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Our romantic relationships are actually doing well during the pandemic, study finds

May 23. 2020
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By  The Washington Post · Lisa Bonos · FEATURES, RELATIONSHIPS 

Can't stop fighting with your partner about whose turn it is to do the dishes? Looking at China's uptick in divorces that followed their coronavirus-related lockdown and wondering if a similar trend in the United States might follow?

Well, here's encouraging news for America's sweethearts. A recent Monmouth University poll found that most people in relationships are satisfied with them, despite the expected stresses that might come from, say, working from home together, losing a job, managing kids at home or preventing your family from getting the virus.

"Relationships aren't perfect - there are always some underlying issues," said Gary Lewandowski, a psychology professor at Monmouth University who helped craft the survey questions. "But on average, the relationships we're in are pretty good."

Here are five takeaways from the survey, which was conducted April 30 to May 4, among a sample of 556 American adults in relationships.

1. About three-quarters of Americans with a romantic partner say their relationship has not fundamentally changed since the coronavirus outbreak.

When asked if their relationship had gotten better or worse since the pandemic began, 74% said it was about the same. Ten percent said it was a lot better and 7% said it was a little better. Only 4% said a little worse and 1% said a lot worse.

Weathering a pandemic adds stress, but Lewandwoski noted that when we're stressed, "we turn to our partners," who are generally ready, willing and able to be our support during difficult times. "A lot of people want more closeness in their relationship," Lewandwoski added, highlighting a finding in earlier research. "Those people are getting what they wished for."

2. Argument frequency and sex lives have changed for the better, but only slightly.

Less than 2 in 10 of those in relationships said they get into fewer arguments with their partner, while 1 in 10 said they get into more of them - and 7 in 10 said there has been no difference. And despite chatter that isolation leads to more opportunities for intimacy, only 9% said their sex life has improved. Still, even fewer - 5% - said it's gotten worse, with 77% saying it is about the same.

3. About half expect their relationship will emerge stronger - and hardly any think it'll be worse.

When looking toward the future, partnered Americans were even more enthusiastic about the strength of their relationships. A 51% majority said their relationships will get stronger by the time the outbreak is over and just 1% said their relationship will be worse. Another 46% said their relationship will not have changed at all.

Lewandowski noted it's possible poll respondents were being hopelessly optimistic, but he emphasized that if a relationship has at least one partner who's an optimist, the couple generally has higher relationship satisfaction. "Optimists handle life's rough patches better, which is certainly helpful given the current situation," Lewandowski said in a release announcing the poll results.

4. Married partners are more likely than unmarried ones to say their relationship has not changed.

About three-quarters of married couples said their relationship has not changed for better or worse since the coronavirus outbreak began, while just under two-thirds of unmarried couples said the same.

Among unmarried partners, 22% said their relationship has helped decrease their daily stress level, compared with 12% of married couples. Similar shares of each said they have increased levels of stress.

Lewandowski posited that the pandemic hasn't changed married couples' relationships drastically because they're likely to have dealt with trying times - such as a job loss, severe illness or death of a loved one - before this moment. "They've traveled a lot of these paths before," Lewandwoski said, "and have endured other stressors in their lives or relationships and have more refined strategies with how to cope with problems and stress."

Younger people in relationships, those 18 to 34 years old, were more likely than older people to say the pandemic has affected their relationship. (Couples in that age group are more likely to be unmarried than those who are older.)

5. Most say their relationship isn't adding to pandemic stress - but women are a little more affected than men.

A 59% majority said their relationship has had no impact on their daily stress level. But 29% of women said their relationship has added to their daily stress, while 23% of men said the same. The key factor for doing well during the pandemic, Lewandwoski said, is the strength of the relationship before the pandemic. "The couples who are already doing well are doing even better now," he said.

"Overall, these results suggest that the global pandemic may not be as bad for relationships as many have feared," Lewandowski said in the poll's release. "Our relationships may become stronger and even more important than they already were."



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