Love and Relationships During Covid-19: Key findings
Based on data from publicly available studies and surveys, we found the following:
- 50% of people reported a decline in their sex life
- 27% of participants felt a decrease in relationship satisfaction
- 46% of people involved in the study didn’t notice a difference in their relationship
- Divorce applications rose from 40% to 45% in the US
- The online dating industry grew roughly 13% during 2020
- 45% of people have stopped dating altogether during the pandemic.
The pandemic changed day-to-day life for people around the globe.
It’s easy to get caught up in certain impacts of the pandemic, such as the actual spread of disease, health consequences, and the economic fallout.
But what was the impact on love and relationships?
Relationships are an important part of life and the pandemic disrupted them in a variety of ways.
After an exhaustive search of online studies and survey data, we have the answers. The following infographic summarizes our findings, and below that we dive deeper into the main issues.
If you want to understand exactly how love and relationships were affected by the pandemic, you’ve come to the right place.
The big picture
Although it is perhaps a surprising outcome, the big picture seems to show little net change in the quality of relationships over the course of the pandemic. While this event has been stressful for many reasons — and stress doesn’t tend to be good for relationships — there doesn’t seem to have been a dramatic change one way or the other in relationship quality.
Hannah Williamson, an Assistant Professor of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, conducted a study with more than 600 participants. Most of the participants in this study were married, and the study was controlled for demographics. She found that even significant negative experiences during the course of the pandemic were not likely to have a notable impact on the quality of the relationships for those in the study.
So, did the pandemic work to fix relationships that were already struggling?
Probably not. It seems that relationships stayed roughly the same on average throughout this time, whether for good or bad.
Looking a little closer
So, the first look we have into the impact of the pandemic on romantic relationships shows that there has not been a dramatic change. With that said, there are sure to be couples who have been impacted in one way or another by this event, even if those impacts are not widespread.
We can take a look a little closer into the details by reviewing a survey conducted by Verywell Mind. In this survey, more than 1,200 respondents answered questions on a range of relationship questions related to the pandemic. Interestingly, the same percentage of survey participants said the pandemic has made their relationship better as worse.
27% of participants felt that their relationship was actually improved for this experience, while a matched 27% felt the opposite. The remaining 46% did not think that the relationship had changed much over the course of this time.
Other interesting points from the results of this survey include:
- 25% of those in the survey indicated that they were single, and only 9% reported going on a date since the pandemic began
- 40% reported feeling bored during the pandemic while living with their significant other
- 7% acknowledged substance use during the pandemic
- 20% reported having mental health issues as part of this event.
A survey like this gives some valuable insight into how people are affected by the pandemic. So, even though the aggregate numbers indicate no widespread changes in relationships, there are still case-by-case results that vary wildly.
Some relationships did not survive the pandemic
Breakups and divorces are always a part of the relationship landscape. While many relationships do work out over the long run, some don’t – and there are some indications that the pandemic has put an end to more relationships than would have ended otherwise over the last year or so.
Stewarts is a law firm in Britain and it reported a significant jump with regard to divorce applications. Comparing July through October 2019 to 2020, there was an increase in inquires of 122%. While that simple jump in divorce application interest does not prove directly that these relationship troubles were caused by the pandemic, the timing sure is fitting.
More data regarding divorce rates in the pandemic comes from the United States and the legal contracts company Legal Templates. There are several interesting points drawn out of the data they provide, including the following:
- The reaction was incredibly swift. Legal Templates saw the highest level of interest in separation only a matter of weeks after restrictions and lockdowns started to take effect. Most areas of the U.S. saw the pandemic really take hold in March 2020, and the sales of divorce agreements on this platform peaked in April 2020.
- Kids were less of a stabilizer. Typically, Legal Templates sees about 40% of all divorce agreement sales going to couples with children under 18. However, during the pandemic, that number jumped up to 45%, indicating that the presence of children in the home was no longer the stabilizing factor that it often is in other times.
- New marriages struggled to survive. Perhaps the most interesting piece out of this study was the way new relationships were impacted. Legal Templates reports that during April – June 2019 – long before the pandemic began – they sold 11% of their divorce agreements to couples who had been married for just five months or less. For April – June 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, that number rose to 20%. Also, marriages that were 5 years old or less made up 50% of sales in that 2019 window, a number that rose to 58% during the pandemic.
