How COVID-19 Changed the Landscape of Love

it almost feels like a lifetime ago that the COVID-19 pandemic set off a chain of events that forced the majority of us indoors for months on end. While these so-called “lockdowns” were (and in some cases continue to be) completely necessary in order to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, little attention has been paid to the immediate, and sometimes-awkward, ways in which the lockdowns affected our romantic relationships.

Well, we wanted to find out how the lockdowns were impacting people’s romantic lives. So, over the last 6 months, we’ve been collecting data from around the world, trying to determine what impact COVID-19 had on our relationships. 

It’s now the beginning of Autumn, and the results are in. Some, like the fact that cohabiting couples (spending more time together and without much else to do) had 33% more sex during lockdown, are unsurprising.

Other findings, like the fact that gay men are the only demographic not to report lower relationship satisfaction, are more unexpected.

Here are a few of our favourite findings.

It’ll take more than a worldwide pandemic to kill our sex drive

At least for those of us living with our partners, we’re having 33% more sex than we were pre-coronavirus.

Couples reported having 33% more sex during lockdown than pre-coronavirus.

Despite the combined stresses stemming from the fear of contracting COVID-19, the financial pressure of the economic downturn, and everything else that comes along with a worldwide pandemic, it’s good to know that we’re still able to find comfort in physical intimacy with our live-in romantic partners.

It’s perhaps unsurprising that we’re having more sex during lockdown, as we’re less tired from going into the office and the daily commute. Not to mention the fact that the inability to socialise outside of our households forced cohabitating couples to spend more time together. There was just so much less to do outside of the bedroom (or the kitchen, living room, or even the garden – we won’t judge!)

However, that was not the case for all couples. In fact, 19% of cohabiting couples actually had less sex during lockdown than before.

19% of cohabiting couples reported having less sex during lockdown than before.

This could be a result of our second point…

More arguments

With all the stresses of lockdown we listed above, it’s also unsurprising that over a quarter of us (29%) ended up arguing with our partners more during lockdown.

29% of couples reported arguing more during lockdown than before, while 27% argued less.

Forced to endure the unrelenting presence of our loved ones, all those flaws became A LOT more obvious. For those working from home, often cramped around the dining room table, all that pen clicking, mouth breathing and foot-tapping became unbearable.

Here are some of the reasons we were given for the increase in arguments:

We’re less happy in our relationships overall

You might think more time with your partner (and more sex) would lead to happier relationships, but that’s not the case. In fact, thanks to a lack of personal space and the aforementioned increase in arguing, we’ve seen the average relationship satisfaction take a hit of 10% (9.86% to be precise) across the board.

Thanks to a lack of personal space, 10% of people were less happy in their relationships during the lockdown.

Some respondents reported that without anything new happening in their day-to-day lives, and nothing but each other to entertain themselves with, the conversation between them and their partners became stale.

Having “nothing to talk about” was one of the most oft-cited reasons for the decrease in relationship satisfaction. 

“Our relationship got much worse because it’s not natural to spend 24hrs together every day, both working, and in a 1 bedroom flat.”

In my experience, it didn’t help that it took about 3 days for everyone to settle into their new comfy lockdown bodies, gaining weight while covered in crumbs in perma-pyjamas. Comfortable? Yes. Sexually appealing? Not so much.

Needless to say that many of us also saw a completely different (and not entirely appealing) side to our partners’ personalities during lockdown, especially if we were working from home.

Discovering that your partner sucks up to his boss, or talks down to her assistant can be an instant “ick” moment in your relationship. 

We weren’t supposed to meet our other halves’ work personas, people!

Women are experiencing a decrease in relationship satisfaction (twice that of men)

More people at home generally means more cleaning. And for couples with children, the closure of schools meant more childcare too.

Although it’s 2020, women still take up the vast majority of domestic work – even when both partners in a couple work full-time.

This frustration with an increase in domestic labour led to women reporting a decrease in relationship satisfaction twice that of men (12.93% decrease in relationship satisfaction for women vs. 6.79% for men).

Women reported a 13% decrease in relationship satisfaction, while that decrease was only 7% for men.

So, men – if you want your female partner to be happier in your relationship, do your share of the chores (without expecting praise). This goes whether there’s a pandemic on or not!

Couples that live apart are twice as unhappy as couples that live together

While cohabiting couples might be getting sick of each other, couples that don’t live together and had to separate during the lockdown reported a drop in relationship satisfaction of 16.7% compared to just 8.77% for couples that do live together.

Couples that don’t live together and had to separate during the lockdown reported a drop in relationship satisfaction of 16.7% compared to just 8.77% for couples that do live together.

This highlights just how crushing lockdown could be for couples who didn’t get to see each other for up to 6 months in some cases.

“We haven’t seen each other for the whole pandemic. It’s been hard not being able to physically see each other, let alone touch! Chatting on FaceTime and WhatsApp can only go so far.”

That’s not to say that some people didn’t make the most of their new virtual dating lives, with this new couple going back to basics with their relationship through the lockdown.

“A newly unestablished relationship is fragile at the best of times. However, virtual distance dating has been fun & romantic in a “just like the olden days” kind of way. Watching films together over video chat. Talking into the early hours”

Gay men are bucking the trend – they’re happier in lockdown

While relationship satisfaction was down 9.86% in every demographic, heterosexual couples had the worst of it – with an average drop in relationship satisfaction of 14%. (Make of that what you will.)

