When it comes to keeping things hot and healthy in her relationship with husband Brad Falchuck, Gwyneth Paltrow turns to Michaela Boehm, an intimacy coach who has previously instructed Goop-ers on tantric sex and the secrets of erotic sensation. Like a lot of couples, GP and Falchuk are struggling a little in self-isolation. “There’s definitely tension in the household,” Paltrow told Boehm during an hour-long counselling session-slash-interview on how to find intimacy during uncertain times. Read on for the key takeaways, including why now is most definitely not the time to fix your relationship.
It’s important to validate each other’s coping strategies
No matter how in synch two people are, they are going to have different reactions to the current circumstances. Perhaps you’re taking solace in your daily run, while your partner is turning your spare room into a canned tuna-and-toilet paper stockpiling facility. Regardless, says Boehm, it’s important to validate each other’s coping strategies, even if that means holding your tongue. “You have to affirm that their feelings are okay,” she says. So in the example of the tuna hoarder, you might say something like, “I can see that you’re taking this really seriously and I’m glad about that.” Our personal coping strategies are like fingerprints, developed over time, based on multiple factors. So while you many feel certain behaviours are a little extreme, to someone else, says Boehm, “those cans of tuna are a like a life preserver for their nervous system.”
Let your partner know when you’re letting it all out
Different people express themselves in different ways. Generally speaking, Boehm says that men tend to cope by keeping their emotions bottled up, while women find release in release (a.k.a. good old-fashioned venting). Neither is right or wrong, but problems may arise if the partner who is more internal starts to feel as though they are supposed to “do something” in response to the other person’s outburst. Boehm recommends explicit communication. If you’re the one emoting, let your partner know that you’re having a vent session. If you’re the one listening, it’s okay to ask something like, “Are you just venting or is this something we need to address?”
It’s (still) important to schedule date nights
Or date afternoons…or date dawns…because honestly, does time even exist right now? The point, says Boehm, is that even when couples are together 24/7, carving out dedicated “we time” can be tricky—particularly if you’re sharing your home with kids (as Gwyneth and Brad are). The goal is to separate the administrative communication—like who’s walking the dog, what are we having for dinner, etc.—from the quality time. Boehm says that not every interaction has to be warm and fuzzy; when you’re talking about what needs to happen that day, by all means keep things strictly business. But when you do have time to actually spend together, keep task-master talk to a minimum. Boehm recommends creating a list of things you want to do together, but don’t generally have time for—stuff like watching a documentary, doing a virtual yoga class, mastering the art of soufflé making or even finger painting—in advance. That way, when you have time to actually enjoy each other’s company, you’ll have a list of appealing options at the ready.
Touching is better than talking
Being cooped up together under stressful circumstances is a recipe for conflict. When tension does arise, Boehm suggests using touch rather than dialogue: taking your partner’s hand, asking for a hug, rubbing their back. That’s because the conflict is likely less about any particular issue and more about the tension we are all carrying around in our bodies thanks to the global pandemic—in which case, logic isn’t necessarily the best response. “It’s always best to de-escalate via the body and not try to argue your way out of somebody’s maladaptive coping,” says Boehm.
Now is not the time to tackle your relationship issues
It’s tempting, right? You’re at home 24/7 with few distractions that don’t involve Netflix. Still, Boehm says this is absolutely not the time to delve into deeper issues. “Put any relationship drama on the back burner and focus on the best possible communication that can be had,” she says. You want to keep your connection as positive as possible so that if you end up having to face something horrible (sickness, financial hardship, loss of a loved one), you are both on the “same side of the rope.”
It’s normal not to feel sexy right now…
At the 35:10 mark, Gwyneth references “a friend” of hers who isn’t feeling particularly sexual at the moment. Which is incredibly normal, says Boehm. When existence is threatened, many of us go into fight or flight mode, which means that some women desire more sex (related to the instinct to procreate), while others just want to hide under the covers and eat ice cream (related to the instinct to stay safe). If you fall into this latter category, don’t push yourself to feel differently. Boehm says you may start to open up to sex as the new normal becomes more, well, normal. But of course the real question here is whether GP’s “friend” is actually her. For what it’s worth, Brad seems to get extra fidgety in the background while GP asks the question.
…but here’s what can help
Boehm recommends accessing your sexual desire with self care. So rather than stressing about how much sex you aren’t having, try doing something to please yourself, like taking an extra long bubble bath, enjoying a cup of tea, or investing in silk pyjamas. “Sensuality begets sexuality,” says Boehm. (And let’s be honest, a bubble bath is a great idea regardless.)
Gwyneth and Brad are #relationshipgoals
This is less of a tip than a takeaway for all the Goop snoops out there (guilty as charged). From the onset, Gwyneth and Brad establish that while some couples may be getting a little sick of staring at each other’s faces day in and day out, this is not a problem for the Paltrow-Falchucks. Brad notes that he has the good fortune of being married to “the most interesting person in the world.” He’s kind of joking when he says it (1:05, FYI). But kind of not.
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