This information highlights the importance of looking at COVID-19’s impact on relationships on a more granular level. Plenty of relationships have done fine during the pandemic, of course, and many have even grown stronger. On the other side of the coin, there are many that did not make it through, and some groups were hit harder than others.
So, what about sex?
Looking at things like the sale of divorce agreements is an easy way to track how many relationships are formally ending during the pandemic. But something as personal as sex is a little harder to monitor.
It’s easy to assume that this event would drive down how often people are having sex, but is that how it played out in the real world?
According to a study by researchers at Indiana University, the answer is yes. Using a sample of 1,010 people, almost half of the respondents reported a change in their sex life, and it was typically a decrease. Likewise, an NBC News poll online highlighted a drop in sexual activity and the overall quality of their sex life.
Of course, this is another area where the specific, individual effects of the pandemic vary wildly from case to case.
For couples in strong relationships that were not stressed by the pandemic and its impacts, it’s possible that their sex life could have improved. With more time at home and a desire to do something enjoyable, turning to sex as a positive makes sense. The Indiana University study, while showing an overall decrease in sex, did demonstrate that 12.5% of the respondents actually had more sex during this phase.
Dating has become a serious challenge
With many restrictions in place regarding what people can and can’t do — depending on where you live — dating has become difficult to nearly impossible in the pandemic.
While some have turned to virtual dates as an alternative, that is not an option that suitable fills the gap for everyone. It’s one thing to work through the pandemic by trying to keep a relationship strong with a current partner, but those who did not have partners before the pandemic began were in a difficult position.
A study inquiring about the dating habits of single Brits shines some light on what COVID-19 has done to the dating landscape. Let’s touch on a few of the key points revealed from this survey:
- 45% of the people who said they were dating prior to the start of the pandemic said they have stopped during the outbreak
- Only 1% indicated that they continued to go on physical dates despite the pandemic situation
- 9% turned to virtual dating as an alternative
- 7% have signed up for a new dating app, and 19% said they are spending more time on those apps than before the pandemic.
It’s easy to see that the dating world has taken a big hit as a result of the restrictions and health concerns that arose from the COVID-19 outbreak. Given how many people stopped dating entirely during this time, the pool of potential partners was dramatically reduced for those who were interested in continuing to date, virtually or otherwise.
Some reasons for optimism
Feeling optimistic about the future always feels good. Unfortunately, optimism has been hard to come by during the pandemic, so looking for bright spots where they may exist is appealing, to say the least.
We can look to a poll conducted by Monmouth University for some signs that the world of relationships will be just fine through the end of the pandemic and on into the future.
- The poll found that 59% of people in a romantic relationship are extremely satisfied with that relationship. Interestingly, that’s actually slightly higher than previous versions of the poll, which found the number to be 57% and 58% in 2017 and 2014, respectively.
- Another interesting piece is that the category of respondents that choose ‘somewhat satisfied’ or ‘not at all satisfied’ for their relationship situation only counted for 5% of the poll. That number was 11% in 2017, so there has been a dramatic shift away from relationships that were not meeting the needs of the individuals in the survey.
- This poll reported that 74% of respondents did not think their relationship had changed since the start of the pandemic (the poll was published a couple of months after the pandemic began in earnest).
- 17% thought that their relationship had gotten better early in the pandemic, while just 5% said that it had gotten worse. Additionally, more felt that they had a better sex life than worse, by a margin of 9% to 5%.
There are negative sides to any event, and certainly, the pandemic has done more than its share of harm to some relationships. With that said, this study paints a picture that is more positive than it is negative, and it highlights how traumatic experiences like living through a pandemic can actually cause people to come together and strengthen their bonds.
Where do we go from here?
Relationships are complicated.
As a result, studying relationships is complicated, and data collected on topics like relationship satisfaction and sex life activity are always going to vary from source to source. However, the overall picture that is painted by the sources uses in this article is not nearly as grim as you might have feared.
Sure, there are some downsides to be noted, like the rise in divorce contract purchases, especially among those who were just getting started in a marriage. If not for the pandemic, those new relationships may have been able to weather their struggles and come out stronger on the other side.
Also, those who were single going into the pandemic have struggled to keep their dating life going, and many have dealt with isolation and boredom along the way.
Moving forward, we can all hope for the same thing — the pandemic will soon fade away and we can go back to building and maintaining our relationships as we were before. Whether for couples who made it through and can look forward to a better life in the aftermath of COVID-19, or for those who are single and ready to start dating again, let’s look forward to a brighter future.
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