18 Intimacy and Romance Tips for Busy Nurses
As a nurse working throughout a global pandemic, it can be hard to feel sexy and connected with your partner this Valentine's Day. You can start with being kind to yourself and accepting how you feel right now. Your burnout and stress are completely understandable responses to working during the pandemic.
Healthy relationships can support your mental health and well-being. A positive, shared relationship is built on healthy communication with yourself and your partner.
There are specific benefits to healthy, romantic relationships, including:
- Greater sense of purpose
- Better healing
- Longer life
On this page, find ways to foster connection and intimacy with yourself and your partner this Valentine's Day. We also offer tips from intimacy experts on how you can support your loved ones through burnout and emotional depletion as a partner of a busy nurse.
Intimacy and Romance Tips for Busy or Burnt Out Nurses
In this section, we give you 11 tips to help improve intimacy and romance this Valentine's Day, even when you are tired and burnt out.
We talked with two nurses with expertise in relationships, intimacy, and play to bring you functional and easy tips that can improve the romance in your relationship.
Lori Davis, DNP, is a board-certified nurse practitioner and sex counselor in private practice, and Ashera DeRosa is a licensed marriage and family therapist and the owner of Whole Stories Therapy, both from New York.
1. Be Kind to Yourself and Accept How You Feel Right Now
First and foremost, you cannot give to someone else what you don't already give to yourself. To take care of intimacy and romance in your relationship, you must first give yourself the time and space to affirm your capacity and nurture yourself.
"In the same vein, remembering that this is a stressful time, but that circumstances can and will change at some point is important," DeRosa says. "Stressful situations aren't necessarily permanent, but more of a tough chapter."
When a person is experiencing negative emotions, they don't have the energy or capacity to feel romantic. Take a few moments each day to remind yourself of the many good things you do for others. Remember to be kind to yourself as you rewind your day and accept how you feel in the moment without any shame or guilt.
2. Communicate With Your Partner About Where You're At
Communication is key to maintaining a connection with your partner. It takes self-awareness and self-compassion to check in with yourself first and then communicate how you feel with your partner.
You may be exhausted or irritable, but unless you begin by offering authentic and compassionate reassurance to your partner, they may think the trouble with your romantic feelings lies with them.
"Though [your partner is] likely very aware of how overwhelmed you are, it can still be hard to not take it personally when they feel the loss of intimacy," says Davis. "Let them know that you love them and see that this is something that needs attention."
Let them know you love them, and you recognize that your stress levels must be addressed so you can give your partner the attention they deserve. Additionally, by letting your partner in on your experience, they can better support you and meet your needs.
3. Recognize and Turn Into Your Partner's Bids
John Gottman, Ph.D., who has studied couples for over 40 years, discovered that when someone wants your attention, they make a "bid to connect."
People rarely say, "Hey, I want to connect with you." Instead, you may notice your partner making small verbal or nonverbal forays, such as touching, sighing, or asking about your day.
You have a choice as to how you respond which can affect how your partner feels. You can:
- Turn toward your partner's bid
- Turn away from your partner's bid
- Get angry and turn against their bid
Gottman's research showed that when you turn toward your partner's bid for your attention, it helps develop trust and connection, leading to a satisfying sex life.
"Fostering your overall happiness means putting energy into the relationships that matter the most to you," DeRosa says.
Remember that relationships are built on daily attention to your partner and not gathering up all your strength for one grand gesture. Gottman discovered that when couples broke up, it was more often because of resentment and distance in the relationship that built up over time from rejected bids for connection.
4. Reduced Libido Is a Natural Response to Stress
While a reduced drive for sex is a natural response to stress, this can drive a wedge between couples when communication on the topic is lacking or doesn't feel safe.
"Stressed out bodies are in survival mode, so the sexual response system is turned off — and so are you," Davis says. "Think of it from an evolutionary standpoint: There is no time for romance when you are being chased by a lion!"
While sex is an important aspect of a relationship, when you think of intimacy, it doesn't necessarily include sex. Intimacy is an emotional connection with your partner that involves trust and acceptance. You can seek intimacy on nights when your energy level can't support sex.
It can be helpful first to honor your own needs and then communicate with your partner that you haven't lost your desire for sex indefinitely. Rather, you're experiencing a physiological stress response, which is to be expected when working through a pandemic.
5. Creating a Self-care Ritual Helps You Be Present and Turn Off Your "Work Brain"
At the end of a long day, you are likely still mulling over what happened during your workday. This distraction doesn't lend itself to healthy connections at home, nor does it lead to romance or intimacy.
