For Couples, Being Stuck Inside Together Isn’t The Same As Being Intimate

two people working on laptops on lounge chairs

Depending on where you live (and if you’ve been following the state guidelines, please do!) you might be going on over four months of being stuck inside with your partner. This is something that none of us saw coming, and you probably never would have predicted that you’d be 1 on 1 with your partner for this long in any situation — let alone during a pandemic!

What might have felt like an opportunity for cute romantic quality time during the first couple of weeks of quarantine has likely now morphed into a source of frustration, uneasiness, and an overall sense of being stuck, both literally and figuratively.

But make no mistake: being stuck inside with your partner is not the same thing as being intimate.

“Feelings of intimacy are far more important than simply being in close physical proximity with someone,” says Talkspace provider Rachel O’Neill, Ph.D., LPCC-S. “Intimacy requires a sense of closeness and emotional connection. Perhaps most importantly, it requires an intentional emphasis on maintaining this closeness and connection.”

So, when we’re talking about closeness, we’re talking about emotional closeness, not literal closeness. Just because you’ve been quarantined in the same few rooms (or one room if you live in a studio apartment with your partner, bless you) it doesn’t mean that you’re maintaining a close emotional connection. Often, it takes work to maintain a strong and healthy intimate connection with a partner. Even relationships that might’ve felt rock solid before quarantine could be feeling shaky now.

Couples who just moved in together and couples who’ve been living together for years may have taken a hit during this pandemic. If you’re one of those couples, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Let’s reiterate: we’re living through a pandemic. These are not normal life circumstances, and honestly, it’s no wonder that some relationships are struggling!

“We’re out of our routines and life as we know it has changed pretty dramatically over the past few months,” says O’Neill. “It is not uncommon for our relationships to bear the brunt of the stress that we’re experiencing.”

Signs Your Relationship Might Be Lacking Intimacy

As a result of all this stress and general uneasiness, your emotional and physical intimacy with your partner might be lacking. It’s possible to feel like your partner is distant, like they’re on another planet, even if you’ve been essentially right next to them non-stop for months.

Here are some signs to look out for:

  • Hiding your true emotions, desires, and fears from your partner
  • Not communicating your needs
  • Not listening to your partner’s needs
  • Getting into petty arguments
  • Keeping secrets
  • A change in your sex life
  • One or both of you not putting effort into the relationship

It’s been noted that love involves many paradoxes, one being that for romance to be satisfying it must not be satisfied, indeed that it must be frustrated in some way. There is something intrinsic to the notion that love demands closeness, but that desire thrives on distance. For all of us, the pandemic is providing plenty of closeness, but it’s killing the mystery needed for passion and desire — in other words, by being stuck together we could actually be losing intimacy.

Relationships Must Adapt

So, how does a couple get unstuck and regain their sense of intimacy? According to O’Neill, adaption and communication are key. You may have been living these last few months on autopilot, and that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve been actively adapting to the situation. Adaptation takes effort. Maybe you’ve adapted to the new way that you work from home or the habit of wearing a mask when you go run errands. But have you actively adapted in your relationship?

It only makes sense that a dynamic of a relationship changes when you are both locked in, with minimal or no outside contact with friends, and a general lack of activities to pursue by yourself or with your partner. When quarantining with a partner, it’s really just the two of you.

Communication is Key

It’s crucial to communicate during this time. You can start by simply acknowledging that this whole situation has taken a toll on your relationship, and you need to work together to figure out how you can adapt in this situation to become closer. You both need to be willing to put some effort in to regain and maintain emotional and physical intimacy.

Express your emotions. Tell your partner how you’ve really been feeling during lockdown. Let your needs be heard. Ask your partner how they’ve been feeling, and when they tell you their needs, really listen.

Keeping all of this inside and not actively working to improve your relationship will keep you stuck or worse, it may lead to the unraveling of your relationship.

Some topics you might want to consider before discussing with your partner include:

  • Do you feel like you need extra space when you’re working from home?
  • Are you upset that your sex life has completely vanished?
  • Do you feel confused by your partner’s actions?

Take stock and then let them know! Talk about it.

Remember to Have Fun

On top of communication, having fun is important. During this extremely stressful time, it’s important that we still find ways to experience joy, and doing real activities with your partner (sitting next to each other while you both endlessly scroll through Instagram doesn’t count). Actively doing things together, however, will boost your intimacy and make you feel closer.

O’Neill urges couples to get creative to find ways to use their time together to meet your intimacy-related needs. “Try to find enjoyment in the process of working together to find new ways to feel connected to each other,” she says. “For example, there can be something incredibly intimate about taking an at-home yoga class together or engaging in activities like giving and receiving mindful massages.”

Practice Acceptance in Your Relationship

Another thing that can be helpful is practicing acceptance. Thinking about how much you hate the pandemic — what you wish you were doing instead of being stuck inside, or how you wish things were — isn’t going to change anything. I wish that it would! Instead it’s going to make you feel more miserable. While it’s easier said than done, try to be in the moment and focus on accepting life as it is right now, and then adapting to make the best of it. O’Neill recommends asking yourself: what do you have the opportunity to do as a couple in this moment?

“Yes, we’re living through a high-stress moment in time, but there are opportunities to find ways to facilitate intimacy together,” O’Neill says. “Try to make your relationship a priority by setting aside time each day for some sort of intimate activity. Remember, intimacy isn’t always about physical intimacy. Even setting aside time for conversation can help facilitate a deeper sense of intimacy within the relationship.”

Follow these tips and put the work into your relationship, and you’ll be sure to see at least a little improvement in your relationship. Or who knows, maybe you’ll see a huge shift! It all depends on how much effort you and your partner both put in. Remember, you’re a team. Work together and you might come out of this pandemic with an even stronger bond than you had before.

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