As the pandemic stretches well into its second year, quarantine/isolation are as relevant as ever. In fact, data released earlier this week indicated that 60% of Americans are still not ready to move back towards their pre-COVID-19 lifestyles, citing it to be a moderate or large risk. 50% (a slight rise from last week) reported staying at home and socially distancing as much as possible (Jackson et al., 2021).
It’s clear from the data that the isolation brought about by the pandemic is still dictating our lives. It is affecting relationships in different ways, with some couples divorcing or reporting an increase in relationship problems and others relaying an increase in relationship satisfaction and closeness (Weaver, 2021). During the first wave of restrictions, matrimonial lawyers in the US received countless calls from couples tired of being stuck at home together, and braced themselves for a massive surge in divorce filings (Fies, 2020). On the other hand, popular travel vlogger Alyne Tamir told an oft-repeated story of her relationship barely hanging by a thread before COVID, and being revitalized and repaired through the confines of a lockdown (Tamir, 2021). She’s not the only one; quarantine and social distancing recommendations contributed to relationship growth in many cases, fast-tracking intimacy for countless couples who quickly grew close after deciding to move in together early on in favor of the risks associated with socializing outside of one’s household (Mooney, 2020).
Here’s an in-depth look at the possible effects of the pandemic and social isolation on relationships, and how COVID-19 has changed the game for prenuptial agreements.
Public vs. Private Dynamics
Many couples who were just beginning to get to know one another when the pandemic began quickly became well-acquainted with each other in private, but did not have the opportunity to experience each other’s public personas. When restrictions eased, some were in for a rude awakening. Who a person is when they are socializing in a group can be radically different than who they are in private. One woman even related the story of a pandemic-era partnership in which her boyfriend was very affectionate when they were alone together, but became cold, distant, and rude when they were out in public together (Cray, 2021).
It is normal that couples experience different relationship dynamics in public and in private. The private sphere of a relationship is called seclusion, whereas the couple’s shared social life is known as inclusion. Both are important in a healthy relationship. Seclusion helps couples to build their private identity and communication style as a couple, while inclusion gives couples benefits such as fodder for private conversation as well as support from their community, which makes them more likely to stay together (Cray, 2021). Couples who miss out on inclusion due to the pandemic might be weaker for lack of external social support.
Increased Time Together
Lack of inclusion aside, the era of increased seclusion ushered in by the pandemic boosted connection and closeness for some. Financially stable couples, retirees, and parents whose children have left the nest may be more likely to benefit from the increase in together time (Shillington, 2021).
Some couples with formerly busy schedules (as in the case of vlogger Alyne Tamir, aforementioned) also reaped the benefits of the opportunity to slow down and spend more time together. Additionally, a researcher at Acadia University conducted an exploratory study of the pandemic’s effect on relationships; one woman interviewed expressed an experience very similar to that of Tamir: Due to their busy lives, she and her partner had become accustomed to not spending much time together, and their relationship had suffered. The pandemic changed all that, and the extra time together helped them to reconnect. Surprisingly, most couples surveyed for this study reported positive rather than negative effects on their relationship or that the positive effects outweighed the negative (Duke, 2021).
Faced with quarantine and isolation and covid, many couples have let their exercise habits slip. Interestingly, healthy relationships have been shown to counteract this trend to some extent. People in relationships with a high degree of positive interaction and support are actually more likely to adopt new pandemic-friendly exercise habits in comparison to their peers in less healthy relationships (Korittke, 2020).
No Significant Change
Researcher Hannah Williamson began collecting data on couples in December 2019, and saw an opportunity to compare relationship satisfaction before and after the onset of a pandemic. Her research actually found that overall, there was little change in relationship satisfaction before and after the changes brought by COVID-19. Unhappy couples remained unhappy, while happy couples stayed happy (UT News, 2020).
Williamson’s conclusion is controversial because it is so far from what seems like overwhelming amounts of evidence to the contrary, but her research is also relatively unique in that it started collecting data on relationship satisfaction before the pandemic began. Further research is needed to substantiate or disprove her conclusion.
