Getting through COVID-19 as a couple has proved challenging for many people. Our collective anxiety and stress are at all-time highs — and the effects are creeping into our intimate relationships.
“When we’re operating on such high levels of stress, libido naturally decreases,” says couples therapist Rosa Ruey. And after 14 months of balancing professional and domestic responsibilities at home, together, all the time, it’s no surprise that there’s a spike in couples feeling stressed. A recent study shows that along with lockdown anxiety and health fears, a lack of privacy has had an unwelcome cooling effect on healthy sexual relationships during COVID-19.
But even as a sense of normalcy returns, you may be struggling to turn the heat back up in your relationship — and you’re not alone.
“Reconnecting can be tough,” Ruey explains. “Especially with other responsibilities seeming to prioritize themselves right in the way.”
According to a report at Johns Hopkins University, relationships often follow a pattern of intimacy that naturally wanes over time. Children, career pressures, shifting priorities, and partnership problems replace the excitement of a new relationship. Sex becomes routine or irregular — and intimacy can break down without conscious effort and communication.
The stresses of COVID-19 worked to accelerate or intensify this timeline for many couples. But experts emphasize that encountering intimacy roadblocks is a normal part of any healthy relationship — and there are steps partners can take to reignite the spark.
Whether it was remote working, financial strain, lockdown measures, or one of a plethora of other things, the pandemic upended the normal dynamic in our relationships. Those small moments that add value and closeness to a partnership may have fallen to the wayside as we adjusted to the year’s atmosphere of uncertainty.
“But none of us is too busy to say good morning to our partner or ask about their day,” Ruey says.
She explains that prioritizing small gestures helps reconstruct a foundation of intimacy. This can start with something as simple as a gentle touch, a hug after a long day, or paying an out-of-the-ordinary compliment. “Then up the ante with a sexy mid-day text or stealing a kiss.”
Ruey says that curiosity about your partner is a great way to show care and enthusiasm — which is directly linked to couples’ intimacy.
She suggests asking your partner about their feelings and ways they’d like to reconnect. It might seem awkward at first, but expressing your interest in what gets them excited helps spur theirs in return. Opening up about your own needs, desires, and what gets you in the mood can ease the conversation even more.
Pay attention to your partner’s nonverbal communication as well. The context clues they offer in everyday life help reveal what intimacy means to them.
It’s easy to overlook the importance of quality time together, especially when you’re together even more than usual. But only by prioritizing our relationships over everyday distractions can we refuel an intimate connection.
“As we enter out into the world, plan a date night or look back to things you and your partner once enjoyed,” Ruey says.
Or create ways to break up your ordinary routine at home. Carve out some distraction-free time to relax and have fun together, and get out of yesterday’s sweatpants. Psychologists say that dressing up makes us walk taller, boosts our confidence, and makes us feel our best — all things your partner can’t help but notice.
Couples therapy can be a great tool for people stuck in an intimacy rut. While a therapist can act as a mediator to discuss relationship issues, their influence can go beyond that. Therapists can help couples strengthen their love language through communication, encouraging exploration of sexual desires, intimacy, and opportunities for growth.
But in some cases, a low sex drive could be a sign of something else at play.
“If you’re feeling something is off or making efforts without seeing change, it’s crucial to address the possibility of a medical issue,” Ruey says.
For example, low libido may be a symptom of a treatable condition like:
• Stress, anxiety, and depression
• Hormonal imbalances
• An underactive thyroid
• Chronic illnesses like heart disease or diabetes
Some medications can dampen your sexual spark as well — especially those for heart disease, depression, seizures, or contraception. If you think that a prescription medication you take is affecting your sex drive, talk to your healthcare provider about it.
If you’re struggling with mental health and relationships during COVID-19, our team at Carbon Health can be one resource. Whether you are experiencing communication lapses with your partner or a medical cause for low libido, we can connect you with the right expert via the Carbon Health app, to help reignite the passion in your partnership.