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From watching porn to sexting other people, your eight biggest lockdown love woes

DEMAND for relationship counselling notoriously peaks in the New Year after couples spend more time together over Christmas.

Now lockdown has seen business booming for sex and relationship therapists, after couples have been cooped up together for months.

Almost a quarter of people with partners said the situation put pressure on their relationship, according to poll by charity Relate.

And more than one in eight people who live with a partner were having doubts over their relationship.

Relate chief executive Aidan Jones said: “While some have found lockdown has brought them closer, many have found it has brought existing issues to the surface.”

Relate, which stopped face-to-face counselling at the start of lockdown, has seen a huge rise in demand for digital sessions.

Aidan said: “We’ve had positive feedback from clients about these not-in-the-room services, with some saying it is easier to open up.

“We would strongly encourage anyone experiencing relationship issues to give webcam or phone counselling a try before issues reach crisis point.”

Here, three experts — psychotherapist Miranda Christophers, psychosexual therapist James Gregory and Jo Coker, from the College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists — answer the top issues they have heard during the pandemic.

MIRANDA: Many people have reported changes in desire one way or another since lockdown.

Life has changed a lot for many of us.

Many people are working from home still, and are with partners 24/7, which can have an impact on desire.

We are going out less, so there is not as much change of scenery, and many are not having “date nights”.

In addition, we have many new practicalities to think about in general, or may be busy with work, childcare and chores.

We may be eating more, exercising less, and dressing differently, which may affect how we feel about ourselves and it may mean we lack the desire for sex.

The key thing to think about is that if the reduction in sex is bothering you, or your partner, then you may want to consider what would increase desire for you.

Think about injecting playfulness, a little mystery or something new — anything that may help create a bit of excitement and help tackle over-familiarity.

You can create a fun, flirty or romantic date night at home, wear something different (especially to bed), or create a list of things you might like to do together.

We are more likely to feel desire if we feel good in ourselves and relaxed and if the atmosphere feels right, so just be creative.

JO: Many couples have found it hard living together during lockdown, when they suddenly no longer have life’s usual distractions.

Some, particularly those in long-term relationships, have realised how little time they usually spend together and that they no longer have much in common.

It is a very shocking awakening and can be quite depressing.

But if you do not work at having something in common, then it is not surprising that you do not have something in common.

You need to put in the same effort as you did when you first started dating.

Remember how you used to be and brush off those old dating skills.

Make dinner together, rather than leaving it to one person — and try out a new recipe.

Play a game, such as choosing your favourite songs you would play if you were stranded on a desert island, like on the Radio 4 show.

Your partner is not the same person they were two decades ago and neither are you.

So don’t assume you know what they are thinking or what they are like. It is like a constant dance, which you need to keep up with.

Finally, don’t view lockdown as a sentence — being trapped in the house together.

It is an opportunity to get to know each other all over again.

JAMES: Step one is to take care of your emotional health.

You will probably feel upset and like your world is imploding.

Try to breathe deeply and calmly. And although difficult during the lockdown, try to give yourself some time and space to deal with your emotions.

The car is a popular place to sit and think.

Your trust has been violated. This can not be fixed overnight so contact your closest friends or family for continued support as things progress.

When you are ready to confront your partner, address the situation and your emotions clearly and calmly.

The only cure for infidelity, which this is a form of, is 100 per cent honesty — on both sides.

Focus on getting accurate information. It is important to know why your partner did this so you can decide how to move forward.

Be clear about how much space you need, and state how you need your partner to act while you are working through things.

Finally, you and your partner should try to remember why you fell in love.

This will help rekindle those first flames.

JAMES: Don’t panic. It doesn’t necessarily mean that your partner lusts after porn stars more than they want you.

Porn is the go-to option for many people for many reasons.

It gives someone complete control to start and stop simulated sex whenever they want.

It’s always accessible, and there’s an unlimited and free supply.

