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How Has the Pandemic Affected Your Relationship? Readers Weigh In

relationships during covid illustration

Alex Dos Diaz / Verywell

Key Takeaways

  • A survey of our readers shows that the pandemic has made relationships better for 27% of people, and worse for an equal proportion of people.
  • Boredom and too much together time have been some of the biggest challenges of living with a partner during the pandemic.
  • Nearly a third of people are skipping Valentine’s Day 2021—a sign that it may have lost its luster after a trying year.

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.

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.

— 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 Leela 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.

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.

— 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.

Dating During the Pandemic

While a quarter of respondents to our survey were single, just 9% have dated during the pandemic. A whopping 84% of those who have gone on dates say that the pandemic has made the experience more difficult.

Nearly a quarter of respondents who’ve dated during the pandemic have done so virtually, such as meeting on Zoom or FaceTime. Figuring out what happens next, while public health guidelines urge against get-togethers with people outside your household, has been tricky territory for single people, says Dr. Cook.

Lauren Cook, PsyD

While many people were online dating before the pandemic, the ultimate goal has always been to meet in person. Now with everything being virtual, that goal is no longer in place and many singles wonder, ‘What's the point of even trying?’

— Lauren Cook, PsyD

“While many people were online dating before the pandemic, the ultimate goal has always been to meet in person. Now with everything being virtual, that goal is no longer in place and many singles wonder, ‘What's the point of even trying?’” she says.

Many people have decided to date in person, though. Some 54% of respondents in the dating group have opted to meet up with a potential partner, while adhering to social distancing precautions. Half of participants also said they have gone on a non-socially distanced date, including sharing an indoor space without masks.

Whether you’re going out with people in person or sticking to virtual dates for now, try to avoid talking about the pandemic too much, says Dr. Cook.

“There's already so much stress in the real world and dating should be a reprieve from the difficult realities of life,” she advises.

Celebrating Valentine’s Day 2021

Like every holiday during the pandemic, Valentine’s Day promises to look a little different this year. Some 37% of people say they’re definitely going to celebrate Valentine’s Day 2021, a slight uptick from the 36% of participants who always celebrate.

Valentine’s Day seems to have lost its luster for most people during the pandemic, though. Nearly a third (31%) of respondents say they’re not celebrating this year, a significant jump from the 17% who never celebrate Valentine’s Day. Another 33% of respondents aren’t sure if they’re going to celebrate, yet.

“Some individuals celebrate Valentine’s Day by dressing up and dining at fancy restaurants or traveling. Valentine’s Day in 2021 may just feel like another day at home in pajamas watching Netflix,” says Dr. Magavi.

No wonder 46% of respondents feel indifferent about Valentine’s Day this year, compared with 1 in 3 people feel optimistic or happy about the holiday. Dr. Cook says she’s not surprised about the negativity people feel toward Feb. 14 this year, but believes that those emotions don’t necessarily need to dominate your experience this week. Reframing your focus to bright spots in all your relationships—romantic or otherwise—could help you feel better about Valentine’s Day this year, she adds.

“Valentine's Day is a day that epitomizes love, hope, and joy—which has certainly been lacking this year. As the toxic positivity movement has shown as of late, people are struggling to embrace a mindset of optimism because it feels inauthentic,” says Dr. Cook. “Thus, finding ways to lean into gratitude for the holiday—by celebrating love in whatever form it finds you—may be a helpful way to tap into what this holiday is truly about.”

What This Means For You

If you’ve felt that being cooped up at home with a partner for nearly year has been a challenge, you’re not alone. Our survey shows that many people have been dealing with boredom and too much together time, both of which can make an impact on your love life. Experts say that keeping open lines of communication, carving out some solitude, and trying out new hobbies can help strengthen your relationship during the pandemic.

As for Valentine’s Day, celebrate in ways that feel right to you. That might mean a romantic candlelit meal at home with your significant other, or skipping it altogether. If you’re feeling down about the holiday, try refocusing your mindset on love in whatever way it finds you—whether it’s from a partner, friend, relative, or even yourself.

Methodology

This survey was conducted from 1/25/21 to 2/2/21. Respondents are Verywell Mind readers living in the US and over the age of 18. It included responses from 1,287 people. 

Age: 18-24 1% | 25-39 9% | 40-54 21% | 55-75 59% | 75 or older 10%

Gender: Men 25% | Women 72% | Nonbinary or not listed 1% | Prefer not to answer 2%

Region: Midwest 21% | Northeast 25% | South 32% | West 23% | U.S. territories 1%

Background: White 76% | Black or African American 10% | Hispanic/Latino or Latinx 7% | Asian 3% | Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander 1% | American Indian/Alaska Native 1% | Middle Eastern/North African 0% | Another background 1% | Prefer not to answer 5%

Relationship status: Single 25% | In a relationship 19% | Engaged 2% | Married 55%

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