Intimacy after deployment: 7 practical tips for couples feeling awkward after a long deployment or separation

3 little words.

Long-term relationship.

Ergh.

There is so much love but they are so fricken testing. And hard. And, did I mention testing?

We are together but we aren’t actually together. What a desire-conundrum!

When my once boyfriend/now husband said he was moving from Sydney to Grafton way back when I did an eye roll.

A long-distance relationship wasn’t really what I had in mind. Like, really wasn’t what I had in mind.

But we did it.

I flew to Coffs Harbour when I had a block of time off from nursing and he picked me up and we drove to Grafton. Or I drove to Grafton from Sydney. Or he flew to Sydney and I usually had the shits when I picked him up because…well, have you ever hung around Sydney airport in a car when it is 6pm on a Friday night? Fricken stressful. Poor guy. He got in the car, hanging out to see me after so many weeks and I was seriously grumpy and curt.

Yeah. Long-distance relationships eh?

All we want is a nice warm welcome and we sabotage it – unable to hide all the hurt building up from all that time apart.

Sometimes, no matter how much I fantasised about giving him the warmest reception and greeting, he would get to the car and my hello would be like a ‘how the fuck could you leave me?’ As time progressed, I weirdly became simultaneously accustomed to it but bitterer about it.

I was young and doing this traipsing back and forth felt like boring grown up stuff. I wanted to hang out with him in Sydney but he was older and needed a boost in career progression and to get out of Sydney.

We did that for over a year and a half until we both decided to move to Brisbane and we haven’t looked back. Brissy took us in like we were always meant to be there. We had other punctuated separations even though we were living together as Ed needed to go away with the Australian Defence Force on exercises. He has never been on deployment though so I must admit straight up that I don’t know what really extended separation is like.

My clients have described it to me as best they can. They have been seriously tested by very long stints without their partners, often whilst pregnant and/or with children, which adds a whole other layer of complexity and feeling stretched.

Rather than focus on what you can do to keep intimacy going whilst you are separated, I want to nuzzle in on what you can do when you are back together. Cos it can be awkward in a we-know-each-other-but-don’t-know-each-other kind of way.

Here are 7 ways that you can feel far more comfortable in the bedroom and beyond when one of you returns from deployment or separation:

#1 You need an anchoring or a grounding habit

There needs to be something that you do when you are reunited that lets you know that you are back together - an act that takes you off edge as soon as possible. Is there an easy-going place like a café or eatery (mmm sushi) nearby that isn’t home that you can go to to break the ice? For me, there was something jolting about no space between saying hello and going home from the airport or being at home when he came back.

For me, it was as if I needed an intermediary space to hold the awkwardness of being together when I felt fiercely independent. Then I felt better about going home.

#2 Come back into touch gradually

Too much touch all at once can be overload when you have been without it for a while. Unless touch is your love language, you might need to word your partner up on how you need little bits here and there to re-acclimatise. Let them know if you need to pull away from anything that feels dare I say intrusive when they return. Maybe they need this approach too, especially if they have been in high-stress situations.

There is more to touch than simply sexual touch or affectionate touch and this touch continuum is something I often share with clients that have had distance and separation. Filling in the gaps as to what else is possible and how it works to keep the connection alive usually generates big AHA moments.

#3 Don’t put pressure on sex to happen the first night

I KNOW it’s been ages but maybe you and they need to reacquaint yourselves on all the other intimacy levels before sex happens. The whole 0 to 60 approach of getting right back to where you left off can make for stale sex or sex that stops midway and here’s why.

We women are webs – intricate with flow and connection. If we go into the bedroom with a lot of stuff hanging over our heads and on a deeper level, in our hearts then the end result is that we are usually checked out in sex. Feeling angry, resentful and bitter freezes our bodies over, including our pussies. We need to DEFROST before we heat up.

Instead of sex, could the first night be a massage exchange where one of you massages the other on the back of your body (head to toe) and then you swap places. The most important piece here is communication – that this touch doesn’t have the pressure to lead to sex (unless you know beforehand that you DO want it to).

My clients have expressed that they need some space in those early days to warm up again, especially when we are talking about a 9-month deployment. That is a LONG time and my advice is to wade into the waters rather than jump in the deep end.

                                         Pressure for sex on the first night can have you doing this...

                                        Pressure for sex on the first night can have you doing this...

#4 Remember that there are many types of intimacy

There are 8 types of intimacy…wait what?? Yarp, how can you touch on this special feeling of warmth, bonding and closeness that doesn’t involve nudity or being vulnerable in the bedroom?

