The health and economic impacts of the COVID pandemic are enormous and will
be ongoing. The challenges and negative effects extend to individual well-being and intimate and family relationships. A pandemic such as we are currently experiencing causes many people to feel themselves in a world that is unsafe, which in turn fosters high levels of stress and anxiety- this does not produce good outcomes for relationships.
The Corona pandemic has forced many of us to have a very careful look at our personal lives. For some Couples it has been a blessing but a nightmare for others with more time together and less time alone. Pandemic stress and prolonged quarantine have been shown to induce symptoms of depression, post-traumatic stress, loneliness, confusion, anger, frustration, boredom, worry and health-related fear. There are many articles to be found on this topic. Here are just a couple. Research on romantic relationships has shown us that external stressors such as economic hardship, demanding jobs, and disasters can threaten the quality and stability of couples. relationships. https://www.medrxiv.org/content/medrxiv/early/2020/04/06/2020.04.03.20043992.full.pdf; https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/11/5/e045325.abstract; https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11469-020-00281-5
Here are a few of the ways in which couples have been affected in the last two years.
Couples who were already facing relationship difficulties have had to work through a crisis on top of their already existing crisis. Any of the issues that they may have been having as a couple pre-lock down, such as financial struggles or childcare woes, have been massively amplified. Frequent reminders about our mortality make people think about their own future happiness and the status of their current relationship and whether it’s living up to their expectations.
Couples in long distance relationships and living apart during this period has meant that they have not been able to see each other for months at a time. They have had to explore alternative means of staying intimately and sexually connected.
Cohabiting couples have been forced to spend their days together twenty four hours seven days a week without the possible escape to the office; weekly commiserations with friendship circles; no long commutes and/or travel commitments for work. People are being forced to take a good look at their relationships. Annoyances over daily things such as not emptying the dishwasher or not tending to the garbage can become a ‘big thing’ and what were once small irritations have ballooned into big irritations.
New Couples have had to stop dating — at least in terms of face-to-face contact — or decided to move in together more quickly than they might have done. Perhaps even prematurely – dubbed in 2020 ‘The Turbo couple’. There are recorded dramatic decreases in year-to-date cumulative marriages in 2020 compared with 2019 in some countries. Yet in other parts of the world such as Indonesia and India there are reported surges of child marriages with the suggestion that the pandemic will lead to a 13 million increase in the number of child marriages. It has also lead to an increase in Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) as documented in Kenya, Ethiopia and Senagal.
Young adolescent Couples may have experienced abrupt disruptions in their sexual and relational exploratory behaviour with their partner.
Couples who had just experienced a relationship break-up and were still adjusting to their new living situation are suddenly deprived of social support.
Couples facing relationship difficulties have had to interrupt therapeutic help or continue via zoom or WhatsApp;
Couples where one partner lives in residential care have been isolated from their loved one, sometimes unable to visit. https://time.com/5805611/coronavirus-couples-relationships/
Couples with children at home have been able to watch each other’s parenting styles constantly. Differences in parenting approaches often causing tension.
For Couples in abusive or violent relationships this has been a very scary and dangerous time and particularly where substance abuse plays a role. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/06/world/coronavirus-domestic-violence.html
Couples with different ideological positions on corona and on vaccination has pushed some relationships/marriages to breaking point. Differences between the partners can be thrown into sharp relief every time the news is presented in the media. Times have been particularly hard for those who have lost jobs as a result of their views concerning vaccination and/or COVID. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-03-31/divorcesspike-in-china-after-coronavirus-quarantines.
Infidelity has also come to light in some relationships. Without the cover of work or nights out with friends, the secret calls and text messages are now more obvious. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-55146909
The pandemic has also affected the psychological status of infertile couples and the emotional impact of delay in infertility treatment.
The Couples who are best able to survive this period are the relationships which are best able to adapt in combination with the broader context of their lives (e.g., income, minority status) and couples’ individual vulnerabilities (e.g., depression, attachment insecurity). Having solid communication skills, a good understanding and respect for each other and a shared vision for themselves can enhance the outcome for a couple.
What can Couples do to sustain their relationships under these pressures?
