The COVID-19 pandemic and romantic relationships

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As Valentine’s Day approaches, one might take time to reflect on how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted their romantic relationship(s). 

Perhaps you and your partner emerged from the pandemic stronger than ever, or perhaps it drove you apart permanently. 

Which category you happen to fall into– the stronger couple or the couple-no-more – depends on how you were able to weather the stressors that came with the pandemic, but also on the state of your relationship before the stressors arose. 

According to Justin Cavallo, an associate professor at Wilfrid Laurier University who studies close relationships from a social cognitive perspective, the COVID-19 pandemic may have been stressful on couples for many reasons. 

On the one hand, couples may have begun quarrelling about topics that were of no concern to them pre-pandemic. 

Cavallo explained that questions like “does your partner agree with the restrictions?” or “are they able to follow them, and not see their friends?” can arise as new topics which couples may disagree on. 

Individuals may have also had to deal with the reality of spending more time with their partners under quarantine conditions. 

Whether or not this adjustment represents a serious obstacle in a romantic relationship depends on the nature of the relationship pre-adjustment. 

“[For] couples that already spend a lot of time together, them being quarantined together wouldn’t really bother them. It could actually be a good thing, at least in the short-term,” explained Cavallo. 

If one found themselves wanting to be with their partner every minute of every day, they would likely adjust more positively to the prospect of doing just that under quarantine conditions. 

Another influence is that couples were “forced into a situation where you’re not seeing other people,” said Cavallo. 

“It’s not just that you’re seeing a lot of your partner, you’re also not seeing anybody else, which is different than just seeing a lot of one person.” 

COVID-19 also introduced external stressors, which can influence a couple’s ability to stay together in the face of difficult situations. 

External stressors can “catalyse what’s already going on in the relationship,” said Cavallo. 

“If you’re already having tensions with your partner, and an external force is coming to put pressure on you, that’s going to be a problem. That’s going to make things worse.” 

Again, whether or not a couple is able to withstand these external forces depends largely on the context of the relationship pre-pandemic. 

“If you start out with a strong relationship, you’re probably better able to withstand all of the external pressures and COVID in particular. If your relationship is already on shaky foundation, that’s going to be more difficult.”


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