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Love and Marriage During Lockdown: Is There Room for Pleasure in the Midst of Crisis?

 

Couple holding hands - love and marriage during lockdown
Photo by David Dvořáček on Unsplash

I’d like to start this article by giving a brief answer to the love and marriage during lockdown question posed in the title. Yes, it seems there is room for pleasure in the midst of crisis. And that’s a good thing – no need to feel guilty or ashamed, at all. 

Let me give you a couple of numbers. Stats don’t lie after all, and we’re living in times where we should be greatly appreciative of facts. It seems there’s a whole separate pandemic of misinformation out there, whether we like it or not. 

This is a time of extremities. We’re basically living out two possible scenarios – either we’re:

  1. Self-isolating with a partner, a spouse, a friend, a family member. Some of us are also living with roommates, confined in a limited space the whole day; 
  2. Or we’re all by ourselves. Cut out from human contact almost altogether, and forced to rely mostly on social networks and video calls… It’s not easy.

Crisis or no crisis – people want to enjoy themselves

So, amidst all the anxiety and uncertainty, it’s actually no wonder that people want to turn towards self-care products. And, this self-help mindset, and also includes sexual wellness products. 

For example, the brand Maude, saw an increase in sales at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis. This is a brand that sells personal care essentials such as condoms, lubricants, massage candles, massagers, vibrators, and more. By the end of March, their returning customer revenue almost doubled. And Maude is not the only example that has seen an increase in sales. Plenty of other similar brands such as Kush Queen and Manna Molecular are experiencing the same thing. 

So, taking all this into consideration, allow me to repeat myself from before: yes, there’s plenty of room for pleasure in the midst of crisis. No harm in that. Love and marriage during lockdown don’t have to be stressful (at least not all the time). People are getting it on. And, if they’re doing it even in the midst of a global crisis, they still want to do it right. Whatever that means. 

Coping with negative emotions

But still, a lot of you out there will wonder how can people do this. How do they find the energy, will, and the resilience necessary for feeling aroused, for pleasure, for feeling desire? 

How can I find my partner desirable, sexy, how can I want them when we’re together 24/7? When I see them in every possible scenario throughout the house and during the day? How can I be relaxed when the knowable order of things is on the brink of collapse? Oh, and have I mentioned that no one knows for sure how it’s gonna be in two months from now? 

Well, okay, first of all, things aren’t that bleak. This is not the plague, we’re not in the middle ages and all is not lost. But we do have to get used to the situation. We have to learn to cope with different circumstances and ways of life, both collective and individual. Well, at least for the foreseeable six months or so, maybe even a whole year, who knows. 

Regardless of the amount of time this crisis is bound to last, there are ways to go through it. You can do it together with your partner or spouse without both losing your mind. You don’t have to sacrifice your love life to stress, anxiety, and sheer apathy and boredom. 

In this article, inspired in large part by Esther Perel’s 4-part webinars focused precisely on love and marriage during lockdown, I’m going to talk about the ways to handle these negative emotions and circumstances as best as you can. 

Love and Marriage During Lockdown 

So the point in going through lockdown isn’t just to survive. It’s to lead a normal and happy life as much as you can. It means to thrive and enjoy your days and the time you get to spend with your partner. 

So, following Perel’s advice, here are some of the things you can do, starting from yourself: 

Start With Yourself and From Yourself First  

I know how everyone calls for solidarity and taking care of each other in these hard times, but it’s equally important to take care of yourself as well. You can’t expect to be a mess and give the comfort people around you need to receive. 

If you have chaotic, scattered thoughts, you might not know that your body is agitated as well – most likely your heart will also be racing and your hands could be trembling as well. In turn, that itself might be causing a feedback loop of anxiety. 

Check-in with yourself

Try do the following as a form of self-care:

  • Check-in with yourself by monitoring yourself daily. Do it in the mornings, after you wake up or brush your teeth. Do it in the afternoon after lunch or a nap. Do it in the night, just before you go to bed or have a steamy night session with your partner. (Which, by the way, is a great way to alleviate the pressure of lockdown and daily couple-tensions). 
  • Check your stress levels – levels of negative thoughts and emotions such as fear, anxiety, moodiness, irritability, passivity, fatigue, depression, impulsivity, anger, etc. Giving them names is half the struggle. Once you manage to identify them, you can learn to control them more easily. 
  • But also don’t forget about the positive emotions – your levels of hopefulness, daily joys, patience and persistence, the love you feel for your partner, your children (if you have them), your family and friends and just everyone that’s currently in this situation, which is basically the whole world. 
  • You also might want to check your pulse. Turning inwards and acknowledging the anxiety you feel in your body will help you realize the anxiety you feel in your mind and how you articulate it and project it on the people around you. 

Checking in with both your body and your mind helps you regulate your feelings and thoughts, and it also helps you better manage the changing dynamics in your romantic relationship. You can also ask other members of your household to do this. One of the most important things when trying to stay sane in this pandemic is not to turn against your partner. 

