Couples v. Covid

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Chattanooga, Tennessee—

by: Natalie Gard

Along with every other challenge we’ve faced over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has put our love lives to the test. People have been cooped up with their partners for months on end, shining a spotlight on both the strengths and weaknesses of their relationships. Meanwhile, single folks have been forced to choose between navigating the murky waters of dating during the time of the coronavirus, or riding it out on their own.

Valentine’s Day is putting these issues into even sharper focus for many people. To understand how people are approaching the season of romance this year, Verywell Mind surveyed more than 1,200 readers about dating and cohabitating during the pandemic.

The results showed that nearly two-thirds of respondents weren’t sure if they were celebrating Valentine’s Day this year or already decided to skip it. They also had plenty of other strong feelings about how the pandemic has impacted their relationships.

Living With Your Partner During the Pandemic

For 46% of respondents—who were primarily white, women, at least 55 years old, and married—the pandemic hasn’t changed much about their relationships. In fact, it has improved the relationships for 27% of respondents.

“Some couples are actually finding that the pandemic has made them closer,” says Amy Morin, LCSW, the editor-in-chief of Verywell Mind. “The pandemic may help them spend more time together, which could be an opportunity to get to know one another better. Some couples might be learning new things about each other as they work from home. They may see a professional side to their partner that they’ve never seen before.”

This has been especially true for Dan and Jane, a married couple in their 30s, who requested their last names not be used for this article. They say that it’s been a positive experience to “exist in our own little world, just the two of us.”

“We’ve been able to establish new routines and new little traditions, like taking a walk every day and making and eating lunch together,” says Dan. “We haven’t run into conflicts while working from home in close quarters together, and we both still have our jobs, so money issues haven’t created any conflicts, thankfully. We also don’t have children, so we haven’t had that added stress.”

But while many couples have thrived, just as many have struggled, with 27% of respondents reporting that the pandemic has made their relationship worse.

Due to the pandemic, some couples are experiencing increased anxiety, which has the capacity to shape and strain a relationship, regardless of the foundation of love, respect, and ideals.

— LEELA R. MAGAVI, MD

“Due to the pandemic, some couples are experiencing increased anxiety, which has the capacity to shape and strain a relationship, regardless of the foundation of love, respect, and ideals,” explains Lela R. Magavi, MD, psychiatrist and regional medical director at Community Psychiatry. “Anxiety can manifest as irritability and anger, and thus, some individuals are arguing more. If men and women are depressed or anxious, they may struggle with libido concerns and anorgasmia.”

Our survey found that 20% of people experienced mental health issues while living with their partner during the pandemic. Others have struggled with financial stress, family-related issues, and more. However, these weren’t the most prevalent issues for respondents.

Couples Cope With Boredom

The most frequently cited concern among readers surveyed was running out of things to do. Our survey found that 40% of people have experienced boredom while living with a significant other during the pandemic.

It’s not surprising that boredom is causing a lot of strain on relationships. Novelty is one of the key components to a good relationship.

— AMY MORIN, LCSW

“It’s not surprising that boredom is causing a lot of strain on relationships. Novelty is one of the key components to a good relationship. Without being able to venture out on dates, meet new people, and see new sights, many relationships may feel stagnant,” says Morin.

Lorraine Rubio, 29, and Alex Li, 32, a cohabitating couple in New York, say that boredom was especially difficult during the first couple of months of the pandemic.

“We did not know what to do with ourselves in the beginning. We got better at it, though, starting with a month-long puzzle hunt in April. The search for just one filled up a lot of time. And it was so gratifying to finally find a single one at a Target in a different neighborhood,” says Rubio.

Since then, the couple has fought boredom by digging into their passions for cooking and making cocktails. They’re now working on building a fermentation chamber and figuring out how to squeeze it into their galley kitchen.

“I encourage couples to build awareness of when boredom is present and use that time to intentionally decide how they want to spend their time. The mistake is when couples take the feelings of boredom and get bogged down by them,” says Lauren Cook, PsyD, a therapist and author of “Name Your Story: How to Talk Openly About Mental Health While Embracing Wellness.”

Managing Too Much Together Time

After boredom, a lack of solitude was the next major concern, with 28% of respondents saying they’ve experienced too much together time while living with their partner during the pandemic.

“Alone time is another key component to good psychological well-being,” says Morin. “For couples who are together all the time, they may miss the opportunity to have a little solitude. They may miss activities they enjoyed doing alone, such as watching a certain TV show or just getting away. The feeling that you’re always together may take away some of the romance and mystery in a relationship.”

Spending 24/7 with your significant other can also make it more difficult to balance each other’s emotions and support one another during difficult moments, adds Dr. Magavi.

“If one individual feels sad, then the other person automatically feels sad. It can feel like they are living each other’s life as much as they are living their own, and while this occurs in healthy relationships to some degree, enmeshment could lead to loss of clarity with regard to one’s thoughts and feelings,” she says. “It can lead to emotional exhaustion and burnout because every decision, behavior, and feeling directly affects the other person to such a significant degree.”

Carving out alone time has been especially tricky for Rubio and Li, who share a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. They say daily solo exercise routines have been key to finding a bit of breathing room while living in close quarters.

“I think us both having a dedicated workout most days creates a beneficial talk-free space. Alex will work out during lunch, and I’m in the morning or right after I close up work,” says Rubio.