It is no surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic causes stress, but it may also have powerful negative consequences for romantic relationships, such as increased conflict and reduced relationship quality. However, one quality displayed by your partner could help to prevent damage to your relationship from the stressors associated with the virus.
Balzarini and colleagues surveyed more than 3,500 participants as part of an online research project examining the effects of COVID-19 on relationships. The survey was presented in 10 different languages and respondents included individuals from more than 50 different countries. Heterosexual, bisexual, and gay and lesbian respondents were included in the analysis. The survey assessed feelings of loneliness, financial stressors, as well as perceived relationship satisfaction, commitment, and conflict. (Note: For now, the results have been published online as a pre-print; they have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.)
Perceived partner responsiveness was also measured. According to the authors, partner responsiveness includes understanding your partner, caring for your partner, and validating your partner’s feelings. Items assessing partner responsiveness included the extent to which individuals felt that their partners were really listening to them, tried to consider their point of view, and expressed interest in what they were feeling. The authors believe that perceived partner responsiveness is particularly important in light of stay-at-home orders, which limit other possible sources of social connection.
Respondents indicated that they were feeling stress, financial strain, and loneliness due to the pandemic. In fact, the more stress, financial strain, and loneliness they were feeling, the more relationship difficulties they reported, specifically lower relationship satisfaction, as well as reduced feelings of commitment and increased reports of conflict. The authors suggest that because strong romantic relationships are associated with both physical health and emotional well-being, if your relationship quality suffers, it may also lead to decreased general well-being.
However, those individuals who rated their partners as high in responsiveness to their needs and feelings, although still feeling stress, seemed to be better protected from the negative effects of stressors on their relationships. The authors propose that although stress from the pandemic, a factor external to the relationship, may “spill over” into the relationship, having a partner who is perceived as responding to your needs may facilitate communication, help you cope with feelings of anxiousness, and bolster feelings of security in your relationship. The authors hope that partner responsiveness can help couples to maintain strong relationships even in the presence of significant stressors.
The authors do acknowledge that data collection took place shortly after stay-at-home orders were implemented, so these effects may change as the duration of the pandemic increases.
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Balzarini, R. N., Muise, A., Zoppolat, G., Di Bartolomeo, A., Rodrigues, D. L., Alonso-Ferres, M., … Slatcher, R. B. (2020, May 16). Love in the Time of Covid: Perceived Partner Responsiveness Buffers People from Lower Relationship Quality Associated with Covid-Related Stressors. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/e3fh4