Accept That We’re All Different 

Everyone reacts differently during stressful times and one of the key ways to deal with people’s individual reactions is to simply accept them. Even though you may have been sharing your life with your soul mate for the past 20 years (as you do everything around the house), it doesn’t mean that when a crisis comes you’ll both deal with it the same. 

Some people react in a more active way – they do more chores around the house, they take more care of their homes in general, they call their families and throw themselves into their work. 

Others are the exact opposite – they withdraw into themselves, they lose interest in the activities that used to make them happy, they become passive and underperform at work. 

Some become more logical, some more emotional and moody, it’s a whole palette of emotions and behaviors we’re experiencing right now!

So, accepting that your partner will react differently to stress is half the struggle to negotiate your different personalities, as well as the dynamic in your home. 

Use your differences as a source of perspective rather than a source of tension

And, instead of these differences becoming the source of additional tensions and conflict between the two of you, why not use them as perspectives – ways to balance your coping mechanisms and perhaps even try to make them complementary to each other. 

For example, if you’re more passive, and your partner is the more active one in times of stress, then you can ask them for occasional boosts or just talk it out with them, instead of being angry that they’re being too fidgety around the house. 

Another thing you can try doing is a joint activity – something one of you enjoys doing around the house, regardless of whether it was during pre or post-pandemic times. That way you’ll get to share the fun in the house, and you’ll also get to feel normal, even for a little bit. 

Use a Code Word 

Code words are not just for BDSM play (*wink*). They can be immensely helpful in daily situations as well, especially when you have to spend a huge amount of time with somebody in a limited amount of space and you don’t want to engage all the time. 

This can be anything, as long as you and your partner agree on it. What you have to remember, though, as Perel herself says as well, is that if you’re the one using the code, then you should also be the one that’s going to initiate conversation once you’re ready to engage. 

Communicate and Listen 

Communication is one of the golden rules for a successful relationship of any kind, and romantic relationships are no exception. 

However, communicating and talking are different activities. When I say communicating I mean sharing, stating your thoughts, opinions, attitudes, and emotions, but I also mean listening – to the other subject in your conversation, how they respond to your statements, to their feelings, needs, and opinions. 

And I also mean being concise and clear about what you’re trying to convey to the other person. If you want to make a remark towards your partner, making a request that’s clear and not accusatory is a better option than just plain criticism which might be the spark that fuels a subsequent argument. 

And this goes for all areas of your life: 

  • You can be more explicit with your employer, telling them you need more time to get into the new online routine (or whatever it is that you’re currently struggling with when it comes to professional obligations). 
  • If you need more space at home and time for yourself, you can tell your partner the time of day that you’ll be busy working or having alone me-time. 
  • If you need help from a neighbor, a friend, a family member or your partner for something, be specific about it and what it is that needs doing, rather than just complain or expect them to read your mind. 

And, of course, never forget to listen back. Being attentive (and validating) towards what the other person has to say is one half of what it takes to be a successful communicator. Even if you don’t agree on something, validating and acknowledging the importance of what your partner has to say or how they feel is a great way to maintain a top-notch communication level. 

Establish Boundaries 

Healthy boundaries are another golden rule of healthy relationships or marriage. And when I say boundaries, I mean both internal and external ones – both emotional boundaries and ones that imply physical space. 

I realize this can be tough given the current situation, especially if you live in a small apartment or house. But, juggling love and marriage during lockdown definitely requires establishing some boundaries.

Here are a couple of tactics that’ll make it much easier for you to do this 

  • Assign different spaces throughout your home – no matter how small your home is you can still do this since it has more to do with psychology than it does with actual physical space. You can do this by re-titling areas in your home such as the ‘relaxation area’, ‘work area’, etc. Alternately, you can just pick a daily or permanent (during the lockdown) spot where you’ll be separated from your partner at certain times of the day. 
  • You can even do this in one room, you don’t necessarily have to designate areas of the whole house/apartment. You can assign different corners in one room and use the help of headphones or earplugs for creating an additional feeling of individual space. I mean, anything goes. 
  • If you desperately need some space in a crowded home (kids, loud partner, extended family), go into the car and make those calls you’ve been meaning to make, or just take a bit of time for yourself. You can also do it in the bathroom or – ideally – in the yard, balcony, or garden (if you have one). With the help of good weather, well then you’ve hit the jackpot. 

If you have kids, you can do this for their own activity spaces, when they start feeling like they’re too static or too fidgety because they’re not allowed to leave the house. 

Don’t forget about emotional boundaries as well 

And this is equally important for emotional boundaries as well. In times of crisis, it’s easy to lose hold of them as well, which is why sometimes you need to put extra effort into keeping them. 

You can do this by following some of these steps and techniques: 

  • Allow yourself to feel a certain way even though your partner/others think you shouldn’t. Nobody knows the intricacies of your emotional state and nobody can tell you how you should feel about something. By allowing yourself to feel and not merge with the emotional atmosphere of the room/household, you’re creating a boundary for yourself and giving your emotions a healthy space to exist and thrive in. 
  • Practice mindfulness/self-awareness of your feelings. This goes hand in hand with allowing yourself to feel a particular way. The next time you notice you’re losing your boundaries, ask yourself: 
    • What has changed? 
    • What am I doing or what are the others doing? 
    • What is it about this situation that makes me feel a particular way (e.g. stressed, angry, resentful, anxious, sad…)

  After that you can also start thinking about what is it that you’re going to do next 

  • What am I going to do about this situation?
  • What are my options? What is my range of control? 