Integrating a regular nurse self-care ritual or wind-down routine for nurses that brings your mind back to the present moment where your partner lives is crucial. DeRosa refers to this as shutting your "work brain."
"Doing some stretches and taking a shower where you use products that make you feel pampered for just a moment can help you remind yourself that you have a body, and sometimes that body likes loving touch," she says.
6. Start by Asking, "What Does My Body Need Right Now?"
After a long hard day, you may have a long list of things to do at home. The idea of romance or intimacy with your partner may be the last thing on your mind. Yet, as research has demonstrated, intimacy may be just what the doctor ordered to heal and get centered.
Connecting with your loved one helps reduce your blood pressure and lower stress levels. But, you can't jump from a stressful day at work into playtime with your partner.
"In order to be romantic with a partner, a person needs to take some time to relax and feel good about themselves," DeRosa says.
Start by asking yourself, "What does my body need right now to feel relaxed and at peace?" It may be:
- A bath
- A walk in nature
- Alone time
- Yoga stretches
Whatever it is, you'll move into a more peaceful state of mind when you check in with yourself and listen to what your body is telling you.
7. Reconnecting With Your Partner Starts With Reconnecting With Yourself
Davis advises nurses and caregivers to acknowledge and feel comfortable with their own needs.
Many nurses feel stuck in a rut after being overworked and underappreciated.
By paying attention to yourself and taking care of your mental and emotional health, you are better equipped to enjoy romance and intimacy with your partner. It all starts with reconnecting with yourself.
Remember that you are not just a nurse, mother, father, or caretaker. You are a "vibrant, beautiful, creative, and engaged being," reminds Davis.
To reconnect with your partner, you must first reconnect with yourself and approach the relationship as a whole person, not as one fragmented by stress. Ask your partner for help doing this; it creates a bond when they help you to help yourself.
8. Emotional and Physical Connection Releases Stress-relieving Hormones
Being silly and playful with your partner can release stress-relieving hormones and bring you together. Most people get less playful as they get older. However, it's a characteristic well-worth cultivating. Play offers a different way of communicating and helps reduce conflict.
Play makes you feel good, makes you laugh, and even makes sex better. When you are stressed and burned out, connecting with your partner may be one more thing on your "to-do" list. You know that list is already too long. Davis encourages us to challenge that belief.
"Intimacy and romance can actually be the antidote to the to-do list, to overwhelm, and to stress," Davis says. "Emotional and physical connection releases hormones and neurotransmitters that allow the body to heal and to relax."
9. Set Aside Routine Time for Connecting With Your Partner
Hollywood has set an impossible standard: Sex should be spontaneous and always amazing. Yet psychologists and therapists recommend clients schedule time with their partner for intimacy and sex.
When you leave it to spontaneity, there is always something else that may feel more important after a busy day. Scheduling time with your partner demonstrates you are committed to your partner and guarantees you'll have quality time.
"Arrange a time where you both won't be completely exhausted; mornings can be a good option for some people," recommends Davis. "Agree that the goal is only to be fully present with each other and to share in pleasure."
10. Slow It Down
Before you can think about entering a scheduled time for intimacy with your partner, it's essential your mind is quiet and focused on the present. When you're stressed out, you may need more time than you anticipate to transition to a state where you are relaxed and connected.
Sex counselor Davis says that getting your mind focused can become part of foreplay. She recommends that you not rush through sex but slow down and enjoy each moment with your partner.
"Let the mind settle, let the breath slow, focus on where you are feeling pleasure and connection," Davis says. "If something doesn't feel right, give yourself permission to change directions and ask for what you need."
11. When Planning Date Nights, Be Realistic About Energy Levels
From nearly every couple's self-help book, you know that scheduling a routine date night is essential to stay connected. But, let's be realistic. Sometimes you just don't have the energy to get dressed and go out. And in a pandemic, going out isn't always an option.
DeRosa advises couples to evaluate their energy level and work within those parameters realistically. Otherwise, you may end up arguing before, during, and after what should have been time to reconnect with your partner.
Date night can be an evening on the couch, watching a movie with take-out. What's important is focusing on connection.
"Look for opportunities for touch. Hold hands, give each other a massage, be present with one another," DeRosa says. "Set boundaries around the conversation: Don't talk about work, housework, chores, or parenting. This is a date, not a meeting!"
