For many people, becoming parents can put a strain on their relationship—all of a sudden, this little cute bundle sucks up all of the time, energy and attention new Moms and Dads have to give. Adjusting to the caregiver role can leave very little in the tank for anything else, which has the potential to kick connection and intimacy further down the priority list. But this is just one issue couples face when it comes to evolving together in a relationship—and the pandemic has unfortunately put a spotlight on this—so we spoke to Toronto-based psychotherapist Kat Kova about how couples can reconnect, sexless relationships and more.
ParentsCanada: Let’s start with the pandemic, because it’s on so many people’s minds. How can couples make time for each other right now, despite having so many other stressors and possibly very little alone time?
Kat Kova: We definitely don’t have to just wait for the pandemic to be over to make time for each other. But we do have to acknowledge how difficult this time is for everyone. People just don’t have as much energy. They’re consumed by fear of the future, fear of getting sick. They don’t have access to their support systems right now. So, there’s lots of anxiety. That means we need to adjust the expectations and lower the bar. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate set up to get time alone with your partner—you can set boundaries. Let something go, in order to get some time back. Let the laundry go undone, for example. Give 60% somewhere in order to have a little more energy for your relationship at the end of a day. You can set boundaries with kids, too. Explain that their parents are having some time together, to watch a movie or share a meal, and that they should keep interruptions to a minimum.
PC: That’s a good suggestion, in terms of making the time, but let’s go a step further: How can parents get themselves into a frame of mind to connect with their partner, when everyone is so stressed and anxious?
KK: You can change the energy around your time together by dressing up a little bit. Even though you aren’t going anywhere, changing your clothes has the potential to make you feel better, and more confident, which will in turn translate to how you connect. I was thinking about Clark Kent the other day—he needs his cape to be Superman. It’s kind of like that. How you feel comes from you, and something as simple as a wardrobe change can really help.
PC: What if someone is feeling really drained by their partner’s presence, given that they never get a break from each other? Do we have to wait for the pandemic to be over to reset, or can this be addressed now?
KK: When there has been a change to a couple’s relationship, it can make things awkward. The pandemic can be classified as a major change, of course, and has had that effect for some people. Talking about how you’re feeling is important. If you’re fearing losing connection, sharing that with your partner is key, so you can work on the issue together as a team. Just know that it can take some time, and that the awkwardness is okay. You’re getting to know each other on another level, even if you’ve been together for years. Think about if you have an injury to your body: To heal, you often have to do stretches or exercises, you have to keep practicing and you have to be consistent. The same can be said for relationships.
PC: And for sex? Because that can be difficult to get back, if your relationship has been lacking that intimacy for a long time, pandemic or not.
KK: Well, a sexless marriage is defined as a marriage where a sexual encounter has occurred ten or fewer times in a year, which is actually a lot of people—particularly at certain points in their relationship, like where there has been a big change, a loss, etc. To avoid getting to point of being sexless, consistency is key. Does that mean we have to meet our partner’s every need, or that they have to meet all of our needs? Or that we have to meet a quota? No. It just means making an effort to meet somewhere in the middle. It means prioritizing that part of a relationship, and trying not to fall into the place where the topic of sex feels awkward and uncomfortable.
PC: But if people are already in sexless marriages, and there is no desire to change that situation, can sexless marriages work?
KK: People have been making it work for a long time. It works for some because they find other ways to connect. If there’s a lot of love there, there can be a lot of understanding. It doesn’t work for others because for many, sex is so important. I will say that we do know that for couples who break up, after a long marriage or mature relationship, sex is usually missing in the last year of being together.
For more on this topic, check out ParentsCanada Talk Radio, episode 78, Rekindling Love and Connection. Kat joins our hosts to chat about all things relationships.