A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to speak with a virtual Dad’s Group to help the guys keep their relationships alive and away from burnout. Most of these dads were adjusting to their new lives, either working from home, long hours, or reduced hours. Some were with their kids and partners 24/7, while others were feeling the stress of not being with them as much. Either way, it was a complete shock to their lives “B.C.” (Before COVID, cred to Charlamagne Tha God). This is a recap of what we talked about on that call. Get ready for some relationship realness—and here’s the best part—this goes for anyone in a relationship, not just dads!
If this pandemic is showing us anything, it’s showing us that it’s time to rethink what it means to be intimate with our partners. Our roles may need to adjust in the home to help everyone keep the peace. As a former relationship therapist, I will say this—we are setting ourselves up for failure if we think that our roles aren’t going to change. As with everything else, we need to learn how to adjust and adapt in times of crisis and change. This means one partner doesn’t have to fix everything and the other doesn’t have to do everything. Finding new ways to work together; learning how to work as a team will go a long way with keeping the love fresh between you and your partner.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of burnout is the exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation, usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration. For one reason or another, a lot of us are facing burnout as a result of the COVID pandemic. Our relationships are subject to burnout too if we’re not mindful about how we transition to this new way of life.
The biggest shifts came when we talked about changing our thinking from big date nights, events, and getaways to everyday moments. B.C. date nights meant no kids and doing something elaborate—a night on the town, one night get away’s, day trips, etc. That isn’t possible right now, so its adjustment time. Here’s how…
Start with intimacy. Let’s get this clear—intimacy is not just sex. It’s part of it, but face it, after chasing kids around for 10 hours and working from home, are you even up for sex at this point? Or after working a 16-hour shift surrounded by stressed-out people, do you feel like doing anything other than being alone? Most would say closing their eyes is more attractive than their partner. It’s OK, don’t be afraid to admit this…it doesn’t make you a horrible partner, promise. Denying how we feel is what actually gets us into trouble, not only in our relationships but with our own emotional health. Plus, if there was no foreplay throughout the day, we may not even have the desire to WANT to spend time with our partner.
Wait, what?! Foreplay? We have family all around—there can’t be any!! Oh, grasshopper… Foreplay can simply be moments of showing each other you’re thinking of them, care for them, and that you’re in it together. Foreplay is really about creating connection with the one you love without the actual act of sexual intercourse. A simple example: bringing a cup of coffee up to the bedroom so your partner can enjoy it in peace while you take care of the kids. Or turning on the radio and slow dancing in the middle of the kitchen—with the kiddos, if they’re glued to you. Stealing two minutes in the laundry room or bathroom for a make-out session, finding moments of humor and laughing together, looking into each other’s eyes and just being, these are all ways to create intimacy. I cannot stress this enough: big gestures are over, creating little moments is where it’s at during this new time.
Speaking of time—another important thing to consider is being more intentional with our time. In the beginning of our day, we have energy. We say, “Yeah babe, let’s watch a movie and cuddle on the couch tonight after the kids go to bed.” I’m saying DON’T FALL INTO THE OVER-COMMITTING TRAP!!
Hold up, how is this over-committing? Here’s the deal—when we’re filled with energy, we say, “yes” to a lot. The real question is: can you follow through with what you agreed to when you are flat-out tired? I know I can’t! So instead, be mindful of the words you choose. Try something like, “If I have the energy, there is nothing more I would love to do with you, babe.” Or, make a pact with your significant other that for the time being, limit the plan-making to shorter amounts of time. For example, commit to 10 minutes with your partner after the kids go to bed, and then if you have more energy then you overdeliver. It’s always better to follow through and overdeliver than make a promise you can’t keep.
Now let’s talk consistent check-ins. Relationships work best when we schedule time to talk with our partners. And listen—it’s not about hours of talking. Do you hear me on this?! I’m giving you permission to keep it short and sweet. It can be 10 minutes, three times a week. That’s 30 total minutes, but it makes a huge impact. The main point is to check in. “How ya doing babe?” Think of it as it’s your time to have an open dialogue, as adults, about what your needs are and if they’re being met. Let me be clear, this is not a bitch session about everything your partner is sucking at. Nope, sorry.
Actually, I’m not sorry. For our relationship to flourish, we need to be mindful of how we talk with one another. Kindness truly matters, even if we’re stressed the f* out. Focus on what you have been enjoying about each other. Yes, even if you’re annoyed, you can still find things you’re grateful for about your partner. My suggestion is to make a list of 5-10 things your partner has done or brings to the table that have you feeling the gratitude. Then share it.
A key thing to keep in mind is that your partner isn’t here to be your stress manager. You need to know how to manage your own stress levels. What our partners are able to do is help facilitate the time so that we can manage our own stress. So, this means keep practicing self-care—saying no, keeping strong boundaries, and doing what makes you, you. So, if that means working out helps you manage your stress, negotiate times with your partner so you can make it happen. Then provide that time for your partner too so they can do their own self-care.
In actuality, this isn’t anything new when it comes to building intimacy with one another and keeping the love alive; the moments just look different than before. We have to so simplify our thought process that it almost feels harder. What moments can you create with your partner to keep the intimacy alive? This takes mindful, intentional actions on our part.
To create a moment, we need to be in the moment.
And ultimately isn’t that the point of life? It’s about creating memories and a whole lot of ‘em. How many happy, peaceful, joyful, or funny moments are you creating? This is where your power lies. It doesn’t lie in society trying to figure its way out of this craziness that we’re currently experiencing. We come out on the other side of this better by taking time to focus on our own little worlds and taking back our power, our love, and our happiness. You got this.
Sending love and light,