Relationship Satisfaction in the Early Stages of the COVID-19 Pandemic

About the Article

This first article of our project Love in Times of Covid aimed to explore which impacts the pandemic had on couples in its early stages (spring 2020). This included examining whether relationship satisfaction decreased at the onset of the pandemic, whether this was more prevalent among noncohabitants than cohabitants due to mobility constraints, and what predictors might predict the perceived change in relationship satisfaction. 

In order to answer the research questions, we only included the first measurement point of the longitudinal study in April 2020 in order to draw conclusions about the initial period of the pandemic. At this measurement point, participants indicated how satisfied they were with their relationship currently and also retrospectively reported their relationship satisfaction before the pandemic.

A mixed analysis of variance with repeated measures (ANOVA) was used to compare relationship satisfaction in April 2020 with retrospectively assessed satisfaction before the pandemic and to compare cohabitating and non-cohabitating participants. To identify predictors of change in relationship satisfaction, we computed multivariate regressions.

Main Findings

Overall, we found relationship satisfaction during the pandemic to be lower than retrospectively recorded satisfaction before the pandemic, with this difference being significantly stronger among non-cohabitating individuals. Moreover, in an additional analysis, we found that sexual satisfaction in particular declined at the beginning of the pandemic, again mainly among non-cohabitating participants. 

Non-cohabitating Couples During the Pandemic

To explore this stronger impact of the pandemic among non-cohabitating individuals in some detail, we examined the information on whether and what relationship-related activities had changed as a result of the pandemic. Cohabitating individuals reported that conversation and joint activities occurred somewhat more frequently at the start of the pandemic, sexual activity and conflict occurred at about the same rate, and only time for oneself (i.e., time without one’s partner) decreased. In contrast, non-cohabitating individuals reported that joint activities, sexual activities, and also conflicts decreased significantly, while the frequency of conversations remained the same and time for oneself increased.

Factors Influencing Relationship Satisfaction During the Pandemic

WHICH FACTORS HAD A POSITIVE INFLUENCE?

  • Having a happy relationship before the pandemic
  • Seeing the partner more often and spending more time together (e.g. talks, leisure activities, sexual activities). This is true for both cohabitating and non-cohabitating couples ‚Äď thus, cohabitating couples also benefited from spending more time together.
  • A secure attachment style that manifests itself, for example, in feeling connected in a romantic relationship, having trust and confidence, and partners communicating openly and accepting each other.
  • Being satisfied with the degree of privacy experienced at home.
  • Having the possibility to spend time outside the own living space.

WHICH FACTORS HAD A NEGATIVE INFLUENCE?

  • Arguing more frequently with the partner.
  • Experiencing psychological symptoms, such as depression, anxiety or increased stress.
  • Experiencing pandemic-related concerns (e.g. worrying about own health or health of loved ones, financial situation or relationships).
  • Experiencing job insecurity.
  • A insecure attachment style, e.g. being anxious, dismissive or avoidant in the relationship, withdrawing in case of conflicts, worrying about being rejected or being left by the partner.
WHICH DIFFERENCES WERE FOUND BETWEEN COUPLES LIVING TOGETHER AND COUPLES LIVING APART?
  • The¬†frequency of conflicts¬†actually had a stronger influence on cohabitating couples than on non-cohabitating ones. We assume that it was particularly difficult for cohabiting couples to distance themselves from each other after an argument, since much time was spent together at home.
  • The extent of¬†time for oneself¬†was found to affect relationship satisfaction positively for cohabiting couples but negatively for non-cohabiting couples. In particular, among cohabiting couples, time for oneself may have compensated for the large increase in time spent together at home.
Cite this Article

Vigl, J., Strauss, H., Talamini, F., & Zentner, M. (2022). Relationship satisfaction in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic: A cross-national examination of situational, dispositional, and relationship factors. Plos one, 17(3), e0264511.