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Valentine’s weekend is here, so couples have an opportunity to reconnect, to rekindle the flames, and show their affection
In a year when lives were thrown out of orbit thanks to the global corona pandemic, one of the silent but very real effects of being locked down was that families and couples got stuck together under one roof. Besides business shutdowns, layoffs and pay cuts, many Kenyans were forced to work remotely-mostly from home. The jobless were offloaded to inflation.
The pandemic had its pros and cons: many started side hustles - selling sugarcane, warus, yellow-yolk eggs and dhania on car boots. For others, being at home reconnected them with their families. Kids bonded with hitherto absentee parents.
But the close quarters also meant couples were seeing an awful lot of each other, a situation that can lead to stress and frustration.
But relationship and marriage counselor Grace Kariuki reckons that couples can reboot their love lives and romances this Valentine’s Day after a gloomy 2020.
“Valentine’s weekend is here, so couples have an opportunity to reconnect, to rekindle the flames, show their affection. Valentine’s can be an opportunity to begin a new tradition. If you are unable to go out, bring the party home. Be creative and do a Valentine’s dinner or order a cake… do something thoughtful,” she says, adding that without lockdowns coupes can surprise each other or take walks. “The idea is always to show special interest in your spouse. Be creative.”
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Indeed, for many couples dating or married, 2020 and the ensuing pandemic tested many to the limit.
“It was overwhelming,” says Carol Kinyanjui, a Monitoring and Evaluation Officer with an NGO in Nairobi and a mother of two. “Working from home was very difficult with my kids around, and my husband who wasn’t used to watching them all day. Our maid travelled back home just before the lockdown, so it was just the two of us. I was grateful that I got to see my family more, but I had not realised how much work I had been delegating to the maid.”
For Nashon Wamuyu, a computer engineer, the lockdown made his worst fears come true.
“My wife’s family moved in shortly after the lockdown. With all the fear we had at the time, it didn’t seem like a bad idea to have them all under my roof. It even had its advantages. My mother-in-law helped with the kids, and some of the small kids helped with chores.”
“After almost two months, I was seeing so little of my wife, and there was virtually no way for us to be intimate. Worse, there was no end in sight. Neither of us were in a financial position to make any changes, so we had no option but to try and make it work.”
With the relaxation of the Covid protocols, Wamuyu was able to send his in-laws back home, something he is extremely grateful for.
“I’m not sure my marriage would have survived another year like that,” he says. “It feels like I’m seeing my wife for the first time all over again.”
His is not the only case where romance suffered because of the lockdown.
While it might seem like spending more time with your spouse is a no-brainer, distance is often good for a couple’s peace of mind. Depending on the stage of the relationship, it might even be crucial.
“Proximity breeds familiarity,” says Dr Taji Shivachi, a sociologist and lecturer with Rongo University. “And that familiarity can cement the bond of fondness.”
“But with a long-term, post-marriage relationship, there are a lot of other things the couple has to worry about, and that proximity can lead to couples growing tired with each other.”
“Proximity is determined by the stage of a relationship. For a young relationship, it binds the couple together. As the relationship grows older, proximity becomes a challenge. In any relationship, people can get tired of each other. In that stage, distance can have its benefits. When a relationship is strained, distance is good, especially during the early stages of whatever challenges. After being apart for a period, a couple comes back a bit closer, having missed each other.”
The lockdown presented a host of problems for couples, says Cynthia Wambui Otieno, a relationship and marriage coach and woman-to-woman mentor. “We have never had any past experience as to what a lockdown looks like. No one had any preparation for it; we only read about it or saw it on TV, and it looked and felt so foreign.
“For couples who have had to go through a lockdown and now had to spend a lot of time together, it created a lot of opportunity for conflict. It became a breeding ground for anxiety, a sense of hopelessness and fear. What will happen to me? What will happen to my spouse. Will they make me vulnerable. Will they be as careful as I am?”
She adds that everyone had to redefine what working from home meant. Everyone has their own idea and couples felt disoriented, like a fish out of water. Intimacy was affect ed by psychological fear and anxiety.
“Your body is also on lockdown which can be a stressor to your sex life,” explains Wambui. “At the same time, being in the same space, unless a couple has built their communication, and the ability to decompress their conflict, intimacy is going to take a hit. The couple needs to be intentional about creating the time and the space for it.”
Grace Kariuki argues that forced proximity was a good test for the strength of relationships as “being in close quarters together can improve the quality of the relationship if couples manage the closeness well.”
But couples with poor communication, low tolerance for frustration, poor emotional regulation, low problem-solving skills and unhealthy conflict management “found themselves experiencing cycles of negative interactions with the family,” she adds.
Graces advices couples to give each other breaks for stress management as “the pandemic taught us to be creative, to manage stress from inside rather than always looking for outside sources for stress relaxation and connections. Self-care in terms of self introspection and reflection is very important for personal growth and mental wellness.”
She adds that married couples should understand each other’s ways of handling personal stress besides creating social support networks. “We know that some temperaments find rejuvenation from connecting with others while others find it from connecting with self,” says Grace. “It is important to understand what works for your partner and support them in it with both of you defining boundaries and creating a balance.”
Have weekly dates, go camping, go dancing
The year 2021 is beginning to look better for many people as relationships and marriages that were shaky collapsed with the second wave of the corona pandemic last year. Divorces and separations shot up, the effects of wrong choices hitting home, job and business losses bottoming out transactional marriages and affairs based on money.
Others discovered long held secrets: second wives, mpangos, hidden kids, indulgence in sorcery and fake lives that rocked relationships.
But relationship and marriage coach Cynthia Wambui Otieno reckons things are looking up as “there is a sense of hope about the pandemic and we are getting back to our lives. Covid is our reality now. It is not the end of the world. Marriage means you’re there for the long run. We’re not living day by day. It will be easier to then say you will be intentional in your actions.”
Wambui says that to rekindle lost love, some key things are vital, including learning to control emotions as “we are tense, anxious, short-tempered, because of everything that is going on. Learn how to identify and regulate emotions so that those around you can deal with you.”
There is also need for “insight and vision” to intentionally build something long-lasting with our partners and create “an environment they can thrive, not just survive in.”
Wambui suggests that couples can have dates every week “just the two of you, go camping, go out dancing, whatever creates an environment which progresses your environment.”
She adds: “Create couple time to talk. Us time. This is just for talking, find out how your partner is really doing. What are they reading? What are they going through? What are the things you’re building towards, the things you care about?”
Couples also need “me time” where people take time out for themselves come back stronger and more considerate, happier.
“Just say, I need an hour to go buy myself coffee, go for a walk, go to the spa. I know people who take a personal vacation. When they come back, they are recharged, revamped and ready to do life.”