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Re-Ignite Your Relationship This Valentine’s Day

3 reasons relationships suffered over lockdown and what you can do about it.

Key points

  • Many couples have faced huge pressures on their relationships during the pandemic.
  • Habituation, stress, and erosion of self-identity during lockdown can all make relationships suffer.
  • There are things you can do to re-ignite intimacy and passion.

My wife’s flying abroad this week, and she won’t be back for Valentine’s Day. We celebrated Valentine’s early, avoiding the rush and the slightly cheesy, scripted side of February 14th. I’m going to miss her hugely, but, on reflection, there is a positive to this absence as well.

Romantic relationships are like flames: They often need a bit of oxygen and extra kindling to burn more brightly. When she returns, I can guarantee we won’t take each other for granted as much.

We tend to assume that spending more time together is good for couples, but what about too much? Well, we have a natural experiment that we have all been through that provides some perspective. Our relationships were put under stifling pressure during COVID-19 lockdown.

After an initial high of being at home and seeking additional comfort in our partners, our sexual relationships went downhill, and divorce enquiries went up.

3 Reasons Why Our Relationships Have Taken a Hit

First up, habituation. This is the decreased response to stimulus after repeated exposure to it. A partner’s perfume on a first date, for example, is likely to elicit a strong physical reaction. But if your partner’s used the same perfume for years, it’s often hard to notice it.

But it’s more than scent we can take for granted. Habituation can stop us from appreciating our partner’s greatest qualities. This is understandably more common in older couples, but, with so much proximity at home, lockdown supercharged habituation in young couples, too.

Second, the pandemic was a huge source of stress, which is never good for relationships. Many of us faced huge financial pressures during lockdown as well as the emotional loss of losing or caring for those who are close to us.

As relationship therapists sometimes say, "You rarely see zebras mating in front of a lion."

Even our bodies were sources of anxiety. Whilst physical contact is usually associated with comfort and attraction, it was now directly linked with sickness and infection. Hands were sites for viruses, not a means of connection. Lips were threats to be locked behind masks, not kissed.

Thirdly, our self-identity became merged and overly intertwined. Having a confident sense of self is an important part of feeling desirable, but many of us were too busy juggling domestic routines, home-schooling, and Zoom calls to do the things we love that make us feel distinctive and whole.

Women, who were far more likely to pick up the bulk of this stress and subsequently have less time for themselves, were also reported to have been more likely to push for separation and divorce during lockdown.

With so many pressures, it’s not surprising that more than one in three people considered changing their relationship during lockdown, according to UK-based research from our think tank.

Whilst some of the greatest pressures on our relationships listed here can’t be solved overnight, there are some small things that each of us can try to help oxygenate the relationship flame this Valentine’s Day.

Alexander Popov/Unsplash
Revive your intimacy
Source: Alexander Popov/Unsplash

Suggestions for Re-Igniting Your Relationship

  • Have a relationship reset conversation. Ask some meaningful questions and really listen to the answers. Remind yourself of what pulled you together in the first place and how you can bring some freshness back, as well as how you might spend more quality time together.
  • Change your context. If you don’t want to change your partner, change your routine or surroundings. Plan a few breaks to places where you have not been. Even small changes in habit, lighting candles, or just playing different music can challenge habituation.
  • Give each other space and spend some time on "me" rather than "we." One couple I know who recently moved in together started "Mojo Mondays," during which they spend time apart on things that make them happy separately.
  • Take some risks. At the beginning of a relationship, everything is a novelty. You can recreate that by taking risk in what you do together. Shake things up however you can—learn a new hobby together, expand your social circle, or try a different position in bed. Whatever works for you!

So, good luck with the above and perhaps start with the resolve to make this Valentine’s Day different and more meaningful than has been the case in the past.

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