“Please remain in your homes unless there is an emergency or you have to perform a necessary task outside.” This was the message many of us got when COVID-19 first hit. For some, this raised questions about what to do with all the extra time spent around loved ones. As much as you may love someone, spending all day, everyday with them may add some strain to any relationship. With restrictions changing day to day and month to month, here is how to deal with love during the COVID-19 pandemic…
The onset of COVID-19 has brought along with it many challenges such as social isolation, financial struggles, and higher levels of stress. 1 Social connection has been found to be associated with more health benefits and when you have that social deprivation, it can be very difficult for many people. Not only does this lack of social connection create problems, financial instabilities also add in another stressor that looms over people. These factors start to blend together and one may start to misattribute the cause of them.
Taking these external stressors and associating them with poorer relationship status is called “stress spillover.”2 One may start to attribute all of these stressors and negative things to their relationship causing there to be more negative evaluations of their partner’s behavior and communication. When you have to address all of these external stressors, you are taking energy away from activities that can create intimacy in the relationship. You start to focus less on how to become closer and spend more time trying to deal with issues that have nothing to do with your partner. 3
One way to fix this issue is to be there for your partner and make sure you are attending to their thoughts and feelings. This is called perceived partner responsiveness (PPR). 1 In a study done at the beginning on the pandemic, research found that PPR lessened the effects of COVID-related stressors, such as social deprivation and financial struggles, on relationship quality. 1 In other words, when an individual felt that their partner cared about, understood, and validated their thoughts and feelings, they perceived less stress, loneliness, and conflict. When someone felt that their partner was not at attentive and responsive, they associated the stress and loneliness to more negative relationship status.
Having someone be there and be responsive when you need it is always a nice feeling. It makes you feel like you are not alone and that someone has your back. Not only does this make you feel good, it has health benefits associated with it. You feel physically better, but also feel more validated to do growth individually.
Basically, the message to take away from this is: During times of great stress and potentially another stay-at-home order, make sure you are there for your partner and being responsive to their needs. This will make both of your lives so much better because your relationship will not be the source of stress, but something that diminishes it.
- Balzarini, R.N., Muise, A., Zoppolat, G., et al. 2020. Love in the Time of COVID: Perceived Partner Responsiveness Buffers People from Lower Relationship Quality Associated with COVID-Related Stressors. (e) (1x)
- Buck, A. A., & Neff, L. A. (2012). Stress spillover in early marriage: The role of self-regulatory depletion. Journal of Family Psychology, 26(5), 698–708. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0029260
- Neff, L. A., & Karney, B. R. (2017). Acknowledging the Elephant in the Room: How Stressful Environmental Contexts Shape Relationship Dynamics. Current opinion in psychology, 13, 107–110. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2016.05.013
One Reply to “How can you make the best out of your relationship during COVID?”
I was very intrigued when Balzarini et al. and your blog post discussed the “stress spillover” phenomenon. Even pre-COVID, I feel that this is a dynamic that the majority of people know, when we might act more terse or combative in our relationships when there’s an overwhelming amount of external stressors that we are trying to deal with. I was curious to see how well researched stress spillover is and there are some interesting papers looking at specific stressors that may be of interest to some people (such as stress spillover in law enforcement marriages and daily stress spillover in couples coping with Type 1 diabetes to name two).
Also, I hope that some researchers may be investigating singlehood during COVID-19, as a quick search on PsycInfo had no results and Professor Tomlinson has mentioned that the general literature on singlehood has grown a lot in the past few years.