True story: Two years ago, Aaron and Jila (last names omitted to honor the couple's privacy) overcame the odds by starting—and maintaining—a relationship from Salt Lake City to Fort Lauderdale. Then they both moved to New York City where, without 2,500 miles separating them, things were supposed to be easy.
That's when reality settled in for the 24-year-olds: Aaron works 80 hours a week in investment management. Jila is a full-time grad student and holds a retail gig on the side. Their apartments are a 45-minute train ride apart. They love each other, but they're swamped. And stressed. And tired. Really, really tired.
A long-distance relationship isn't easy. And for super-busy couples, a same-city romance can present its own unique challenges. Here's how overbooked partners can strengthen their sex life and relationship—without drugs or therapy.
Schedule Time for Each Other
With such limited time, busy couples may only see each other when tagging in and out of the bathroom in the morning or moments before passing out at night. It's not exactly quality time—if there's any time at all.
Many marriage and family therapists recommend scheduling one-on-one intimate times on a regular basis. It doesn't have to be extravagant, just different from the routine. Whether it's weekly or monthly, lasting just an hour or for an entire evening, the time should be consistent and uninterrupted, a designated opportunity to reconnect and focus on each other.
Go for a stroll in the park. Cook a meal at home. Have sex. Go for the trifecta! Doesn't matter, as long as you're together out of deliberate choice, not just mere convenience of sharing a space. Bonus points for intimate conversation, physical touch, and eye contact—with your partner, not a screen.
Separate the Hard Stuff from the Easy Stuff
Beyond the pressure to spend time together, there's pressure when they finally do. They just want to enjoy that small window, so some couples will avoid addressing difficult conversations. For others, with so many important issues to discuss in so few opportunities, it feels like every encounter is an argument.
"We have so little free time together that I think we can get frustrated more easily when things aren't going well, because we do want that time to be perfect," Aaron says. "If we start fighting quickly, I will lose patience faster than I might normally because I'm committing my free time to this and I want it to be perfect."
The solution: compartmentalize. If you're having a regular date night, just appreciate the enjoyable company. Set aside a different time to broach an important conversation. If you allow fun times and difficult discussions to encroach on one another, you won't find value in either.
Find Ways to Communicate When You're Apart
Use technology to your advantage. It's easy to send a text, chat, photo, Facebook message, or even Snapchat to your partner throughout the day, just to check in. It's a low-maintenance way to stay connected and let your partner know he or she is on your mind. And while Aaron and Jila enjoy texting hourly during the day, the content‐namely Jila's midday sexts—can be contentious.
"It's hard for me at work, and I'm honestly not thinking about [sexting]," Aaron explains. "And it's not like I don't want to think about [Jila] or about it. It's just, when I finish something, I need to jump on the next thing. I don't really have time to just sit and think."
Where's the common ground? Maybe Aaron can acknowledge he appreciates--and is excited by--the sexts, as long as Jila can understand he's focused on work and doesn't expect him to fully engage every time.
Keep your workday conversations light (photos, jokes, whatever), loving (a few sweet nothings), or logistical (regarding plans for after work, for example). As for sexts, best to finish that conversation in person.
Work Hard at Sex
"She thinks we have a really bad sex life," Aaron blurts out, half-joking.
"I wouldn't say we have a really bad sex life," Jila jumps in, partially defending herself and partially reeling him back in. "I think it's something every couple needs to put work into. You have to be proactive and you have to seek out what your partner wants at all times. And I think that's something we could work on."
While we'd all like organic, spur-of-the-moment sex on the kitchen table, sometimes couples have to schedule it in. That might seem less romantic or less spontaneous, but it can also introduce anticipation and excitement knowing it's on the schedule.
It sounds oxymoronic, but you can (at least partially) plan spontaneity. Doing something out-of-the-ordinary beforehand, even if it's a regularly planned event, can make sex feel more novel and exciting. Candlelit yoga or a swing dance class after work can transform the experience in the bedroom. Consider it fore-foreplay. And be opportunistic: Even after a mundane dinner at home, the kitchen table is available.
Fight Exhaustion with Compromise (and Sleep)
"There are nights where working retail kills me because I'm on my feet all day," laments, Jila, noticeably pained by the thought of 10 hours in heels. "Sometimes Aaron doesn't even want to talk, he just wants to come home and pass out. It affects everything."
Exhaustion is no excuse for avoidance. Yet, sleep is vital to your well-being and your relationship, too. Find a time both of you will have the energy to engage. If it's something urgent that can't wait, address it. But if you can get some rest now and block out 20 minutes tomorrow for a conversation or even sex, maybe that's the best. It's really about compromise and, sometimes, a little coercion.
"The last time you told me you were literally too tired to have sex, I got really upset," Jila recalls to Aaron. "I started masturbating. You couldn't sleep, and I got what I wanted. He ended up having sex with me."
Use Being Busy to Your Advantage
A lot of people might say they do a better job with time management when they're busy. They communicate and prioritize effectively when they have limited time. What's more, if two busy people feel productive and empowered by their hectic lifestyle, that's an advantage, because feeling good about yourself always helps a relationship.
In the end, it's about priorities. You can't give 100 percent of your time to everything. Do the pros of the relationship outweigh the cons? Is it worth fighting for? For these two, the answer is clear.
"No matter how exhausted or cranky I am," Jila says, "at the end of the night, all I want to do is fall asleep with him."