We’ve been stuck together for a loooooong time. At this point, you either love it or you’re seconds away from booking a cabin so you can go scream in the woods alone. That’s the thing about the pandemic — some have weathered the storm quite well while others are still trying to find solid ground.
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While the narrative these days seems to be that COVID came to town and leveled every relationship around, that’s hasn’t truly been the case. Instead, locking down has brought many couples closer together and strengthened their bonds even more.
Skeptical? Well, psychologist Susan Albers, PsyD, has some good news about relationships during the pandemic and some helpful tips for those who want to keep the love alive — or get things back on track.
How the pandemic has tested relationships
Financial woes, unemployment, exposure risks or even becoming infected with the virus — all are very real problems that come along with pandemic living. And all of these problems can put a great deal of stress on a relationship.
“There’s no doubt that the coronavirus has put a lot of strain on relationships, whether it’s from being cooped up at home together 24/7 or trying to navigate a long-distance relationship, the pandemic has led to a lot of pressure and stress in relationships,” says Dr. Albers.
The American Family Survey (AFS), the first major survey of family dynamics since the pandemic began, found that out of 3,000 Americans who participated, 37% of married men and women reported that the pandemic increased stress in their marriage. This was mainly due to economic hardship. On the other hand, 34% of married respondents said that the stress stemmed from the loss of a spouse’s/partner’s income.
The survey also suggested that with everything going on, the marriage rate fell during the pandemic and is expected to keep falling through 2021. Among unmarried Americans ages 55 and younger, 6% reported an increase in wedding plans, while 7% planned to postpone their marriages.
The good news about pandemic relationships
While the pandemic has been filled with doom and gloom, relationships haven’t been. Dr. Albers says some of the survey results were very encouraging and they seem to be proving the current narrative wrong.
“The study showed that couples were reporting more time spent together at home, more time doing activities together and actually, the division of housework has been more even than it has ever been before. This all shows satisfaction across the board,” says Dr. Albers.
Fifty-six percent of the study’s participants said the pandemic made them appreciate their partners more and 47% said it helped deepen their commitments to their relationships.
As for relationship stability, about 8% of survey participants said the pandemic made them more likely to divorce, break up or separate. However, another 8% said they were less likely to split up because of the pandemic.
How to keep the love alive
It’s nice to know that some couples haven’t quite lost that loving feeling. But if you’re working hard to keep that flame alive, Dr. Albers offers this advice.
Spend time apart
If you’re around each other all day, every day, it’s not a bad thing if you want to spend some time apart.
Dr. Albers explains.
“What’s important with couples who are staying at home 24/7 is that you both make sure to carve out some alone time. If both of you are working from home, it’s really important to remember that you need some alone time to recharge your batteries. So, you can take turns and offer to leave the house for a little bit or you can make sure your partner is carving out time for themselves. Then, after being apart, you can come back together and have new things to talk about.”
Since we can’t engage in a lot of our normal group activities and outings, Dr. Albers suggests picking up a new hobby, whether it be individually or as a couple.
“Novelty is really important for couples right now because we’re at home and we don’t get out very often. Now’s the time to start a new hobby, either together or as a couple. This is going to give you things to connect around and discuss. Maybe you start hiking together, reading new books or taking on some home improvement projects. Whenever you can, go in a novel direction to strengthen your bond.”
Keep the lines of communication open
“A good mantra is to ‘talk less and listen more’ right now. Communicating with your spouse or significant other is really important for connecting and making sure that your relationship, grows even closer,” says Dr. Albers.
She adds that communication is critical to making it through these challenging times together.
“We all want to be with someone when we’re weathering a storm — we don’t want to be alone. This time has made people stay home and really communicate with each other about what’s important. It’s also made them talk about things that they might have been avoiding. When we communicate and talk about how we feel, this prevents issues from being buried or allowed to fester.”
Show your appreciation
“The number one factor in keeping couples together and close is their willingness to express appreciation for one another. So today, make sure that you tell your partner one thing that you really appreciate about them. It could be small or it could be something that is very significant to who they are. Putting your gratitude into words is very important. I see it a lot in my work with couples as well — people just really want to feel appreciated and to feel seen, heard and known,” says Dr. Albers.
If your relationship is on the rocks, get help
Every day isn’t sunshine and rainbows in a relationship. As the study revealed, the pandemic has put a great deal of pressure on some couples. If you were on shaky ground before all of this started, things might be even rougher now.
Dr. Albers says that it’s not too late to turn things around. If you are having a difficult time, she encourages you to reach out for help sooner than later.
“Right now, there are a lot of stressful events happening in the world. If your relationship is a little bit rocky or it’s difficult to communicate with each other, now’s the time to reach out to a couples counselor. They can help you work through the issues and talk through the different concerns that you may have. A couples counselor can even recommend communication techniques or guide you through the stress and anxiety that’s happening in the world right now.”