How Partners of Burnt Out Nurses Can Provide Support
Relationships are a two-way street. Busy nurses have several strategies to improve the level of romance in the relationships, and so do their partners. Partners can help by being empathetic and supportive in fostering connections and intimacy.
Offload Responsibility in the Home
Davis points out that research studies consistently demonstrate that when the chores and child care in the home are divided equitably, the more likely it is that couples will be satisfied with their sex life.
Davis challenges partners to ask themself, "How can I offer more support to offload their responsibilities in the home?"
Caretakers easily lose track of their needs. Then romance and intimacy can feel like a burden. Instead, partners of busy nurses can help by volunteering to take on some of the nurse's responsibilities at home. This gives the nurse more time to care for themself and recharge.
Emphasize the Shared Need for Self-care
Nurses may sometimes see time to care for themself as one more thing they need to do, when all they really want is to tumble into bed and fall asleep. Romance and intimacy are the last things on their mind.
Partners can help support the nurse in their family by prioritizing the nurse's self-care.
"People who are caretakers can easily lose sight of their own needs," Davis says. "How can you show your partner that you prioritize their needs and that they must do the same?"
Reimagine What Intimacy Looks Like
Remember, intimacy is not always sex. Although one supports the other, sex can be used to celebrate connection and intimacy.
Even without intercourse, intimacy offers physical and mental health benefits. Some people must experience intimacy to be sexually intimate, and others express their intimacy through physical, sexual contact.
However, as an overtired, overstressed, and burned-out nurse, that intimacy can feel like a burden. Partners can shift their thinking and focus during physically intimate times with their stressed-out partner.
"Romance and intimacy can feel like a burden to the overworked brain," Davis says. "How can you shift away from a goal-oriented approach to sex and focus more on being curious and relaxed with your partner?"
Understand That Recouping From Burnout Is a Process
Davis notes that nurses who are burned out didn't get that way overnight, and healing will not happen after one nice hot shower or a weekend away. Instead, nurse burnout is characterized by detachment and emotional exhaustion from long hours, high stress, and too many responsibilities. Recuperating from burnout is a journey.
"Respect the process. Know that it takes time to rehabilitate the nervous system," Davis says. "Every small step towards listening to your needs and finding ways to shift towards ease, pleasure, and intimacy matters."
Small Gestures Are Better Than One Big Romantic Gesture
DeRosa warns that one grand romantic gesture may backfire if you and your nurse partner have been bickering over a lack of intimacy or romance in your relationship.
Pouring all your energy into one big date night and returning to the status quo afterward may do more harm than good. Instead, DeRosa recommends starting small, such as:
- A short, sweet handwritten note
- Bringing them their favorite candy bar or dessert
- Making time to see each other every day, even if it's for just 15 minutes drinking coffee in the car
- Sending a flirty text
"Those tiny gestures help affirm that your relationship is a priority and that you're in this together," says DeRosa.
Saying "Thank You" for Little Things Goes a Long Way
When you've been in a relationship for an extended period of time, it can be easy to start taking each other for granted. You forget how important the little things are, and only acknowledge the big ones.
For example, making coffee in the morning, getting the mail, or taking out the garbage are all daily duties. But when was the last time you thanked your nurse partner for doing them?
"In general, people like to feel appreciated and seen. When your partner is thoughtful, caring, or present, let them know that you appreciate that," DeRosa says. "Positive reinforcement is far more effective than negative."
Remember, You're in This Together
When you are partners, it's important to remember that you are doing life together. What affects you also affects your nurse partner and vice versa. So, when a nurse is burned out and stressed, remember that it's not fun for them either.
It's natural to feel frustrated or angry when your needs aren't being met. However, there are effective ways to get your needs met without creating a problem in the relationship.
"Being passive-aggressive, distant, or keeping a ledger of the last time you were intimate will not be effective in getting your partner to be present with you," DeRosa says. "Partners of nurses can share the burden with their partner by doing small, helpful acts of kindness."
Meet Our Contributors
Ashera DeRosa, LMFT
Ashera DeRosa is a licensed marriage and family therapist and the owner of Whole Stories Therapy in Buffalo, New York. She teaches transgenerational family therapy at Medaille College and is the author of the column, Smash Talks, available on QweenCity.com.
Lori Davis, DNP, NCMP
Lori Davis is a board-certified nurse practitioner and sex counselor in private practice in Ithaca, New York. She specializes in helping clients who feel stuck in their sex lives create more ease, pleasure, and intimacy with themselves and their partners. As a nurse for over 15 years, she appreciates the complexities of being a nurse, parent, and partner.
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