The coronavirus pandemic is putting pressure on every aspect of life — including relationships.
So what’s the best way to keep a relationship healthy? WBEZ asked therapists Melissa Novak and Megan Salisbury about dating, breakups and sex. Here’s what they had to say:
Can I have sex during the coronavirus pandemic?
If you don’t live with a sexual partner, doctors and public health officials say don’t touch. But that doesn’t mean people aren’t traveling to hook up.
Sex therapist Melissa Novak suggested having an honest conversation with your sexual partner about coronavirus exposure and COVID-19 risks.
Therapist Megan Salisbury said many of her clients are polyamorus and have multiple romantic partners. She said they need to have safety protocols to limit their individual risks of infection. That often means spending some time physically apart, she said.
How can I make dates feel substantial?
Therapist Megan Salisbury said enjoy what is currently possible. Schedule a virtual happy hour. Light candles and order out from the same restaurant. Send a date ingredients, and ask them to make up a recipe.
“Life was not what it was a month ago, but it doesn't mean it needs to be boring,” she said. You can still have a ‘hot date.’ ”
If you’re at home, dress up for one another and try new activities. Board games and puzzles are a great way to pass the time, Salisbury said.
How do I enjoy a virtual sex life?
With some creativity, said therapist Megan Salisbury, who recommends sending risque texts, photos and using sex toys. She suggested the remotely controlled, sex toy We-Vibe.
She also said it’s OK to grieve the loss of physical touch.
“We often conceptualize grief as a formal process,” Salisbury said. “But grieving is loss. We grieve redefining a relationship. We grieve a friendship we’ve moved past. We grieve a lot of things.”
Sex therapist Melissa Novak suggested writing a romantic letter or send an article of clothing in the mail. If you struggle to write, send a link to an erotic story instead.
“It can be explicit or implicit as you’d like,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be the sort of traditional phone sex type of thing. It can just be a shared experience that you’re self pleasuring hearing the other person on the line. Or telling them when you get off the phone that ‘I’m gonna go pleasure myself and think of you.’ ”
How do I break up with someone while social distancing?
Sex therapist Melissa Novak said she’s telling her clients to not make life-altering decisions during a public health crisis. But if it’s necessary — be clear, concise and be prepared for them to be angry.
“A lot of people don't want any repercussions of the fact that this person is going to be hurt by something I’m going to do,” she said. “Just because someone is going to be hurt doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. What it means is you have to tolerate that.”
Be mindful of how supported your ex will be when you’re gone. Reach out to their friends or family if you think they need it.
I miss touch — how can I fill the void?
Sex therapist Melissa Novak said to think about what you lack emotionally from physical touch and find the closest substitute.
“Self touch towards erotic pleasure, self touch toward soothing pleasure, self touch toward pain reliving pressure,” she said. “When somebody says, ‘I really want physical affection,’ they should ask themselves — well, what is that? What is about somebody else touching your arms? Think creatively that we can do that.”
How can I keep a new romantic connection alive?
Sex therapist Melissa Novak said it depends whether you view distance as a barrier or an opportunity to strengthen your connections. For some, it is a good time to foster trust, dependability and reliability.
Novak said people in new relationships often have a deep desire to be around their partner all the time. They may be tempted to talk on the phone until 3 a.m., but should regulate their conversations so they still want to talk more the next day.
Distance also can carry an erotic charge, and she said harnessing that longing and anticipation is a good strategy. But keep in mind that it’s not sustainable 100% of the time.
“Eventually we all get burned out,” she said. “There is a weight that comes with this pandemic. “The big thing that we have to work on is trying to [communicate] in a more lighthearted way. Not just having serious conversations — how do you insert levity and playfulness?”
How do I manage being holed up with my partner?
Therapist Megan Salisbury said life during the stay at home order is a chance to interact with our partners in new and creative ways. But people should also carve out alone time.
Assign separate errands to give each other space. Substitute the time you normally commute to work with a walk.
Do your best to communicate your feelings and needs honestly. When a conversation gets heated — hit the pause button.
“We’re allowing ourselves opportunity to deescalate individually and as a couple emotionally,” Salisbury said, and suggested reaching out to a couple’s therapist if you can’t resolve the problem. Many offer single video sessions.
Sex therapist Melissa Novak said to lower your expectations for your partner, and recognize you may not be able to fully meet eachothers needs.
“Realize that we’re in a really crazy scenario,” she said. “People often think, ‘Well because this is happening in my relationship that means there is something wrong with this relationship,’ when there is really something wrong with this situation.”
Novak is Clinical Social Worker and Certified Sex Therapist who teaches at University of Chicago. Salisbury is a Clinical Social Worker who owns and operates Spoken Balance in the Merchandise Mart.
Vivian McCall is a news intern for WBEZ.