I like to take clients back a little in time to when they first got together. What was it that brought you together? What activities, conversations, art forms, movement/exercise or opinions really let you know that you both had a good thing going on? There could be some clues there as to what you have let slide because you are so comfortable together or maybe these things just aren’t a priority when you have precious time together.

Did you used to go to concerts and now you don’t?

Did you used to share the newspaper and now you don’t?

Did you used to go for aimless drives and now you don’t?

One of my clients ended up subscribing to this date-night box that got delivered to her door once a month. She felt that any more frequent and there would be pressure but that this was realistic and doable. Her and her husband could use it at home (great when you have little ones) and it instilled some variety in their lives. I thought that was really cool!!

#5 Schedule some time away for just the two of you

But make it a good month after your partner has returned. The first part back at home is helpful to warm up again and get used to the routine of being back in each others space. Then you have time and energy to clear the air so that when you go away, you will use the time for the precious gold that it is: a chance to reconnect, love up and perhaps have a little more sexual intimacy.

What two simple nights away could do to boost your intimacy is unquantifiable. It is one little piece that creates new memories and adds to your overall investment in your relationship. Just promise me you’ll make it a simple trip and nothing too convoluted or over-scheduled! Low stress please!

#6 Have a fight

Erm what?

There is some serious pent-up tension and anger that can linger when you have been separated. It is hard to imagine where our partner has been and what they have seen and they could be struggling to connect with your everyday life.

You need to get the shit out. Purge.

Studies have proven that there is a nice assertive spot for conflict in relationships. It isn’t realistic to not disagree at all, neither is it helpful to have ongoing screaming matches where nothing productive comes of anything. Volatility isn’t sexy.

Early on after their return, could you both just get out the bare bones of what you are shitty about? Jealous of even? Intimacy is blocked when we can’t be forward about all our stuff and it becomes really toxic when we shutdown and stonewall (that is when we don’t talk at all AKA silent treatment).

So – get it OUT. Play fight, use pillows (we do pretend wing-chun-kung-fu movements) and get a bit physically. Staying stoic and stuck isn’t sustainable. Not all fighting and conflict is unhealthy. There could be a breakthrough to new layers of intimacy.  

#7 When you do have sex, try this...

Go. Really. Slow.

Re-familiarise yourself with what they like and what you like. There is no rush (unless they are away again really quickly). Awkwardness happens when we don’t feel confident or when we are learning something new. Rather than this being new for you, it is a renewal of sorts because you have both gone through changes in your time apart.

If self-pleasure has been happening in your separation, just keep in mind that it can be a bit hurried when you want to get-to-the-point. I say slow down a little so that your sex together doesn’t mimic your self-pleasure – rushed out of habit or necessity.

Keep the ambiance really warm and soft with some gentle lighting and a favourite scent. On the note of scent, could you welcome them back with a new scented candle or essential oil on the burner to signify a new experience and chapter?

Lastly, I don’t think penetration should be a must for the first sexual contact you make. Could it stay at giving and receiving oral? Or giving and receiving using your hands? Or an erotic massage with coconut oil where you gently spoon at the end?

Wade back into the waters.

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If you are in a long-distance relationship in any version, I take my hat off to you. I know it’s hard, even if you are really independent – it just has moments of ergh.

If no one has said recently - you are doing so good. This could be the biggest love story ever and the time apart could feed it nutrients and desire you could never ever manufacture or touch on in a normal relationship.

And THAT is intimacy that is really hard to come by.

Lauren xo

P.S. Feeling like you need more support to navigate this very unique terrain? I am your sexologist! OK, that may have sounded weird but it’s true. I know each relationship has differences and challenges that need a specialised approach. If you are ready, I am ready and contrary to popular belief, you don’t always need couples therapy. One of my philosophies is that when we empower and educate women about themselves, they inevitably educate their partners (who are so willing to listen and learn when they are smitten). Book in your introductory session today and let’s move you from frozen to very warm with the love of your life. AND... 

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT :: FROM THE 19TH JUNE TO THE 8TH OF JULY, 10% OF ALL SESSION PAYMENTS (after fees + taxes) RECEIVED WILL BE DONATED TO THE AUSTRALASIAN BIRTH TRAUMA ASSOCIATION IN RECOGNITION OF BIRTH TRAUMA AWARENESS WEEK.

This is an organisation I love to support for everything they are doing to help mamas navigate their personal experiences in safety and with kindness. If you ever needed a little bit more of a nudge to step forward, know that you helping you is helping women help women. I love that!