Disasters Like the COVID-19 Pandemic are a “Relationship Accelerator”

August 3, 2020 by Justin Lehmiller

How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting the world of dating and relationships? According to sex therapist Esther Perel, disasters like this are a “relationship accelerator.” What exactly does she mean by that? Well, when you take the uncertainty and unpredictability of a situation like this and couple it with a serious threat to our mortality, it gets people to think about things in a different way—to recognize that life is short. And that can get people to re-evaluate their priorities, including their priorities in their love lives.

For some people, this might mean taking their relationship to the next level—moving in, getting engaged, getting married, or perhaps developing a new intimacy. For others, however, it might mean ending a relationship that hasn’t been doing well for quite some time and moving on with one’s life.

Perel’s insights match up pretty well with what we’ve found in our Kinsey Institute study on how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting our intimate lives. You can read our first paper from the study here in full if you’re so inclined, but the short version is that we found that this situation has had a pretty bipolar impact. Some people say their relationships are better and stronger than ever—and the people saying this are the ones who have been “leveling-up.” They’ve been developing a deeper intimacy and experimenting with new and different sexual activities together.

On the other hand, though, some people are saying that their relationship is really struggling. They’re having less sex, more conflict, more infidelity, and other problems. Some are even reaching out to their exes with the hope of rekindling an old relationship.

In short, this situation does seem to be “accelerating” both good and bad relationships. Of course, I should point out that some people say their romantic lives haven’t changed at all—for some, it’s pretty much business as usual. And that makes sense because not everyone is viewing this pandemic with the same level of concern, and the amount of change in daily life is highly variable depending on where you’re living and what your life was like beforehand. However, a majority say they’ve noticed some change, for better or for worse.

To learn more about Perel’s insights into how this pandemic is changing our relationships, check out the Daily Social Distancing Show segment below, in which Perel also addresses the rise of intimate partner violence that has also occurred in recent months.

Have you noticed a change in your romantic life during this pandemic? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Watch more videos on sex and relationships here.

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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