Here are tips to stay sane if you don't live with your significant other, according to queer therapists
Since coronavirus has spread globally, we’ve all had to adjust to social distancing and self-quarantining as our “new normal.” There’s a lot of new advice and information out there about how to save your relationship while cooped up inside with your significant other. But those who don’t live with their partner, or have to live apart to be with family, are facing uncertainty about how to stay sane while isolating for an unspecified amount of time.
Queer couples, in particular, may face added stress during this time. In general, LGBTQ+ people suffer from higher rates of depression and anxiety (which can be exacerbated by social isolation) and are more likely to experience medical discrimination (which may make it more difficult for them to ask for or receive healthcare in the midst of a pandemic). As a result, queer folks may find it especially hard to be away from their romantic partner(s) and/or chosen family, since these loved ones normally act as a support group who can comfort them physically and emotionally.
Couples who don’t cohabitate may be tempted to visit each other at each other’s houses during this time. But Dr. Peter Meacher, Chief Medical Officer at Callen-Lorde, discourages travel between homes unless the journey involves “not interacting with anybody or touching anything” and you don’t live in a state that is under lockdown, he writes in an email statement to them. As California and New York have instituted state-wide lockdown for non-essential gatherings with the possibility of other states following suit, it’s looking bleak for couples who just want to get some in-person face time.
Because it’s still uncertain exactly when the current outbreak will peak or end, them. consulted two queer mental health providers — psychotherapist Dulcinea Pitagora and therapist/sex educator Christina Tesoro — for their recommendations on how queer couples can get through quarantine and make it out the other side.
Treat It Like a Long-Distance Relationship
Christina Tesoro: My advice for queer partners quarantining separately would be maybe to frame it more like a long-distance relationship. There are so many things we can do to stay in contact with each other across distance, and being apart from our partners isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Strengthen Communication and Reset Boundaries
Dulcinea Pitagora: I would recommend partners talk to each other about what sorts of interactions would feel best now, and with what frequency and duration. There should be consent in place in remote interactions just as there is when in person. It’s a good idea to discuss what different types of interactions partners want to have and when.
CT: What I’m hearing from a lot of my clients, too, is that despite this anxiety, they feel a lot more present (by necessity) than they have in a long time. I mean, you kind of have to: each of us is operating basically on a 24-hour time frame, adapting to new information as it becomes available to us. I would ask partners quarantining separately: What would it be like to try to harness some of that presence, and approach this new phase of their relationship with curiosity?
Experiment With Video Dates and Cyber Sex
DP: Types of phone or video dates or interactions might be: romantic intimacy; conversations about emotional labour; cybersex dates; having meals together in separate places; playing games together in separate places; etc. The idea is to talk about what’s important to continue cultivating in the relationship and how would that translate best to being separated temporarily.
CT: FaceTime with your partner, make eye contact with them, breathe together, draw together, or read together. Just have them in the room with you, virtually, even if you’re not talking the entire time. If it is comfortable for you, experiment with sexting, phone sex, or sex via video chat. If it’s not comfortable for you, that’s ok, but if you feel even the tiniest curiosity about it, why not just give it a try?
Be Extra Kind to Yourself and Your Partner
DP: Another piece of advice would be to err on the side of kindness with one another, and give our partners an extra benefit of the doubt when stress and anxiety are creating conflict. Also, to go easy on ourselves, for the same reasons, and remember to ask our partner(s) for what we need, and tell them that we want to do the same for them.
Consider Moving In Together (But Don't Rush Into It)
DP: Our needs right now are different than our needs in an ideal, or non-pandemic, situation. I always like to put consent at the forefront of every type of conversation, and this is no different. So, the first thing would be to have a transparent conversation about the risks and benefits of co-quarantining. For example, are any of the people involved in a higher risk category in terms of physical or mental health? Does everyone involved agree on best practices to keep themselves and each other safe and to reduce spread? Other topics of conversation would include each person’s idiosyncrasies, preferences, and hard and soft limits in cohabitating. If the partners are non-monogamous, it’s important to revisit how everyone feels about physical intimacy among partners, and come to agreements that might include a temporary suspension of certain kinds of interactions. This kind of honest and realistic conversation is important in creating an atmosphere of collective informed consent.
CT: If it's a relationship that both partners feel happy and secure in, they've talked about moving in together down the line, and most of their time is spent together anyway, I don't think it's the worst thing in the world to go for it. Like any relationship milestone, they will need to make room for adjustment. On the other hand, if the relationship is really new, if one or both partners have any sort of doubts, or if it feels like the decision is being made from a place of fear and scarcity ("If we don't move in together now, we'll never see each other again!"), I feel like that's something to practice some caution and mindfulness around. I would caution partners against making decisions out of panic.
If you're thinking of moving in with someone to ride out the storm, take a moment to sit quietly, imagine the scenario, and really try to bring awareness to the thoughts and emotions that come up in response to it. Do you feel pleasure? Excited anticipation? Joy? Those may be signs that it's the right move. If, on the other hand, you feel nervousness, anxiousness, dread, or resignation, perhaps reconsider.
Practice Self-Care to Quell Uncertainty
CT: What this situation is asking from a lot of us is the practice of sitting with uncertainty in what a friend of mine called "an incredibly liminal space." Things are in transition right now, and this is difficult for us. Luckily, I think queer folks have some lived and embodied experience with liminality. The binary is not for us, and never has been; we have always lived on the margins. And our reality was never safety or danger, but rather, finding a way to find joy even in a hazardous and unsafe world. We have always lived lives of harm reduction, of joy and beauty and love amidst violence, persecution, and grief.
How can we expand into these moments, rather than constricting, curling up, becoming rigid and brittle and stuck in fear? Each moment you notice yourself feeling like that — a tightness in your chest or throat, maybe; aches and pains in your neck and shoulders; an upset stomach; a clenched jaw, however, anxiety is embodied for you — take a deep breath and remind yourself your only job right now is to be in this moment. We are taking things one day at a time, now, because we have to. The challenge is to try to find the gift in that.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
This article originally appeared on them.