Heterosexual couples reported an average drop in relationship satisfaction of 14%, while gay couples actually reported a relationship satisfaction increase of 25%!

Whilst lesbian couples still showed a slight drop in relationship satisfaction in lockdown, it might come as a surprise that gay couples bucked the negative trend by actually reporting a relationship satisfaction increase of almost 25%! (24.62%)

This could be down to the fact that homosexual couples typically report higher relationship satisfaction and happier marriages than heterosexual couples do, even in more normal, non-COVID times.

Children didn’t make couples less happy in lockdown

We’d – perhaps cynically – predicted that couples with children would be finding the lockdown harder on their relationships than those without. We imagined that working from home and the inability to go outside would only compound with increased childcare needs and again – the lack of personal space.

However, this was not at all the case, with very little difference in relationship satisfaction between those with children and those without. In fact, at -10.34% and -11.54% respectively, couples with children actually had a slightly smaller drop in relationship satisfaction than child-free couples.

We missed going outside with our partners

The increase in physical intimacy didn’t quite make up for the inability to go out and socialise with our significant others during lockdown. At a time when everything but supermarkets and pharmacies were closed, we really felt the missing dates in our calendar.

The number 1 missed activity with our partners was going to restaurants, with 79.9% of people reporting that they missed going out to eat with their significant other.

It’s funny how getting dressed up and eating outside of the home with your partner can affect your relationship satisfaction in such a significant way… Y’know, instead of staying at home and eating Cheetos in your pyjamas.

Another sorely-missed date night is a classic – going to the movies. 42.5% reported lamenting the disappearance of the chance to watch a new release with a partner. Unfortunately, unless you have an outside drive-in movie night near you, it’s unlikely we’ll be frequenting the movies any time soon.

The inability to go outside is perhaps why people who have spent a lot of time together, that is, couples who have been together for 5 years or more – reported the biggest decrease in relationship satisfaction.

A whopping 14.17%! This is most likely due to the fact that these couples had already established structures and routines in place, that they felt it hardest when the lockdowns came into effect.

With the change, couples who had been together for a long time were also more likely to report relying more heavily on alcohol as a way to cope during the pandemic, instead of finding a healthy outlet for boredom.

Couples who have been together for 5 years or more reported the biggest decrease in relationship satisfaction – 14%. They were also more likely to rely on alcohol as way to cope.

New couples who had been together for 6 months or less reported the smallest drop in relationship satisfaction at 8.62%. We suppose if you’ve known someone for a short time, you’re unlikely to live with each other. So, their absence in your life will make less of an impact on your satisfaction with that relationship, while that new relationship feeling keeps you going.

For some couples, the pandemic has taken their relationship to extremes – for better or worse

We live in extreme times, and we have seen that extremity reflected back at us through our relationships. Especially for cohabiting couples, relationships can become a microcosm of the world outside, whether that’s for better or worse.

On the one hand, some couples have reported an increase in relationship satisfaction thanks to the pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns. Whether this is because of an increase in time together, or just a spotlight shone on the gratitude we have for our significant others, it’s heartwarming to see that some relationships are happier than ever.

One respondent had this heartening story to tell about the positive changes in her relationship:

“100% of the time together has been lovely. I usually wake up at 6 and leave the house at 6.30 so never see him in the mornings. During lockdown he’s made me a cup of tea and something to eat every morning which feels like living in a hotel tbh! 

I’ve been less exhausted from my commute and workday so I’ve been calmer and less snappy (a definite character defect of mine) with him. He’s commented that I am better humoured and can take a joke better too, and I know it’s because I’m not operating on an empty tank.

He has been more helpful around the house too, I don’t think he knew before just how much I do because he wasn’t there to see it (he works later hours than me) which has been lovely. 

There are just more opportunities to make each other happy aren’t there? And more opportunities to genuinely brighten someone’s day, like with a really nice lunch or making them a cup of tea out the blue? Like opportunities to be thoughtful that you don’t get when you’re both in separate offices all day.”

Even those of us not getting the hotel experience in lockdown had some positive experiences to share, from more physical intimacy to more emotional connection. Here’s a couple more positive responses we received:

“We’ve been able to spend more time together, and honestly we’ve had more sex and just reconnected in general.”

“I don’t think COVID-19 affected our relationship in a bad way. We just got opportunities to be together more often.”

On the other hand, it wasn’t a complete bed of roses for every relationship, as the average drop in relationship satisfaction has shown.

For some, the lockdown has highlighted flaws in the relationship that already existed, or created completely new ones.

Thanks to boredom and cramped spaces, couples are getting on each other’s toes and fighting more – or worse, looking for excitement from others – like this respondent:

“My partner was locked down in his workplace. After the lockdown, I found a flirty exchange on his phone, of a conversation from a lady and married co-worker that he tried to hide from me. Whenever they chat, he goes to another room or uses another browser to hide it. We had a fight.”

As depressing as this story is, looking on the bright side might illuminate the fact that the pandemic has revealed a much deeper structural problem in the relationship that it could have taken years to find without it.

Of course, key workers were more busy during the lockdown – in fact, busier than ever before. Whilst the lockdown was unbelievably hard for key workers, it was difficult for their partners too. Those in relationships with key workers were doing their best to support their partners, but the loneliness for key workers’ partners was palpable in the responses from our research, too.

“Our relationship has gotten worse because I have more free time and I am lonely and need more human interaction, which I can’t get in lockdown. But my husband is busier than before the pandemic so can’t give me the attention I crave.”

How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect your relationship?