Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but how can you miss your love if they never go away?
It’s a question many couples may be asking this Valentine’s Day as we approach the one-year anniversary of being home with our significant others 24/7. A raging pandemic, compounded by the pressure to celebrate a day that’s reserved for matters of the heart may reduce our appetite for romance to a tiny pile of “no thanks.”
Even new relationships were quickly thrown into overdrive due to Covid-19. Couples have had to skip over the typical courting rituals and bunk up or ship out when stay-at-home orders got handed down.
Newlyweds were forced to contend with pandemic pressure cooker togetherness and intense decision-making at a time when they are normally allowed to just enjoy the newness of being happily ever after together.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that Covid-19 has put a strain on relationships.
In my own 12-year relationship, pandemic lockdown with a toddler put a real strain on any warm and fuzzies. Thinking about a whimsical and romantic Valentine’s Day feels eons away in a far and distant past or future. Right now is more about keeping us all alive and sane. There are a lot more “did you really think you washed the dishes?” than “I desire you” in our rapport.
It’s important to celebrate love
Still, I know how important it is, especially during these challenging times, to make space to honor and celebrate love. And it feels important to find a way to honor the person who has helped to hold it all together for our whole family over the past year.
Many couples say they will do something for Valentine’s Day, but only one in five will attempt an actual date outside of the house, according to a new Monmouth University poll.
How can you use Valentine’s Day as the reason to try to recommit to your one and only, even if you are sick and tired of being together?
Never mind if you can’t remember the last time you shaved your legs or stepped out of sweatpants. There are pandemic-safe ways to get that spark back in a year that has extinguished flames with great efficiency.
Don’t worry about planning an over-the-top Valentine’s Day from home. That’s an overwhelming proposition at a time when it’s hard enough to remember what day it is or when you last changed your underwear. It’s worth considering a more pragmatic approach.
If you are one of the many couples mourning a loss of intimacy, Valentine’s Day might be the perfect excuse to invest in repairing romantic fissures.
“It can be hard to access our senses of pleasure and desire during crises. But it’s important to remind ourselves that play is a survival tool, and it’s not just going to come on its own,” said psychotherapist relationship expert and New York Times bestselling author Esther Perel.
“We have to really take ourselves there in the same way that, if we want to eat, we’re going to have to cook. So many people have asked me how to maintain connection in this new normal. It starts with you and opening yourself up to the possibility of connection,” she said.
Perel recently launched a workshop, Rekindling Desire, intended for couples to help “rekindle intimacy, curiosity, and sensuality in your relationship.” She recommended that couples start with “erotic self-care,” which turns a mirror first on ourselves to quiet that inner critic and allow ourselves to be more open to pleasure.
“It is amazing how much we open up to others when we open up to ourselves first,” she said.
Once you are more open to giving and receiving intimacy and love with your partner, you have to “create space, even when there isn’t any in theory,” said New York metro-based dating and relationship exert Rachel DeAlto.
“Assign a day a week for two weeks where one partner takes on all the roles in the house and the other gets to do anything they want, whether it’s read a book in another room, spend the day roaming Target or get together at a distance with friends,” she said.
What can couples do?
Now that you are open and have created space, however creatively in this time of limited comings and goings, you are ready to take steps to make that deeper connection with your partner. What does that involve?
“Covid lockdowns have provided more quantity of time for couples than most other years, but that doesn’t automatically lead to better quality,” said New York-based family and relationship therapist Damon A. Jacobs. But it’s hard to “maintain a fire,” he said, “when there’s so little air.”
There are several things you can do, Jacobs said.
It starts by accepting that sex and passion are not a given, particularly the longer a couple have been together. Practicing mindfulness to shut out the running tab of to-dos in your brain, and try to focus on each other, perhaps by planning a sexy date.
Radical forgiveness is another suggested approach to clearing the path of judgment and negativity to simply appreciate your significant other for all the good that they bring to the relationship.
Jacobs also encourages novel ways to play with your partner.
“Normally in our society we consider objectification of another person’s body to be professionally and morally wrong,” he said. “But when it comes to re-creating desire in a long-term relationship, objectification is your friend. Perceiving your partner as an object of lust can help with connection.” And if life is hectic and sex is not on the agenda, try scheduling time, suggested Jacobs.
In all, Valentine’s Day 2021 is unlike any other. Don’t feel pressured to pick up the dozen red roses and the box of Russell Stover chocolates and pretend to be happy when the Earth is churning below your feet.
Use the day as an excuse to get real, to connect and communicate with your partner about the daily grind and what you appreciate about one another. Take steps to improve your bond, whether it’s committing an act of service that alleviates their to-do list or doing something genuinely thoughtful.
There is no shame in advantaging the day to seek out the help you might need to strengthen your bond, and it doesn’t hurt to throw in an extra dose of kindness, and maybe even kink.