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Love in Times of Corona

How does the COVID19-pandemic affect relationships? We want to identify factors that help or challenge couples under unusually stressful conditions, such as the current pandemic. Eventually, our results should provide the basis for effective means of prevention and intervention for couples and families in crises.

What is it all about?

Our aim is to take a closer look at love relationships in times of the Corona virus. We want to identify factors that help or challenge couples under unusually stressful conditions, such as the current pandemic. We hope that this will facilitate the development and deployment of effective means of prevention and intervention for couples facing unusual challenges in the future.

To be able to draw valid conclusions, we need to understand how the dynamics and the development of the current situations influence changes in relationships, and therefore the study will include several assessments. All individuals currently in a relationship were welcome to participate (the sexual orientation or the degree of commitment in the relationship does not matter).

Preliminary results

Here we would like to provide a few insights on the current data analyses. The first analyzes primarily deal with changes in relationship satisfaction at the beginning of the pandemic and the factors that affected these

A total of 3 243 individuals from more than 60 nations have participated in the initial measurement in spring 2020. About a third of these individuals (n = 1010) provided responses for all four measurement points. Of these participants, the majority was from Italy (n = 391), Austria (n = 206), the United States (n = 185), the United Kingdom (n = 95) and Germany (n = 93).

corona_map
CC BY-ND image by the Personality, Emotion and Music Laboratory

The following report will focus primarily on the subsample of 1010 people that responed to all four questionnaires. For selected topics (e.g. change in contact frequency and work conditions), however, we will draw on the initial sample of 3 243 people in order to provide a more nuanced insight.

The majority of participants were female (73%) and heterosexual (84%). The average participant was 32 years old and well-educated (84% pursuing or having an university degree). Most people reported being in a committed relationship (72%) or a marriage (26%), and the average relationship duration was 6.8 years. More than half of the participants (60%) reported to live together with their partner and about one-fifth (19%) reported to have children.

corona_soziodem_en
CC BY-ND image by the Personality, Emotion and Music Laboratory


How did couples do before and during the pandemic?

We found that overall relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction in particular both decreased at the beginning of the pandemic particularly in couples not living together. For cohabiting couples, change in relationship and sexual satisfaction was far less pronounced in general. 

litoc_timeline_en

Change in relationship and sexual satisfaction for both cohabiting and non-cohabiting couples, MP = measurement point. The grey axis represents the average satisfaction before the pandemic and lines show the relative change over time for cohabiting (red) and non-cohabiting couples (blue).

 

Which factors influenced change in relationship satisfaction?

Our first manuscript (currently under review) focuses on the factors that drive change in relationship satisfaction shortly after the onset of the pandemic (i.e. first measurement point in April/May). In many countries, moderate to heavy (exit) restrictions were put in place that likely affected various aspects of people’s everyday lives.

Which factors had a positive influence?
  • Having a happy relationship before the pandemic
  • Seeing your partner more often and spending more time together (e.g. talks, leisure activities, sexual activities). This is true for both cohabiting and non-cohabiting couples – so also couples living together have profited from spending more time together.
  • Having a secure attachment style, which often manifests in e.g. feeling connected, trusting and confident in the relationship and partners openly communicating with 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
  • Being satisfied with the division of household tasks (only couples living together were asked this question)
Which factors had a negative influence?
  • Arguing more frequently with your 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
  • Having 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 cohabiting couples than on non-cohabiting ones. We assume that it was especially difficult for couples living together to distance themselves from each other after an argument as 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. Especially for couples living together, having time for oneself might have compensated for the steep increase in time spend together at home.

 

Which factors did participants consider important regarding positive and negative changes in their relationship satisfaction?

During the last assessment, participants were asked whether their relationship has improved or declined throughout the pandemic and which factors affected these changes.

In the graph below, you can see the categories which participants mentioned most frequently in respect to an overall improvement of relationship satisfaction throughout the first six month of the pandemic.

litoc_improvement_en

Which factors were related to an improvement in relationship satisfaction throughout the pandemic? Numbers represent the percentage of people that stated the respective category to be relevant.

In the graph below, you can see the categories which participants mentioned most frequently in respect to an overall decline of relationship satisfaction throughout the first six month of the pandemic.

 

litoc_decline_en

Which factors were related to an decline in relationship satisfaction throughout the pandemic? Numbers represent the percentage of people that stated the respective category to be relevant.

 

In how far did relationships change due to the pandemic?

Especially during the early stages of the pandemic, the amount of time spend together changed dramatically for many couples. Actually, our analyses have shown that change in the amount of time spend together actually was the best predictor of relationship satisfaction. Overall, 91% of cohabiting couples saw each other more often and 78% of non-cohabiting couples saw each other less often than before the onset of the pandemic.

Also the frequency of shared activities has changed, as can be seen in the graph below.

litoc_activities_en

Changes in frequency of different shared activities, assessed at the first measurement point in April/May 2020. Changes were assessed using a scale from -4 to 4, with negative values indicating activities being less frequent than before and positive values being more frequent than before.

 

Did the division of domestic work and childcare change?

Participants that stated to live together with their partners, we also assessed whether the division of domestic work and childcare has changed due to the pandemic. The division of these tasks was assessed at the beginning of the pandemic in spring and six months later in November 2020. Additionally, participants provided a retrospective estimate of chore division before the pandemic at the first assessment.

Overall, there were small changes over time, as can be seen in the graph below.

litoc_workdivision_en

Division of domestic work and childcare before the pandemic, at measurement point 1 at the beginning of the pandemic (1. MP), and in November 2020 (4. MP). Only heterosexual couples were included in the analysis. Negative values indicate that the task is attended more often by the female partner, positive values indicate that the task is attended more often by the male partner. A value of 0 means that both partners attend the task in equal shares. A value of -2 means that the task is attended exclusively by the female partner, and a value of 2 means that the task is attended exclusively by the male partner.

There were also changes in the satisfaction with the division of domestic work and childcare between men and women over time, as can be seen in the graph below.

 

litoc_worksatisfaction_en

Changes in satisfaction with domestic work and childcare for men and women over the four measurement points (MP). Higher values indicate higher satisfaction.


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