Tough Problems: Relationships in the Time of Coronavirus

Dating and the strain of spending more time together.

Posted Mar 23, 2020

Source: Pixabay

This is the latest in the Tough Problems series. In each, I respond to two composite questions from my clients.

Dear Dr. Marty: I finally felt ready to start dating again, and then the coronavirus hit. What am I supposed to do—keep six feet away?

Marty Nemko: Not necessarily, but it probably is wise to defer getting together in-person until you decide the person is safe enough. That's pretty similar to what you'd do before deciding to have sex with someone: You're confident enough that you won't contract (or transmit) a venereal disease. 

There is a silver lining in dating in the time of coronavirus: It slows the dating pace. Many people regret getting deep too quickly. The coronavirus situation makes it easier, not to mention more important, to spend enough time first getting to know each other digitally: screening online dating profiles more carefully, having more extended and thoughtful email or text exchanges, and when meeting in person, maintaining that six-foot distance until you feel, as mentioned, that the risk is low and the benefit (if only in sexual pleasure) is high. Of course, there's always phone or Skype sex.

Dear Dr. Marty: Our marriage is not made in heaven, but we've managed to make it work here on Earth. But the coronavirus shelter-in-place edict has us spending much more time together, and we're having a hard time. We've even discussed (OK, yelled about) divorcing. Any thoughts?

Marty Nemko: You're not alone: The divorce rate in China has "soared" since the coronavirus emerged. Might any of these suggestions help?

  • Don't feel obligated to interact more just because you're both at home more. Continue and perhaps expand your solo activities, maybe to those you had wished you had more time for pre-coronavirus. Examples: a DIY home-improvement project, needlework, playing a video game, writing, painting, playing a musical instrument, or starting a sport. For example, I've decided to take up pickleball. While, like tennis, it's played with two or four people, you can learn to play the game solo: first by watching some of the myriad YouTube videos and then by practicing hitting against a wall.
  • It's easy to overreact to little annoyances when they pile up more quickly because you're seeing each other so much, on top of coronavirus worries. Is this a good time to gain perspective? Especially when we hear of so much disease and death because of the pandemic, does it really matter if your home isn't as picked-up as House Beautiful?
  • If the increased time together is highlighting a bigger problem, maybe this is the time to really address it with statesmanlike exchanges between the two of you, perhaps with a mediating counselor.
  • Should you have more sex? For some couples, a lack of time together hurts their sex life. Well, you have more time now. If your sex life isn't all it could be, is it time to improve your communication, try something new, go slower (or faster), be more generous?
  • It may help to remember that this, too, shall pass. It would be a shame if the coronavirus's temporary stress killed a marriage that's worth keeping alive.

You, as a reader of Psychology Today, are particularly likely to have insight into relationship issues in this time of coronavirus. I particularly welcome your reaction, suggestion, or problem as a comment below. If I feel I have something of value to say in response, I will do so.

I read this aloud on YouTube.