Many people rush to porn because it’s the “easy option” — there’s no foreplay and no threat of rejection.

If you feel that your partner might prefer porn to you, try to calmly explain how you feel and ask them why they were watching porn rather than initiating sex.

Try not to judge or assume the worst.

Ask if they feel like they can approach you when they want to be intimate.

Is there something about porn that makes them feel safer?

Avoid scolding as this can make them less likely to open up to you.

Have a conversation about what each person wants from sex, and talk about what to do in future when you or they say: “I’m horny.”

Don’t be afraid to continue the conversation over several weeks.

JO: Anxiety can dampen or heighten sex life — it depends on the person.

I would suggest encouraging your husband to switch off the news alerts on his phone, so he is not constantly overloaded with potentially negative information.

Try to talk to your husband, but not when he is highly stressed, and don’t badger him into talking.

Wait for the right time when he feels comfortable to open up.

Leave space for him to talk about his worries and really listen to what he has to say.

Ask open questions so he can tease out the worries more. Next, try to help him generate solutions.

One of my clients is a chef and faced his company going under because no one could eat out during lockdown.

So he retrained as a teaching assistant as the schools needed more staff — and he loves it.

The people who survive and thrive in a crisis are the ones who are creative.

Once your husband feels more in control, the anxiety and stress will lessen and his sex drive will return.

JO: It is so much harder when you are stuck 24/7 with the person who has betrayed you.

Not only do you not have that space to decompress, it is more difficult to access support from friends.

Try to negotiate some physical space apart in the house, even just for a few hours, so they have one room and you have the other.

You can access online therapy and this may help you set some ground rules.

If there are children involved, try to protect them from any fallout and do not use them as a weapon.

You need to discuss why the affair happened. There is no such thing as one bad partner and one good partner.

Ensure your partner is completely honest.

They may tell you they only slept with someone once but it was actually three times.

These things always come out and then cause further trauma.

Discuss what the affair means for your relationship. Can you rebuild it or is it a sign of deeper troubles?

Remember to self-care and not to medicate with drink, drugs or food.

JO: The majority of people don’t live in hugely spacious homes and we are all going out less, so it is more difficult for couples to create space for intimacy.

First of all, set some boundaries by laying down house rules.

Speak to your children about knocking before coming into your bedroom.

And this works both ways. You should not barge into your child’s room uninvited.

Everyone in the family needs to have mutual respect for each other’s personal space.

This might be harder to explain to any younger children, so creativity can help.

If they have a nap, use that time to get intimate with each other.

Many people are working from home, which gives some flexibility, so just work a little later to make up the time if you need to.

The most common thing is that being potentially overheard can impede performance, so try doing it away from prying ears.

Sex does not necessarily have to happen in the bedroom. As long as you’re not overlooked, try using the garden or the shed.

Some people are worried about being overheard by their children, but sex is a part of life. It’s why your child is there.

It’s not the worst thing in the world if they hear.

It is a positive thing for them that their parents are in a healthy, loving relationship.

MIRANDA: The “rally together” approach as we went into lockdown had a positive impact on some relationships and these couples may have felt closer and as if they were working towards a common goal.

As time has passed, and the lockdown eased, some earlier disagreements or issues may have resurfaced.

With lockdown lifting, some people may be feeling a sense of renewed freedom.

It is worth naming the actual things that you both felt were better about the relationship in lockdown.

Think about telling your other half what you appreciated or really enjoyed during that time.

And think about re-focusing on a common goal — think equal team players, rather than opponents or a manager/supervisee relationship.

Communication is important, so make time to really listen to each other and try to see things from your partner’s perspective.

There is always more than one way of looking at something.

If you feel you are getting frustrated or angry, take time out to cool off, reflect on things and consider them from both of your perspectives.

It is often helpful to imagine that you are an unbiased outsider just looking in.

This way of thinking can help you to see things from a totally different perspective, which is useful.

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