The Neutral Zone: Learning to be patient with change ll By Stephanie Boulton, MA, LPCC

No, You’re not the only one who’s sex life is suffering.

I mean it! …and I’m not being sarcastic! It’s a major theme in my therapy sessions these days.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I think we all imagined that people would just go inside and get it on (that is if they had someone to get it on with) and a wellspring of pandemic babies would come up. 

But surprise! That didn’t really happen. 

Pretty much everyone I talk to is not really having sex these days even if they have someone to do it with. 

The stress, boredom and the lack of novelty is impacting us in so many ways… that go far beyond our sex lives. 

Even just being chronically stressed is a huge burden on our sex life. 

I wish I had something to write about other than the pandemic. But I don’t. It’s unescapable, ubiquitous, dominant, scary… and ridiculously persistent.

I don’t have any special words of wisdom to endow on you. But I do have a book that has helped me incredibly throughout difficult times and that helps me bring some compassion to myself in these confusing times…. “Transitions: making sense of life’s changes” by William Bridges. 

What is so groundbreaking yet so simple is that Bridges outlines the anatomy of transitions. Transitions happen on an individual level so frequently and can be so disorienting.  

Bridges outlines three stages of transitions: endings, the neutral zone and new beginnings. These often overlap or could all be happening at once. And there are specific characteristics to each stage… no matter what kind of transition you are going through.

The neutral zone is the part of the transition that doesn’t make sense; It’s the in between stage… the liminal stage. This is the middle part where you’ve let go of whatever ended but haven’t yet formed the new beginnings.

 And it’s confusing! 

The thing is we are not only going through this individually… this is a global transition and individually we are all experiencing a different part of that. Not only are we figuring out where we fit in this new reality but we are waiting for the world to catch up and it’s not ready yet. 

Some days I wake up feeling like a wind up toy that is being wound and wound but still in it’s little box. I’m so eager for something to happen and things to be back to something. And there are times when glimpses of something new peek through.

No, it won’t happen tomorrow or in a month. This will be a slow gradual reemergence…. But eventually things will change and emerge into something new. 

It’s just that we are still navigating the in between world….we can’t pick up the pieces yet because the wrecking ball of Covid-19 is still swinging around.

There’s no right way to navigate the neutral zone.  Some people are more passive and some more active. It’s disorienting and stressful. 

The neutral zone is the psychological equivalent of a chrysalis. Y’know the cocoon phase. What started as a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, but what happens inside that little shell probably looks like cellular chaos. I don’t know if science has the ability to document exactly what happens in this chrysalis phase yet, but I can imagine that a caterpillar practically dissolves itself. Ok, I’m going to be googling for a while tonight about this, but my point is this butterfly is a non-thing for a while. It doesn’t exist as one or the other, and is just an egg of mush. 

Yeah, this world right now is the psychological equivalent of an egg of mush……How disorienting is that! And that is what we are all going through! So give yourself a break here, let your brain be mush at times. And allow yourself time to reorient, or just be mush. Let’s take the pressure off getting back to life so quickly. Two years of crappy sex is not in any way a determinate of your value as a person or how your sex life will be in two years. Just imagine all the butterflies that are going to be birthed in the next few years (don’t forget to put yourself in that image as well).

Although there is no one way to do it, here are some helpful transition tips from our friend, William Bridges:

Transition Love and Work Checklist: [can also be applied to pandemics] 

  1. Take your time
  2. Arrange temporary structures
  3. Don’t act for the sake of action
  4. Recognize why you are uncomfortable
  5. Take care of yourself in little ways
  6. Explore the other side of change
  7. Get someone to talk to 
  8. Find out what is waiting in the wings of your life
  9. Use this transition as the impetus for a new kind of learning
  10. Recognize that this transition has a characteristic shape


BridgesWilliamTransitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1980.