'When lockdown happened we had no idea what challenges such confinement would bring' writes Sarah Tilley, Therapist and Educator in modern relationships and erotic intelligence.
As a therapist and educator in modern relationships and erotic intelligence, I look for stories and inspiration in all corners of my world and outside it, too.
I’m inspired by loyalty and commitment, yet often, as we embark on committed relationships, we really have no idea of the reality of such a thing. Our reference point is always our parents’ relationship and our minds are without doubt hardwired to repeat what we learned as children.
However, times change and what was important 30 years ago has very little relevance to this modern world, where women have financial independence, men are expected to have equal understanding of emotional intelligence and, as couples’ therapist Esther Perel says, the trajectory for love and relationships is moving in the direction of polyamory.
We need more space, more money and more freedom to cultivate individuality and independence – doing so gives us desire and longing for intimacy. It’s the longing that keeps our attention, and the variety that comes with an independent lifestyle, plus a language of erotic intelligence, that all keeps us turned on and coming back.
When lockdown happened, we had no idea what challenges such confinement would bring. Like a wartime reduction of luxuries, we ended up facing routine, repetitive sex, tail-spinning arguments we couldn’t walk away from, perhaps financial devastation and a choice to become a statistic of lockdown or to get inventive. Our current situation has had a huge impact on relationships globally, forcing us to look at what we value as important in our lives.
We have had to face head-on difficult conversations, incompatibility and old relationship ruts that are unserving and at times down-right unacceptable.
Asking ourselves, ‘am I in the right relationship?' ‘Do I even want to be in a relationship?’ ‘What else is possible?’ doesn’t necessarily spell out the end but instead is telling you to take time out.
Create more distance, invest in yourself, make an effort to meet new people (even online) and choose options where you come away feeling valued and appreciated, these qualities grow confidence.
When you have this and have gone back to your partner and have had an honest conversation about commitment and change, and that you believe you deserve a hundred percent and you don’t get the reaction you are looking for, then with even the most difficult of obstacles standing between you and the life you want, it will be worth it.
As I watched from afar – my own relationship inevitably being tested by monotony, an overcrowded house and my partner unexpectedly living with my adult children full time – a common thread of connection appeared: a seeking for even deeper compatibility.
What started as a mental exercise in new living became a tactical mission of survival, underpinned with erotic creativity and emotional intelligence. Surviving lockdown and coming out the other end with better relationship skills became the topic of conversation.
The stories I’ve encountered and which stand out as extraordinary have laughter, pain, death and birth in them – ordinary individuals muddling through extraordinary circumstances. Tales of getting stuck during travels in South America while in a new relationship, becoming pregnant and having to give birth while the military was guarding the curfew. Resilient couples facing hearts so stretched that separation seemed the only option, or an open relationship, held together by children, love and respect, suddenly having to face each other and monogamy together. Singles who weren’t deterred by the online first date getting to experience a unique revealing of someone without the distraction of sex; a relationship built on friendship.
Esther Perel’s fly-on-the-wall couples’ therapy podcast, Where Should We Begin?, was compelling listening. To hear others painfully trying to bash out the huge voids that had insipidly grown between them made us want to do ‘better’ and learn from others’ mistakes.
Emily Nagoski’s page-turning book on female pleasure, Come As You Are, allowed women a sigh of relief that a low libido, zero orgasms, boredom and repetition are killers of intimacy, but that’s OK – anything goes, everything is normal and do what makes you happy. We can come back to pleasure by simple mindful exercises and forgiving the past.
I help couples and individuals cultivate eroticism, in themselves and their relationships. In lockdown, I taught people in workshop format to delve into fantasy and their imagination – the secrets of the subconscious and the erotic patterns set in us from birth. We each have an erotic blueprint and lockdown was the perfect time to go exploring for it.
From here, we find newness and exciting plot lines, fresh lovers and new tricks that get the heart pumping and the hormones rushing as if it were real. There’s nothing like a story of forbidden taboo, whispered into your partner’s ear, eyes closed, breath hot, to get the body reacting like it used to.
I encourage creativity and newness to cultivate long-term desire. Take an online tango class or whatever you can agree that is playful and brings out the curious child in you – and watch your partner’s face look with wonder at you being silly and equal and experiencing pleasure.
Stay tuned for more of Sarah’s tips on @onollaoffical and also on @sarah.tilley.wellness
Sarah Tilley LTCL MLCHom CMA