Relationship Insecurity During COVID-19

COVID-19 has impacted all parts of peoples lives, even their relationships. Read to find out what researchers have found is straining relationships during the COVID era.

Relationship Insecurity During COVID-19

Dr. Susan Boon, Ph.D in Psychology, University of Calgary

Over 1.3 million Canadians have tested positive for COVID-19 and more than 25,000 have died from complications associated with infection with the virus. The pandemic’s toll, however, has not been limited to its effects on our health; it has also caused considerable strain on romantic relationships all over the world.

I’m Dr. Susan Boon, a Psychology Professor from the University of Calgary. My research is with Canadian relationship researchers from the Universities of Calgary, Montréal, Sherbrooke, and Ottawa. In March of 2020, we joined researchers from 26 countries to study the effects of the pandemic on committed romantic relationships.

"Some individuals were more likely to experience distress as a result of the pandemic than others..."

To date, data analysis has focused on 305 participants who had been living with their current romantic partners for at least one year at the time of their participation in our study. Not surprisingly, these participants perceived that they were considerably more stressed, anxious, and depressed at the time of the pandemic than they had been beforehand. Some individuals, however, were more likely to experience distress as a result of the pandemic than others: The more participants worried that their romantic partners might abandon them, the higher their current stress, anxiety, and depression, and the lower their psychological well-being.

Our participants identified a wide array of stressors associated with the pandemic. These included difficulties adapting to online work and education settings, disrupted plans and routines, limited opportunities to interact with others, economic and financial insecurity, fears about their own and others’ health and wellbeing, changes in workload, difficulties balancing work and family, and fears about the future. Interestingly, Canadians’ concerns generally mirrored the concerns of participants from the 26 other countries.

"Counselling that addresses fears about abandonment may help diminish the negative impact of COVID..."

What have we learned so far from our research? Our findings suggest that counselling that addresses fears about abandonment may help diminish the negative impact of COVID on the psychological wellbeing of individuals whose past relationship experiences cause them to struggle with fear of losing their partners. Additionally, at its core, the pandemic seems to cause those in committed romantic relationships a common set of problems. Couples, counsellors, and policy makers may be able to use our findings concerning the nature of these problems and concerns to identify those aspects of romantic relationships in greatest need of support and interventions.  

Below are COVID-related supports that Canadians may find helpful.

Find out how you can contribute to research on couples and relationships by exploring the studies below.