Here are some suggestions:
- Remind each other that you are facing unprecedented times. Remember to be kind and patient with each other – these are difficult times. Be motivated to protect your relationship
- Self-care is important to establish and maintain. Create a routine for yourself. Keep regular sleep and waking times. Eat nutritiously, look after your immune system. Be conscious of how much you are drinking and smoking
- Get Creative. Begin by helping each other to find space within your living situation, have designated areas where you can both retreat. Keep your workday limited if you’re working from home
- Develop new interests and hobbies. Walking, bike riding, gardening, cooking, following on-line courses
- Do your part in the relationship to foster closeness and connection – Keep the kids occupied together, this will help keep the stress levels down as having children at home more than usual can alter what is sometimes a fragile equilibrium
- Couples should explore and share important expectations in their relationship, rather than leaving things unsaid and take the time to talk about your hopes and dreams for your relationship as well as your expectations concerning everyday tasks
- Keep it safe to talk, connect, and provide emotional support for one another. Reinforce the simple power of listening and paying attention to the other—being responsive and caring
- Focus less on what your partner should or could do and more on what is under your own control. Ask yourself “What can I do right now to be the best possible partner in our relationship?
- There is a particularly clear association between financial strain and damaging conflict in relationships so place boundaries around the times when you talk about money or other volatile topics
- Broaden your support system and get together with another couple once a week or fortnight for dinner and support. Call people on the phone, stay in touch
- Ensure privacy from children so that the couples can engage in intimate activities which serve as a bond-building function but don’t count on great sex. Stress can interfere with sexual interest (Dewitte, M., Otten, C. & Walker, L. Making love in the time of corona — considering relationships in lockdown. Nat Rev Urol 17, 547–553 (2020)).
- Set COVID house rules on conversation when there are differing views on the pandemic and vaccines. My next post will address this in more detail.
- For those in crisis make a plan so that you can leave if you have to and have somewhere to go where you cannot be harmed; ask for help if you need it- this may mean creating a supportive network of friends, preparing an emergency bag or suitcase (containing clothes, mobile phone, emergency money, transport pass/es) so that you can leave in a hurry if you have to. Or ringing an abuse hotline or contacting a domestic violence shelter group.
- Create a box of ‘treat cards’ together and plan some fun events.
These are extraordinary times. Its more important than ever to Look after each other!
Anurudran, A., Yared, L., Comrie, C., Harrison, K. and Burke, T. (2020), Domestic violence amid COVID-19. Int J Gynecol Obstet, 150: 255-256.
Rodriguez, Lindsey M., Dana M. Litt, and Sherry H. Stewart. “COVID-19 psychological and financial stress and their links to drinking: A dyadic analysis in romantic couples.” Psychology of Addictive Behaviors (2021).
Wu Q, Xu Y. Parenting stress and risk of child maltreatment during the COVID-19 pandemic: A family stress theory-informed perspective. Developmental Child Welfare. 2020;2(3):180-196.
Wagner BG, Choi KH, Cohen PN. Decline in Marriage Associated with the COVID-19 Pandemic in the United States. Socius. January 2020;
Maila D.H. Rahiem, COVID-19 and the surge of child marriages: A phenomenon in Nusa Tenggara Barat, Indonesia, Child Abuse & Neglect, Volume 118, 2021;
Esho, Tammary, et al. “Effects of COVID-19 Pandemic on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting and Child, Early or Forced Marriages in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Senegal.” (2021).
Veronica Esposito, Erika Rania, Daniela Lico, Sara Pedri, Alessia Fiorenza, Marina Francesca Strati, Alessandro Conforti, Vinenzo Marrone, Andrea Carosso, Alberto Revelli, Fulvio Zullo, Costantino Di Carlo, Roberta Venturella,
Influence of COVID-19 pandemic on the psychological status of infertile couples,
European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology,
Volume 253, 2020, Pages 148-153.
Kaur, H., Pranesh, G. T., & Rao, K. A. (2020). Emotional Impact of Delay in Fertility Treatment due to COVID-19 Pandemic. Journal of human reproductive sciences, 13(4), 317–322. https://doi.org/10.4103/jhrs.JHRS_144_20
Mohan S Kamath, Treasa Joseph, Reka Karuppusami, Parimala Chinta, Atri Pal, Sujatha Reddy Nallamilli, Sharmistha Sarkar, Amudha Poobalan, Aleyamma T Kunjummen, Knowledge, anxiety levels and attitudes of infertile couples towards COVID-19 and its impact on self-funded fertility treatment: a cross-sectional questionnaire survey, Human Reproduction Open, Volume 2021, Issue 4, 2021.