The Impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic on Romantic Relationships

By Lenora Gibson

Abstract: This essay explores the various impacts the pandemic has had on romantic relationships. Within this study, there is a collection of stories accounted for to note how the coronavirus pandemic has affected different relationships, positively or negatively. It is noted a lot of people experienced mental health changes during the lockdown, and this affects how individuals communicate with those close with them, especially if two partners live together. Being around one person consistently under lockdown may have its advantages, but also its disadvantages.

Living with a partner exposes a completely different side to them instead of the occasional dates. There is an entirely different side of how a person lives that is shown. Within a relationship, we all have different needs, and consistent closeness may violate needed personal space within a relationship. On the contrary, some couples may adapt to this lifestyle and become dependent on the presence of their partner to feel comfortable. An article done by Günther‐Bel, Vilaregut, Carratala, Torras-Garat, and Pérez‐Testor (2020) studies the individual and relational well-being of people when they are isolated with their partner, and they discovered two overarching themes in their findings. They were able to find relational improvement and deterioration, which means some relationships were able to come closer together while others completely split apart when being consistently close together.

Within this study, the participants were between the ages of 18 to 25. Most of the respondents lived with their partner throughout the coronavirus pandemic and were able to share their experience when living with their partner during the troubling times of a pandemic. To conduct this study, I conducted digital ethnography by asking several friends via social media platforms who were in a relationship during the pandemic to share their experience and how they felt the pandemic affected their relationships, and was their relationship affected negatively, positively, or a mix of both. Like the findings of Günther‐Bel, Vilaregut, Carratala, Torras-Garat, and Pérez‐Testor (2020), I had similar findings as some couples came closer together while others completely split apart with hostility.

The Coronavirus pandemic began a lockdown within the United States early March of 2020. An original two-week long shutdown – except for essential employees – where no individual was able to go out of their house turned into a year long fight against the coronavirus, where cases of the virus kept appearing and spreading. Face masks were required nearly everywhere and individuals had to have a social distance of at least 6 feet of one another. Throughout this long fight, the relationships of couples were affected in various ways from the coronavirus pandemic. Having to quarantine within the pandemic may have troubled some relationships. The pandemic is noted to affect the mental health of individuals, and this can certainly affect on how couples communicate with one another. How has the coronavirus pandemic affected romantic relationships?

Couples that live together may have been affected within the coronavirus pandemic due to the consistent closeness they have with one another. When the original two-week shutdown began, many employees were required to not come into work and/or work from home. This means for some relationships, both partners were consistently around each other. This can be viewed as an opportunity to spend more quality time with one another, but when does it become suffocating? Günther‐Bel, Vilaregut, Carratala, Torras-Garat, and Pérez‐Testor (2020) studied the individual and relational well-being of people in isolation with their partner and/or their children within the first three weeks of the lockdown within Spain. They discovered two overarching categories of a total of nine themes within the changes in couple or family dynamics during quarantine. The two overarching categories were relational improvement and deterioration. Deterioration of a marriage can be due to the stress of the pandemic and can increase the chance of infidelity.

For this study, my participants were part of a younger age group and none of them were married. To study how the pandemic impacted different relationships, I conducted digital ethnography by asking friends of mine that were in romantic relationships within the coronavirus pandemic. I received a total of seven different responses as to how the pandemic affected their relationship; there were negative and positive responses. Three responses viewed the struggle of the pandemic in a positive light – suggesting it strengthened their relationship. Three other responses report that the pandemic brought out the true colors of the partners, which ended the relationship on harsh terms. My final response reported that various layoffs and restrictions within the pandemic put the relationship through the toughest times, and it showed both partners who they truly were. They were able to cope with it all and they never went to bed unhappy; however, the pandemic did not affect the reason why the relationship came to an end. It ended negatively, but it was viewed as a learning experience when living with a partner.

Response one describes that her partner moved in with her when the pandemic first occurred. They were both college students and had been dating for several years and this was the first time they would be living together, so they viewed this as a practice run for living together in the future. Both partners reported that they found this change to be troublesome at first as they were both home often, even notes that there were times where they wanted to be alone. As it went on, both partners became adjusted to the consistent closeness and made it work. Now they report feeling unhappy when they are apart. The pandemic gave them an opportunity to spend more quality time and practice cooking together. This couple explored new hobbies together, like playing new games and watching different television shows together. Doing this provided the couple always something to talk about and to critique. This provided the couple a solid idea of what it would be like having a place together in the future. Within this scenario, they also had other roommates; however, they spent much of the time together as a couple. They both learned they are compatible living together and describe their relationship like being best friends, where they can hangout and talk about anything with each other.

The second response had a similar experience as response one, reporting they believe it strengthened their relationship. This couple had a toddler and a baby on the way. They report that there were some bad days in response to being so close together all the time, but it taught them a lesson. They viewed this as a stressful point within their relationship, and the hardest it will ever be. Eventually they adapted to the consistent closeness, as one partner was thankful to have her significant other there while being pregnant. Her partner had to work a lot, so she was often sad he was unable to make it to the appointments. The pandemic brought them closer together as they now know they can tolerate each other more. When the baby arrived, she was extremely grateful her partner was there most of the time.

