Struggling to feel connected to your partner while you’re separated in lockdown? These tips from a sex and relationships expert could help you to establish a sense of intimacy, even from a distance.
Just one of the areas of life the coronavirus pandemic has well and truly scuppered is our relationships. Over the last couple of months, social distancing rules and lockdown restrictions have left many of us feeling isolated from the people we’re usually closest to, whether that’s a partner, friend or family member.
As humans, it’s our natural instinct to desire touch – to establish a sense of intimacy and closeness between ourselves and the people we love simply by being in close proximity to them. When we hug, touch or sit close to someone else, levels of the chemical oxytocin – aptly named the ‘cuddle hormone’ – rise, reducing our stress levels and boosting our happiness. Our brains are wired to crave connection.
So what happens when that physical intimacy gets taken away? Many couples who have found themselves separated during lockdown have found that this lack of physical closeness is taking its toll on their relationship and their ability to feel connected with their partner, especially following the government’s decision to make sex with someone from another household illegal.
“The sex ban will have a negative impact on our relationship for sure,” Alicia Gray*, 24, previously told Stylist. “I’m extremely anxious and worried about when we can stay over at each other’s houses again (we’re in a long distance relationship) and this is feeding into my mood and causing me to snap at my partner more than usual.
“We’re regularly told how important intimacy is for a relationship, so now it’s not possible it is really difficult.”
As lockdown continues and long distance couples face a lot of uncertainty about when they might be able to spend time with each other again, many people are finding it harder to establish a sense of intimacy (it’s important to note that when we talk about intimacy, we don’t simply mean physical closeness – we also mean being able to feel close to someone).
As sex and relationships expert and Counselling Directory member Deshara Pariag points out, being able to feel close to your partner – whether that’s through physical closeness or, for example, being vulnerable with how you feel – is an essential part of any healthy relationship.
“Intimacy develops emotional closeness and a bond with another person and often develops mutual trust, kindness and caring for each other,” she says. “Intimacy can grow a relationship, as it allows you to get to know a person deeper and often the relationship finds itself at a stage of acceptance.
“In light of Covid-19 and the government banning sex for couples who do not live together, this could be an added pressure for both partners due to the lack of closeness. Partners with an anxious attachment style may potentially struggle the most as they seek that need and reassurance to feel close to their partner and sex can be a big factor for some couples to maintain intimacy and closeness.
“Many feelings may come up due to the uncertainty of when the ban will be lifted and this can be difficult for both as we humans are wired for connection.”
It’s clear that maintaining intimacy is essential for all couples separated during the pandemic – but just because we’re unable to be physically close to someone, doesn’t mean we can’t establish a feeling of closeness through other means.
No one’s denying that physical closeness – whether that’s sex or simply being able to hold your partners hand, for example – is important, but for the time being, there are things we can do to foster a sense of closeness from a distance.
Below, Pariag has shared her top tips for maintain intimacy and connecting with a partner during this difficult time.
Communicating may sound like an obvious way to feel more connected to someone, but it’s easy to forget to make time to communicate if you’re both leading separate, busy lives.
“Communicate consistently during the day or at agreed points during the day if you’re busy,” Pariag suggests. “A routine can help with this without feeling the need to always be on the phone.”
2. Listen to each other
Relationships are all about negotiating, so make sure you’re giving your partner space to talk about what’s going on in their life, too.
“Understanding each other’s needs and desires can help you to get to know that person all over again,” Pariag says.
3. Have virtual date nights
Alongside making time for regular communication throughout the day, setting an evening aside once a week to go on a ‘virtual date’ is a great way to ensure you’re spending quality time together.
“Virtual date nights are an excuse to get dressed up and have dinner together over Skype, Zoom or Facetime and watch a film together,” Pariag explains.
4. Write letters
Going back to basics and sending each other physical post is a great way to add another layer of intimacy and connection to your relationship.
“Writing letters is a great way to be romantic and more personal with one another,” Pariag explains. “It can be something to keep – offline memories are so much more sentimental.”
*name has been changed