Less surprising is that Williamson also found that couples who had already built positive relationship habits, such as teamwork, support, and equal sharing of tasks, were happier with their relationships during the pandemic than couples who had not built such habits.
Use the Pandemic to Help Your Relationship
Williamson’s research also found that the happier couples had a tendency to attribute bad behavior from their partner (irritability or inattentiveness, for example) to pandemic stress rather than to negative personality traits in their partner (UT News, 2020). Earlier studies also supported the conclusion that couples who blamed small gripes on external factors rather than personality traits were happier (UT News, 2020).
In other words, we can change our experience of relationships by changing our interpretations of events. Imagine that your partner arrived late to your lunch date or forgot to sweep the kitchen floor. Chalking it up to pandemic stress (or any other external factor) can give your relationship a boost, whereas telling yourself a story about how they’re so forgetful/spacey/uncaring will do the opposite. This doesn’t mean you should never hold each other accountable or that you should ignore problems, but it does mean that you’ll do the relationship a favor by being willing to cut one another some slack. So, go ahead and blame the pandemic next time your partner does something annoying!
COVID-19 and Prenups
The COVID-19 pandemic usurped our everyday lives enough to jolt us all into the understanding that we have no idea what the future will hold. COVID-19 completely eliminated any sense of certainty and control in life; in its absence, people began to realize how important it is to well-being and relationships to have at least a partial sense of certainty or ability to affect future outcomes…including in marriage. A prenup can decrease stress and provide some sense of safety and certainty for engaged couples by removing some of the questions around what will happen if, god forbid, the marriage eventually stops working. It is perhaps for this reason that demand for prenups has actually increased during the pandemic (Weaver, 2021). You may not always be able to make a contingency plan for every possibility life might throw at you (like a surprise pandemic), but a prenup can help you eliminate the uncertainty of not having a plan B in one of the most important areas of your life.
Cray, K. 2021. They Met During Lockdown. They Realized Who They Were Dating Later. Retrieved from: https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2021/08/quarantine-relationships-pandemic-partners-meet-outside-world/619696/
Duke, L. C. 2021. How We Loved: Did the Free Time During COVID Have a Positive or Negative Effect on Your Relationship? Retrieved from: https://www.saltwire.com/nova-scotia/lifestyles/how-we-loved-did-the-free-time-during-covid-have-a-positive-or-negative-effect-on-your-relationship-561896/
Fies, 2020. Surge in Divorces Anticipated in Wake of COVID-19 Quarantine. Retrieved from https://abcnews.go.com/US/surge-divorces-anticipated-wake-covid-19-quarantine/story?id=70170902
Korittke, S. Exploring the Effects of Social Isolation on Couples During a Pandemic. Retrieved from: https://today.uconn.edu/2020/07/exploring-effects-social-isolation-couples-pandemic/#
Jackson, C., Newall, M., Yi, J., & Lloyd, N. Three in five Americans support new Biden administration vaccine mandates. Retrieved from: https://www.ipsos.com/en-us/news-polls/axios-ipsos-coronavirus-index
Mooney, K. Coronavirus Has Accelerated the “What Are We” Conversation for New Couples. Retrieved from: https://www.gq.com/story/coronavirus-fast-tracking-intimacy
Shillington, P. Pandemic Stress Has Varying Impacts on Couples’ Relationships. Retrieved from: https://www.umass.edu/news/article/pandemic-stress-has-varying-impacts
Tamir, Alyne. Stuck Together: Our Lockdown Story. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w1xHgvQkFcw
University of Texas News. 2020. COVID-19 Pandemic is Having Little to No Effect on Intimate Relationships. Retrieved from: https://news.utexas.edu/2020/11/05/covid-19-pandemic-is-having-little-to-no-effect-on-intimate-relationships/
Weaver, J. 2021. Pandemic Prenups Amid COVID-19. Retrieved from: https://www.prenuppros.com/post/pandemic-prenups-amid-covid-19