No one saw it coming — the fact that most of the world would have to be cooped inside their houses for months on end to beat the spread of the coronavirus. Many have described this time as tumultuous with some feeling like the walls were closing in on them. Isolation, loneliness, disconnection are some of the feelings associated with living through the pandemic, but the presence of one person could make all the difference: your partner. A new study by the University of California – Riverside revealed that living with a romantic partner helps people feel more socially connected during the pandemic.
The results offered insights into the unique benefits that staying with a significant other presents. The researchers stated that during stressful times, this type of living situation can help abate loneliness compared to being single and living alone or not cohabiting with partners. However, they also noted that the stress of living through a pandemic and spending all day together in close quarters could cause some friction and negatively impact relationships. This was also reflected in the rise in domestic violence and the number of divorce cases during the pandemic.
The authors pointed out that while living with other household members may also provide feelings of closeness and interaction, the benefits may be limited. For parents, having to homeschool children while also working remotely has proven to be an added challenge. Living with pets also showed a marginal positive difference in feelings of relatedness.
The findings were consistent across two sets — a sample of 548 undergraduates at a Canadian university and a sample of 336 adults mostly from the U.S. and the U.K. Both studies revealed that during April last year, people living with a partner were more likely to improve in social connection than those who were not. Past research cited by the study showed that being in a relationship is one of the strongest predictors of connection and well-being.
“[Those] who live in larger households…may have had more interactions that were negative such as bickering or lack of privacy and alone time.”
As part of the studies, respondents reported their perceived social connection before and during the pandemic. They were asked to rate statements such as “I felt close and connected with other people who are important to me” and “People are around me, but not with me.” Details of the composition of their household, whether they had pets and hours spent video calling with loved ones were also recorded.
They also studied the impact of the size of the household on overall feelings of connectedness and concluded that changes in loneliness were not predicted by any other aspects of household composition. “[Those] who live in larger households — relative to those who live alone or in smaller households — may have had more interactions that were negative…such as bickering or lack of privacy and alone time,” the authors wrote, explaining the lack of benefits in terms of social connection.
Even interacting with loved ones over video calls has proven to have limited benefits in terms of connectedness. “Digital communication often feels unnatural and lacks nonverbal cues, which may hinder mutual understanding and be cognitively taxing,” the researchers said. They observed that in times of stress and crisis, these forms of online communication may promote other negative outcomes, such as “Zoom fatigue.” Hence, in-person interactions with household members are likely to be essential to increased feelings of social connectedness.
They also cited recent research that proved that on average, romantic relationships have not deteriorated over the course of the pandemic. The study emphasized that during times of worry and uncertainty, partners were found to be more valuable for coping than other kinds of household members. The conclusions led the researchers to aptly title their work as “It’s not [household] size that matters, it’s who you’re with.”