their minds and only 43% wanted to wait.

Of course, it wasn’t all good news and heart eyes. Many couples were severely impacted by COVID-19. During the first stages of 2020's quarantine, some simply faced too many obstacles; a BBC report in December, 2020 found that couples reported cheating, lack of communication and other problems that led to divorce. Despite the initial numbers, though, divorce is actually at a 50-year low in the U.S., although marriages are also declining at a rapid pace. According to Bloomberg, both divorce and marriage rates are slowing, but there are many reasons, and it’s not exclusively because of the pandemic.

“Young people are waiting longer to tie the knot, and many couples are forgoing marriage entirely, choosing to live together without a wedding. Those who do marry tend to be better educated and more affluent, a self-selected group that’s also likelier to stay together,” Bloomberg stated on their site.

What to do when you need a fresh start

Although a lot about how to date during COVID is still evolving, there are things couples can do when they need a fresh start, or when anxiety and stress start to feel overwhelming. 

First of all, communication is key. A recurring theme we noticed among experts and therapists was this common refrain. According to Time Magazine, this can include:

  • Reduce criticism. Whether you’re still stuck indoors a lot or getting back to a more normal schedule, now is not the time for criticising. We have enough to worry about with a constantly stressful news cycle!
  • Let your partner feel bad about the pandemic. Not every partner is going to have the same attitude, or even approach, to the pandemic. If someone is really worried about getting sick, that’s totally understandable. Try to be accommodating and take the measures that help all partners in a relationship feel safe.
  • Ask for what you want. Partners aren’t mind readers (unless there’s something we don’t know!). You need to communicate your boundaries and ask for what you need. If your partner truly cares about you, you’ll find ways to accommodate each other’s needs as much as possible. Not asking could doom your partner to failure, and that isn’t fair to anyone.

Make way for me time 

If you feel like you’re worn down and tired after a hard year of the pandemic, maybe it’s time to take a little relaxation time before worrying about being intimate again. There are a few things to consider to get some much needed r-and-r, like:

  • Booking a solo trip for yourself. Even in relationships, you need “me” time to recharge and reboot. Consider going on a solo hiking trip, or just book a couple of nights in an affordable hotel in the nearest big city. Treat yourself to dinner and have a night out (or in, if that’s your thing!) It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you take time for yourself. Even if it’s going shopping for a few hours alone. The idea is to reclaim your independence and peace of mind.
  • Scheduling a staycation. If traveling isn’t on the docket, consider booking a staycation for your partner(s). It could be a day-long relaxation fest, perhaps starting with a local yoga class, a massage, a picnic in the park, a day at the beach, or simply a day to catch up on the movies and television you love. Whatever your favorite activities are, we can promise you that time to truly, deeply rest is going to help you feel brand new! 

More intimacy, please!

Now, if you feel like you’ve got the building blocks laid down and communication and a little relaxation are in the books, you might want to start thinking about how you can increase your intimacy and sex drive. It’s important to note that Onhealth says the biggest sex drive killers are stress, partner conflict, alcohol, not enough sleep, having kids, medication, low self esteem and depression, among others.

If you’re struggling with any of those issues, you will probably want to tackle them head on and with a professional’s help if needed. But we also love the idea of redefining intimacy altogether. In fact, Tribeca Therapy says thinking of intimacy only as sex can be oppressive! An article on their site defines intimacy as “being close to someone in a manner that isn’t about what they bring or what they do. It’s not about their cooking, how handsome or beautiful they are or their funny jokes. Deep intimacy is being with someone in their “their-ness.”

Intimacy doesn’t have to just be sex, and if you’re feeling pressured to get it on but aren’t feeling up to it, that could make the problem worse.

Massages, taking baths and showers together, going on romantic dates and trying new experiences together are all intimate. More intimacy isn’t just about the bedroom, and you’re really cutting yourself short if that’s all there is. Be intimate and stay romantic, but remember to take it outside the bedroom. That could be where you find the hot spark to bring back home.

And of course, there’s no shame if the above tips simply aren’t cutting it. Sometimes you may need to seek professional help for yourself or your relationship. If you or a partner is really struggling, reach out to a therapist who can set up either solo or couples’ sessions. Internet articles are good, but they aren’t the same as talking to a licensed professional.

So if you want or need to, go! It’s worth it! Verywellmind has a list of the six best online marriage counseling programs, or you can call a local therapist’s office to schedule a session.

COVID-19 has presented many challenges, and as the COVID vaccination and vaccination rates differ around the world, it’s unlikely those challenges will stop any time soon. It’s natural to feel anxiety and stress, but couples can take a beat to work on communication and intimacy. If you’re able to build the strong foundation of a healthy relationship now, you’re likely to reap the rewards for years to come. 

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