The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly left an indelible mark on all aspects of our lives. Along with the challenges to our physical health, it has increased the worries and concerns about our mental health. It has also paved the way for larger discussions, research and surveys on how our interpersonal relationships have been impacted. Constant togetherness with our families or partners within the restrictive walls of our homes, and the increased distance from our friends and long-distance partners have both put our relationships to the test.
While nurturing a new relationship during the pandemic proved difficult for most people, it also increased the speed of reaching certain relationship goalposts like getting married or having a child for others. Parents have found it hard to balance professional life and home life, and some people lost connections with family members over COVID disputes. Yet most showed an overwhelming amount of strength and determination to sustain and maintain bonds during this period. We take a look into how our relationships were affected during these two long, trying years.
- Couples report they have become closer while navigating the ups and downs of quarantine
A surprising number of couples showed resilience in the face of this unprecedented challenge. In an online survey conducted of 1000 people in relationships in the USA in February 2021, 63 per cent of couples who lived together reported that they have grown closer. This might have to do with the increased amount of time and effort put into the relationships during the pandemic, shows the survey, as people found their own things to do together such as eating meals, having date nights indoors, and taking up new home projects. In some of these couples, this resulted in greater physical intimacy. In fact, although it was predicted that building and sustaining relationships while also handling the pandemic would prove to be difficult, 10 per cent of couples reported that the situation accelerated their relationships, making them either move in together, or decide to get married.
- One-fifth of adults report experiencing a breakdown in relationships in their lives
Many relationships also buckled under the weight of stressors that COVID-19 added to our lives. In a 72-week long study conducted with over 70,000 participants, it was found that a fifth of adults experienced a complete breakdown in at least one relationship in their life. Most prominently, family relationships of people with relatives who lived outside of their own homes suffered because of varying opinions about dealing with the pandemic. The connection between mental health and relationships was found to be intrinsic, with young adults with a mental health diagnosis experiencing the biggest percentage of break-ups with romantic partners.
- Many couples living together claim that they had spent too much time with each other
The pandemic brought with it a strict redefinition of external boundaries, but a failure to keep up boundaries inside homes. Physical and emotional boundaries are often essential to nurturing relationships. When quarantined together, people found it hard to carve out much-needed alone time, adding stress to their relationships, said a study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. Spending so much together also made it harder for couples to be there for each other during difficult moments.
- People turned to celebrities and fictional characters to deal with loneliness
Strong socio-emotional bonds formed with famous people and fictional characters are known as parasocial relationships. Research published in September 2021 in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships shows that because of isolation and physical distance from real-life friends and partners, parasocial bonds strengthened during the pandemic. This was in spite of being able to maintain stable relationships with real-life friends, said the study. The increase in consumption of all forms of media during the lockdown, the absence of face-to-face communication with friends and the intense feelings of loneliness and detachment are thought to be responsible for this.
- 36 per cent of mothers felt overwhelmed by the childcare responsibilities
“I cried every day, all day long,” said Hollywood star Drew Barrymore about handling homeschooling and taking care of her kids during the pandemic, on an episode of NBC’s Today. “It was the messiest plate I've ever held in my life. I had to be the teacher, the parent, the disciplinarian and the caretaker.” The shutting down of schools for pandemic safety made parents struggle with balancing child care, their child’s schooling and their own professional work. This was especially true for employed mothers working from home, 36 per cent of whom reported stress from increased childcare responsibilities in a survey conducted by Pew Research Center.
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