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Senior Marital and Domestic Partner Relationships During COVID

On Balance, Relationships and Communication is Better but Intimacy and Laughter is More Challenging

Last Updated: October 5th, 2020 | The Senior List Research Team

COVID-19 has upended the daily lives of almost all Americans, especially seniors. As the most at-risk group, older adults have to navigate keeping themselves safe, maintaining relationships with friends and family using technology, and having regular travel and activities canceled.

Much has been written about senior isolation since that is a very big risk to the older population, but what about seniors who are living with a significant other? How has the pandemic affected those relationships? In other words, when older adults vowed to “love and cherish each other forever”, did they really consider living in close quarters 24 hours a day for six months in the middle of a pandemic?

See our other reports on Senior Life during COVID:

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We asked over 600 older adults (age 55+) about how the coronavirus has impacted their relationship. We also asked about specific elements of their relationship as well as what COVID-related issues were having the biggest impact.

Key Findings

  • While most older adults feel their relationships with significant others are as good or better than pre-pandemic, 17% feel their relationships have gotten worse.
  • On balance, older adults are seeing better communication with their partners during the pandemic.
  • On the other hand, more older adults believe that intimacy and laughter/joy has worsened rather than improved.
  • Women were more likely to notice relationship changes than men.
  • 1 in 3 feel COVID restrictions on travel and activities are hurting their relationship

Increased time together is more likely to strengthen relationships than weaken them

Senior couples are spending time together and communicating more than before the pandemic, but some unfortunately are reporting a decrease in important relationship metrics.

62% of seniors say they are spending more time with their partner during COVID, and for the most part, this increased togetherness has been good. There is a strong correlation between those who are with each other more than before, and feelings that the pandemic has had a positive effect on their relationship. While the majority of seniors surveyed said COVID has not changed the relationship with their partner, 25% report a positive impact with 17% experiencing a negative impact.

When looking at specific elements of a relationship, responses differed. Only 10% of seniors said the communication has gotten worse in their relationship, and 17% feel it has improved. However, when asked about intimacy 8% said it has gotten worse since the pandemic while only 6% feel that it got better. When it came to laughter and joy in a relationship, an alarming 18% said it had gotten worse while 14% felt it had gotten better.

Women are noticing more changes in laughter and joy than men

While women and men had similar responses on communication and intimacy, women were much more likely to report differences in laughter and joy.

COVID restrictions are straining relationships

When asked what COVID related issues were negatively affecting their relationship, 70% selected at least one option, even though the vast majority felt their relationship overall had stayed the same or gotten better. The most prevalent issues for seniors have been the restrictions on travel and activities since the pandemic began, with over a third of respondents noting each as a problem. COVID precautions, family stress, and restrictions on social/ cultural and religious activities were selected as issues for 27% of seniors. 23% are even experiencing added strain on their relationship due to politics and the 2020 election.

The majority of seniors in our survey had been with their partner for over 25 years. COVID is undoubtedly not the first storm these relationships have had to weather, but more than 7 months into the pandemic many are feeling changes. For some, the increased time together has helped the relationship become stronger, but for others the strain is showing up as decreased intimacy and joy.

Methodology

The Senior List’s research team actively studies aging in place. We publish independent content covering social, economic, political, and geographic topics for seniors. For this report, we surveyed 646 adults aged 55 and up.