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How to Maintain a Healthy Relationship During a Global Pandemic

A side effect of stay-at-home orders seems to be a rise in divorce rates. We spoke with local relationship experts to find out how to keep the love alive while trapped with your partner.

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If distance makes the heart grow fonder, couples who are quarantining together are finding out what extreme proximity does to love. And it’s not good.

After lockdown measures related to the novel coronavirus eased in mid-March, cities in China reported a record-high number of divorce filings, according to a Bloomberg Businessweek report. (One Shanghai divorce lawyer said his caseload increased by 25 percent.) And while rates haven’t spiked yet in the United States, some lawyers predict that after stay-at-home orders lift, there will be a surge in splits (just ask Kristin Cavallari and Jay Cutler).

Fortunately, with Denver extending its order through May 8, there’s still time to save your marriage (or partnership)—and it’ll help if you heed the advice we garnered from local relationship experts.

For longer than a month now, Alysha Jeney, founder of Denver-based Modern Love Counseling, has been watching her clients navigate romantic relationships during a period of extreme uncertainty about the future, stress, and financial insecurity (hint: none of these things are aphrodisiacs). Jeney’s first recommendation for maintaining a healthy relationship in your new homebound, COVID-19 world is to be structured about time. “Your work and social lives have been completely disrupted,” says Jeney. “It’s important that you both be very intentional about your new living situation.” She suggests scheduling blocks in which you’ll work, do chores, have “me” time, and—importantly—have date nights. This could include anything from ordering takeout and streaming a movie to playing a board game. “If you try to wing this new normal, you may fall in the trap of stagnation,” Jeney says. “This will lead to bickering because you aren’t balancing your needs properly.”

Jeney also coaches her clients to think about what their partners consider “quality time.” Generally, she says, men feel close to their partner when they’re simply nearby—for instance, while working in the same room or sitting on the couch together. Women, on the other hand, tend to feel most connected while doing something engaging, like making dinner or playing a game. Talk about which you prefer with your partner, and make time for activities you both find fulfilling.

For couples with kids, it’s even more difficult to carve out quality time. “I can relate!” Jeney says. “My husband and I have a toddler and we struggled initially.” To ease stress, Jeney says to work smarter, not harder: When your kids go down for naps or bedtime, plan something fun to do together. Meal prep as much as possible, so you have more time to do something fulfilling. Jeney suggests leaving spontaneous notes around the house. And, of course, take turns with the parental and household duties. “It’ll lessen the day-to-day stress in the long run and help the two of you feel more united at a time when you may feel lost and exhausted,” she says.

Even if you and your boo aren’t at each others’ throats (congrats!), it’s still likely your relationship has gotten a little stale after being in each other’s company all day, every day—and, let’s be honest, your significant other’s relaxed standard of personal hygiene doesn’t exactly set your libido aflame. “It’s a struggle,” says Dr. Jenni Skyler, a sex and relationship therapist and founder of the Boulder-based Intimacy Institute. “In general, a human being wants what they can’t have. And therein lies the issue.”

So try to find a place where you can be alone for a portion of the day. “You need breathing space to be in a relationship with yourself still,” Skyler says.

If a little time apart during the day isn’t enough to keep things fresh, use your copious amounts of downtime to try new things in the bedroom. “A lot of couples have been shopping online for sex toys. I’m Adam & Eve [Adult Toy Store]’s resident expert, and I know that they’re selling toys left and right,” she says. Skyler also suggests exploring each others’ sexual fantasies—or creating one together.

But keeping intimacy intact doesn’t require a visit to the Red Room with Christian Grey; it can be as easy as taking 20 minutes each morning to have coffee together. Don’t talk about the coronavirus or your to-do list. Keep the conversation light.

In her newly launched digital subscription service (the Modern Love InBox), Jeney and her husband share more tips and activities aimed at bolstering romantic bonds during the pandemic, so they can become a stronger couple while stuck in the house—instead of arguing about who gets to keep the place once COVID-19-related restrictions are lifted.

“I like to tell my clients to build new habits into your new routine,” Jeney says. “Maybe they’ll end up becoming sacred and you’ll end up implementing them when ‘real life’ starts up again.”

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