Response three differs quite a bit from the rest as this respondent met their significant other thanks to the pandemic. This participant felt more isolated during the pandemic, so she decided to try online dating. She began talking to someone more and more, and eventually he had asked her to go on a walk on the canal in Indianapolis, Indiana. She jumped at the opportunity because she felt so lonely as she was only in contact with three people – her mother and two of her patients at her work. She wanted to get out into the world and get to know a new person. Now, they have been dating for eight months and this is the longest relationship she has ever had. They have not gotten into arguments. They do not live together, so they are not affected by a lot of closeness.

The fourth response reported that the pandemic affected their relationship in a negative way. This couple were both in college and their relationship did come to an end due to how quickly they got bored of each other over time. This respondent stated that the relationship felt suffocating at times since they lived together and they never had friends come over – it was just the two of them. She did not mind staying in some weekends but spending so much time together got boring quickly. They played games a lot together, but they sat around often when they had time off. They felt isolated because of the pandemic, and the consistent closeness negatively impacted this relationship. There were some ways they tried to save their relationships by working different shifts and even adopting cats. Unfortunately, this relationship still came to an end.

The fifth response came from a male in his mid-twenties, who reports that the pandemic brought out the true colors of his partner. He states that the pandemic allowed to get out of a “toxic relationship.” Throughout their relationship, he felt like he was not able to have personal space. He attempted to communicate this with his partner, but he described she would never allow him to take some space to cool down. The isolation together negatively affected this couple as he described this showed a more controlling and manipulative side to his partner. He felt the isolation made this relationship much more emotionally abusive than it was before. This experience taught this couple that they both have different relationship needs and they were unable to communicate this in a civil way, resulting in a very hostile breakup.

Response six was a relationship of two college students dating. Both partners were academically inclined before the pandemic hit, and this couple were close with one another. Once the pandemic hit, all of their courses became online and this changed the academic mentality of her partner. With all courses being online and he was not required to go out, he began consuming a lot of alcohol and started attending a lot of fraternity parties. He ended up wanting to end the relationship because he said he fell in love with the party and single life. Within this relationship, one partner felt the pandemic drove the other partner down a wrong path when they were doing well together academically and romantically.

My last response felt a negative and positive impact from the pandemic within her relationship. This couple lived together and they were dating less than a year. This relationship did ultimately come to an end, but the pandemic taught them several lessons when dating someone and being consistently close – essentially teaching them how to live with a significant other. Within this relationship, she felt that the pandemic strengthened them during their relationship and showed each other who they truly are. Various lay-offs, shut downs, and restrictions put the relationship through the toughest of times. With these struggles, it taught this couple how to cope with it all, and they never had a falling out or an argument because of the consistent closeness. They never went to bed unhappy with one another. This relationship did come to an end but it was for other reasons – they still have love for one another.

Günther‐Bel, Vilaregut, Carratala, Torras-Garat, and Pérez‐Testor (2020) discovered two overarching themes: relational improvement and deterioration. The findings I discovered supported both themes as there were both positive and negative impacts of the pandemic on different romantic relationships. All relationships vary based on different relational needs, so I was expecting varying results. Some couples may have adapted to this lifestyle and got comfortable being around their partner frequently, which made them dependent on the presence of the partner – which is okay. Some couples viewed this as an opportunity to see how living together would be, and there were good and bad results. Coop Gordon and Mitchell (2020) discuss the strong possibility for infidelity during the stressful time of a pandemic with data collected across the United States. They also discuss the social, emotional, and financial consequences of infidelity during a pandemic, which can make affair recovery much more difficult. Given how difficult this healing process can be, provided by Coop Gordon and Mitchell are some recommendations to recover from infidelity during the pandemic. None of the respondents experienced infidelity or being cheated on, but the stress of the pandemic on top of the negatively impacted relationships that lived together experienced a difficult time when figuring out housing – who is moving out and where are they going. To help aid couples who are still fighting through a difficult time, Stanley and Markman (2020) focus on ways that couple may protect their relationships throughout a troubling time, such as a pandemic. It is known that this pandemic will affect people in their close relationships, like families and spouses. Stanley and Markman mentioned some strategies that therapists and relationship education to help protect relationships from falling apart.

References

Coop Gordon, Kristina, and Mitchell, Erica A. “Infidelity in the Time of COVID‐19.” Family Process 59, no. 3 (2020): 956-66.

Günther‐Bel, Cristina, Vilaregut, Anna, Carratala, Eduard, Torras‐Garat, Sonia, and Pérez‐Testor, Carles. “A Mixed‐method Study of Individual, Couple, and Parental Functioning During the State‐regulated COVID‐19 Lockdown in Spain.” Family Process 59, no. 3 (2020): 1060-079.

Stanley, Scott M, and Markman, Howard J. “Helping Couples in the Shadow of COVID‐19.” Family Process 59, no. 3 (2020): 937-55.

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