Once you can articulate this more clearly in your mind you’ll be able to cope with negative feelings better and try to defuse them. Boundaries work magic when they’re being kept at the right time. 

  • That’s why it’s also important to be assertive and communicate your boundaries to your partner. Give a name to what you will and will not tolerate. Don’t forget to take some time aside to think about the triggers – situations, arguments – that are really stressing you out, and don’t be afraid or anxious to tell them to your partner directly. 

Focus on Your Partner’s Good Sides 

With all that self-care we also shouldn’t forget about the other person at some point. Love and marriage during lockdown also imply showing appreciation towards your partner. 

You can appreciate a person both for what they do and for what that says about them. And you should practice both of these types of appreciation, as Perel suggests. So, next time your partner/spouse remembers to put the dirty clothes in the machine, you can, of course, tell them “Thanks for remembering to wash the clothes honey”, but you should also not hesitate to tell them “Thanks for being so thoughtful”. 

Practice Erotic Self-Care 

I really like how this sounds. Erotic self-care is another one of Esther Perel’s terms and it basically means taking care of your desires. 

For Perel, erotic self-care actually begins by getting rid of our inner-critic. Super important and exceptionally convenient for these times that are hard on all of us, times when we’re left with our own thoughts and demons basically 24/7! Super important for love and marriage during lockdown, as well.

What we should do instead is allow ourselves, or give permission, as she says, to feel joy in the hard times, to feel beautiful, to be kind, compassionate, but also realistic towards our own self. 

“I turn myself off when…”

So, Esther suggests you can try and diminish that constant nagging feeling of self-control and keep in check the energy sources and the sources of vitality, both for yourself and the relationship with your partner. Exploring the erotic (with or without a partner) and taking erotic self-care means that you have to start from yourself. And this means getting to the bottom of: “I turn myself off when…” 

There can be millions of potential answers. You can turn yourself off when you sleep too little or sleep too much. When you work before going to bed. When you worry too much about money issues when you don’t exercise as much as you want to… 

And as you can see, this doesn’t necessarily have to be sexual to actually affect the sexual. As I mentioned earlier, it gets down to acknowledging what drains your energy levels and vitality on a daily basis. Ask yourself the question: what hinders you from having a healthy and fulfilling relationship with your partner? Yes, even in times of crisis such as this one.

“I turn myself on when…”

After you do this you can ask yourself the reverse sentence: “I turn myself on when….” Not surprisingly, a lot of the time the answers have to do with some form of self-care. Spending time on doing something you love, taking care of your body, exercising. But, it’s also important to pamper your mind as well. Reading the books and watching the films you’ve always wanted to read and see… 

It has to do with energizing yourself, with feeling your body and being focused on the present moment. No end goal in mind. When you feel more in touch with your body and emotions you’ll become more responsive towards your partner as well. You’ll notice their approaches towards you, and you’ll remember you don’t need to feel guilty for enjoying yourself. 

Use the Power of Imagination 

The erotic has to do with the imagination – as Perel says, “it’s sexuality transformed by the human imagination.” 

And if there’s a crisis in imagination then there’s likely a crisis in desire as well. So it’s important to look at eroticism as a force of creation, a vibrancy, a vitality that signals being alive.  Love and marriage during lockdown deserve a resurgence of the erotic imagination.

“The erotic is an antidote to death”, is one of the more famous quotes from Perel. She often talks about this in her books and lectures and puts it in the context of her holocaust-survivor parents and the environment she grew up in Belgium. 

This is because she connects the power of the erotic experience, with the quality of being alive. Part of the erotic experience are the deep emotional and physical bonds (aligned with our sexuality) we form with other humans beings, and the qualities of vibrancy, vitality, and renewal that get created in the process. 

“It is actually a spiritual, mystical experience of life. It is a transcendent experience of life because it is an act of the imagination. And that is spirituality, as well.” says Perel in a wonderful interview made on the subject of eroticism as an antidote to death. 

Final Thoughts on Love and Marriage During Lockdown

Love and marriage during lockdown aren’t incompatible with each other. There most certainly can be room for pleasure in the midst of crisis. 

But it takes communication, it takes effort to maintain physical and emotional boundaries. And, as Perel also says, it also takes effort to dissolve the ones that are no longer working for us. This is especially true when we’re being confined to a very limited household space. 

Accepting that everybody has a different way of dealing with stress, and managing our own levels of it, is another vital piece into the intricate balancing machine of coupledom and desire during times of crisis.  

And like in any other field of life, communication is perhaps the most important of all the pieces of that machine. Without it there isn’t even an attempt towards companionship, no reaching out, no sense of belonging and togetherness whatsoever. 

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