What is it about?

How might the Coronavirus-19 (COVID-19) pandemic alter the quality of people’s romantic relationships? The pandemic has increased stress in many areas, including stress related to jobs, housing, child care, household responsibilities, and health. In this paper, we explain how external stress from the pandemic may shape couples’ interactions, and discuss research showing that greater external stress increases the likelihood that partners will communicate less effectively (e.g., show more hostility, blame their partner, withdraw), and that this association will combine with other risk situational factors (e.g., low income, being a member of a marginalized group, being a parent) and individual risk factors (e.g., depression, attachment insecurity) to undermine couples’ relationships. We discuss the different challenges that couples living in different life contexts (social class, minority status, age) and with different individual vulnerabilities (e.g., depression) may face, and suggest specific strategies for couples in different situations that will help to protect, and even enhance, their relationships in the face of pandemic-related stress.

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Why is it important?

We apply scientific research on close relationships to consider how the COVID-19 pandemic may impact couples’ relationships. How well couples adapt will depend not only on the extent to which they face more severe COVID-19-related stressors but also the broader context of their lives (e.g., income, minority status) and couples’ individual vulnerabilities (e.g., depression, attachment insecurity). This time of crisis raises opportunities for policies, interventions and couples to promote adaptive relationship processes and enrich the quality of couples’ relationships.


This article was written with the hope that sharing what we know from years of relationship science research will be helpful to the general public, practitioners, and policymakers in considering how to protect and maintain healthy, successful close relationships during this time of crisis.

Dr. Paula Pietromonaco
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Applying relationship science to evaluate how the COVID-19 pandemic may impact couples’ relationships., American Psychologist, April 2021, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/amp0000714.
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