How Has the Pandemic Impacted Your Romantic Relationship? – Psychology Today

Relationship

We all harbor secrets. Some are big and bad; some are small and trivial. Researchers have parsed which truths to tell and which not to.
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Posted June 20, 2022 | Reviewed by Michelle Quirk
Many individuals who entered the pandemic as part of a couple were challenged to maintain that status—often both romantically and physically, especially if partners were quarantined separately. Fast forward several years, and although social restrictions have been lifted, social stress has been imposed on couples nationwide by skyrocketing prices for essentials like gas and groceries. And because couples both drive and dine, the cost of living has put a strain on relationships in a very different way.
Financial stress can uniquely impact new relationships. As established couples are rebounding from socially distanced rules and restrictions, courting couples are experiencing relational reluctance as some singles shy away from adding the extra expense of dating. In addition, research suggests that the extent to which couples can adapt to a post–COVID-19 society depends on their ability to navigate a wide variety of stressors.
Paula R. Pietromonaco and Nickola C. Overall (2021) evaluated how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted romantic relationships by applying relationship science.1 They began by acknowledging the pandemic as a unique stressor to maintaining effective functioning of intimate relationships—which they note are tied to both physical and emotional health. But they also recognize external stressors that impact romantic relationships including job demands and economic hardship, as well as disasters, that can jeopardize relational stability and quality.
They explain that their conceptual framework suggests that COVID-19–related external stress is likely to increase what they describe as harmful dyadic processes such as withdrawal and hostility, which can decrease relational quality. They note that harmful effects may be exacerbated by a couple’s broader preexisting context, such as age, minority status, and social class, as well as individual vulnerabilities such as depression and attachment insecurity.
Striking a positive note, Pietromonaco and Overall conclude that the current crisis creates opportunities for new policies and interventions and may prompt couples to adopt adaptive relationship processes that will improve relational quality.
Many couples have stepped up to the challenge of preserving postpandemic relational quality and stability through changing spending patterns in a fashion that is both realistic and romantic. Opting to spend the afternoon at the beach instead of at an expensive bistro, some romantic partners are choosing affordable, healthy ways to enjoy couple time without feeling deprived. And, in many cases, the stress reduction of taking a break from traffic, parking, and bank-breaking bills allows romance to be rekindled more easily and quickly through not spending money but spending quality time together.
Because research indicates that relational stress is due to factors that are personal (such as mental health challenges and predispositions) and external (such as financial stress), couples should be intentional about avoiding postpandemic activities that could add extra relational stress by depleting resources. That might mean opting for a weekend staycation or hotel stay on a point program close to home instead of taking a road trip. Or it could mean walking to the park instead of valet parking. And, regarding the link between relational health and mental health, the goal is to provide ways to reduce the stigma of seeking help. Counseling is available, and it is always worthwhile to check into options; faith-based counseling is often free.
By taking advantage of options, your postpandemic relationship can do more than survive; it can thrive.
References
1. Pietromonaco, Paula R., and Nickola C. Overall. 2021. “Applying Relationship Science to Evaluate How the COVID-19 Pandemic May Impact Couples’ Relationships.” American Psychologist 76 (3): 438–50. doi:10.1037/amp0000714.
Wendy L. Patrick, J.D., Ph.D., is a career trial attorney, behavioral analyst, author of Red Flags, and co-author of Reading People.
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We all harbor secrets. Some are big and bad; some are small and trivial. Researchers have parsed which truths to tell and which not to.

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