A Relationship Expert’s Top 5 Ways to Be Romantic When Life Feels Anything But

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Romance isn't dead, but if you're in a relationship right now while in quarantine, it might feel that way. You can't simply wash away the mood-killer of a global pandemic with candles and Marvin Gaye. Now, trinkets of affection have weeks-long waiting periods before they're delivered, and you won't be having a new and exciting date night outside your own walls—or computer screen, if you're not in lockdown together—anytime soon. While confinement hasn't brought out the best in you or your disposition each day, you still love (and certainly don't want to lose) your partner, so knowing creative ways to be romantic, even under these conditions, can prove helpful.

Below, relationship expert and psychotherapist Laurel Steinberg, PhD, shares five ways to be romantic and keep excitement alive, even in the face of, well [gestures broadly about].

5 ways to be romantic when romance is the last thing on your mind:

1. Don't overwhelm yourselves with bad news from the media

It's difficult to not have your mind hyper-focused on tragedy when that's what's making the headlines every single day. What you and your partner can control, however, is how much you expose yourselves to distressing updates. The news cycle is unavoidably anxiety-stoking, which can squash a sense of romance, so Dr. Steinberg recommends setting a time limit for how much news you consume in a day and keeping your resources reputable. (Hint: Your anti-vaxxer aunt's Facebook status about tips she heard "from a doctor" is not a reputable resource.) To shift your mind-set and leave room for romance, keep these limitations in your household, with an additional tweak to help foster a sense of balance and normalcy.

"Schedule your exposure to two tiny windows each day—morning and night," says Dr. Steinberg. "This will leave you both informed and in a more normal state, focusing on day-to-day activities like work and family."

2. Remind each other that this new normal won't last forever

If you've always considered your partner to be your best friend, it's weird to suddenly be at each other's throats. So when you're in the midst of arguing about things that had never previously been issues before—like, talking too loud during digital work meetings or taking turns using the single desk you share—remember this won't be your forever situation. Being mindful of this will help restore a state of romance.

"Remember that this too shall pass, and you want to have a relationship that is still alive at the end of this," Dr. Steinberg says.

3. Stick to your romantic rituals—and be open to new ones

If you're a couple who's already familiar with rituals of connection, like the magic of re-creating your first date, then the transition to this new normal may be easier for you. Like, if you generally eat at the same Mediterranean place every Friday, and it's still open for takeout and delivery, keep your tradition going, just from home. Not an option right now? Well, we have a gazillion ways to spice up your hummus so you can get a taste that's close to your tradition.

"Make sure to schedule dates, whether at home or online." —psychotherapist Laurel Steinberg, PhD

"Just do those things differently using the resources available to you now," says Dr. Steinberg. "Make sure to schedule dates, whether at home or online." If you were a more spontaneous couple who never really relied on routine, that's okay, too. The fresh-start energy of this moment makes it a prime time to form new traditions, and there's a bonding component in there as well.

4. Maintain your sex life, or even elevate it

While your vacation sex might not be happening, staycation sex is totally still on the books. Using creativity for sexual pursuits is one of the great ways to be romantic right now, when not much else feels exciting. And if you happen to not be quarantining with your romantic partner, you can still totally have sexual intimacy while separated. For instance, sexting is a great way to keep a spark alive before you can get back in bed with each other.

5. Stay connected by keeping up with communication

For those who are strictly long distance or social distancing separately, you're likely already on top of this tip. (My brother, for instance, is on the phone with his girlfriend about four times a day—there's nothing to do but talk.) Regardless of your personal situation, it's important to have conversations around topics other than COVID-19, and even allow yourselves to look forward in the same direction with plans you intend to make. You may not know specifically when you can go to Sicily together, but there's hope in a nebulous sense of "someday" you can keep in mind. Furthermore, making those plans is a great way to inject some romance into this period of time.

"Simply being with someone in the same space doesn't mean that you spent quality time with them," Dr. Steinberg says. "Dream about the past and the future."

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