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  • Writer's pictureGiulia Zoppolat

Love in The Time of COVID: The “end” of an era

It has been two years and eight months since the launch of the Love in the Time of COVID international research project. Managing this project has been a highlight of my professional career and I am so immensely proud of what we have achieved together. This study was offered in 11 different languages and consisted of over 5000 participants from 57 countries. We have learned so much about how people have coped, loved, and connected during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, after 16 waves of data, first every few weeks and then every few months, we are preparing to wind down data collection for the project. Soon, we will launch the final survey, at least the last one for quite a while. As such, it is time to reflect on all we have accomplished together so far.

In our last update, we shared some of the work that has already come from this project. For example, we talked about a paper on how people with lower levels of education faced greater financial and mental health struggles during the pandemic, a paper about how the increase in screentime might have been detrimental to relationships, another about the benefits of a responsive and caring partner during times of stress, and another on how pandemic-related stressors were related to less sexual desire in couples. These papers are now all published and available to be read in top psychology journals.

Since that last post, together with colleagues from around the world, we have continued to work on other exciting projects using the same rich dataset.

- In a project lead by Ana DiGiovanni at Columbia University and Timothy Valshtein at Harvard University, we asked the question: during the pandemic, how are people in long-distance relationships doing (compared to those who cohabitated with their partner)? We compared 775 people in cohabitating partnerships with 630 people in long distance relationships to answer this question. The results challenge the stereotype that long distance relationships tend to do worse. In fact, people in long distance relationships had less conflict and more passion compared to those who lived with their partner. As DiGiovanni put it, “long distance isn’t a vehicle to relationship chaos!” Regardless of the couple status, spending more time with a partner was beneficial for the relationships. However, there were some interesting sub-groups within the sample. Although most people fell into the thriving lovers category (around 70% of the sample) and reported more passion and less conflict when spending more time with their partner, there were also a large portion of fiery lovers (around 23% of the sample), that reported increased passion but also increased conflict when they spent more time with their partner. Only a few (around 3% of the sample) fell into the category of troubled lovers, reporting greater conflict and decreased passion. This suggests that, overall, spending more time with your partner is beneficial to your relationship, but it is not out of the ordinary for some couples to experience difficulties with this.

- In a project led by David Rodrigues from the University of Lisbon, we found that people who are prevention focused (i.e., focused on preventing bad things from happening) were more worried about their own and their loved one’s health during the pandemic. They were also more likely to adhere to preventative health behaviors (e.g., socially distancing). When self-isolating, they also felt worse (i.e., more lonely, more stressed), but only if they did not interact with their social network through alternative means (i.e., online). We concluded that being focused on prevention in threatening times, specifically on isolating oneself from others, can be a double-edged sword: it might help people safeguard their physical health, but isolation may also have negative repercussions on their mental health. However, having a strong social network can serve as a buffer, safeguarding one’s physical health and that of their loved ones without compromising one’s mental well-being.

- In another project also led by David Rodrigues, we found that, single people who were more prevention focused (i.e., wanted to avoid negative consequences from threatening situations) also felt more threatened by the pandemic and reported engaging in sexual activity less frequently. This was true regardless of personality, geographic location, local social distancing policies, gender, and sexual orientation. Similarly to the paper above, being more prevention focused was again a double edge sword: on the one hand, it may have been beneficial to avoid greater close contacts with others given the higher risk of infection, on the other hand, it may have come at the cost of sexual well-being. However, although we did not measure this in our study, other work during the pandemic found that, in a sample of 1559 adults, people diversified and expanded their sexual repertoire (e.g., sexting), meaning that people may have shifted the type of sexual activity they engaged in in order to consider the health risks associated with in-person sexual encounters during the pandemic without sacrificing sexual well-being.

In addition to the projects listed above, we are working on answering other interesting question such as:

  • How did polyamorous people do in their relationships compared to monogamous people during the pandemic?

  • Were there some perks (or, potentially, disadvantages) to pet ownership on people’s well-being during the pandemic?

  • Has boredom been killing relationship passion, but can engaging in new and exciting activities sustain it? For a presentation on this by one of our Love in The Time of COVID co-founders, Dr. Rhonda Balzarini, check out:

  • Are there potential upsides (as well as downsides) to having mixed and conflicting feelings towards a partner?

  • Were extraverts worse off during the pandemic compared to introverts?

  • How have parent-child relationships evolved over the course of the pandemic?

  • Was being able to clearly identify one’s emotions (e.g., anger from sadness) related to better well-being and health?

We are excited about these research questions and can’t wait to share more soon. Our team continues to be immensely grateful to the thousands of participants that have been a part of this project. To those that have stayed with us over these many months: thank you. Thanks to you, we know so much more about the realities of Love in the Time of Covid.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned!

Note: this blog was originally published on the Love in the Time of Covid project website.

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