The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the strengths and weaknesses of many parts of society, and romantic relationships are no exception.

“The emerging research shows it’s exaggerated the qualities relationships already had,” said Rose Wesche, an assistant professor in Virginia Tech’s Department of Human Development and Family Science in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. “Relationships where people are close and don’t have a lot of conflict might strengthen, but those with existing problems might worsen during the pandemic.”

Wesche, whose research focuses on the impact of diverse interpersonal relationships on the well-being of adolescents and young adults, said that while the pandemic is a common problem, individuals’ and couples’ experiences during it can be quite unique. How couples approach the additional stress is often a reflection of their past, as well as predictor of their future.

“There are challenges that might deepen cracks that were already there, but those challenges can also be opportunities to become closer,” she said. “So it’s especially important to develop skills for addressing challenges and fostering closeness.”

With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, Wesche offered three commonly accepted, research-based strategies that can help romantic relationships thrive during any amount of stress.

Decide don’t slide

“This is about making conscious decisions about your relationship, whether those are big life decisions like, do we move in together, or smaller, daily decisions, like how do we spend time together,” Wesche said. “Research generally shows that making a conscious decision based on what you really want is healthier than just slipping into whatever patterns might be easier or more comfortable. And thinking about what we actually want and then planning how to make that happen can break us out of patterns we’ve slid into that might not be the healthiest for us.”

Do your part

“We all have the ability to control our actions, but not as much of an ability to control the actions of others,” Wesche said. “Focusing on our actions gives us a sense of agency within our relationships.”

Wesche said Valentine’s Day is an ideal time for partners to employ this by really listening to each other’s desires.

“Think about ways to celebrate your relationship, and it doesn’t have to look like a box of chocolates and dinner out,” she said. “Different people appreciate different types of displays of love, so figuring out what your partner really appreciates and doing that for them is a great way to show you love them.”

 Develop a safe atmosphere for connection

“This is really about fostering closeness and connection in every moment,” Wesche said. “I think that means coming into difficult communications with an open mind and realizing you have a common goal, so you focus on attacking the issue together, rather than one another. And it also means making time for one another, regardless of the challenges you face. This shows you value the relationship and are committed to doing your best in it.”

— Written by Travis Williams

Tips for celebrating Valentine’s Day and dating online during a pandemic

Heidi Williams, an assistant professor in College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences Department of Sociology, suggests these tips to get to know your romantic interest.

Plan your ideal date and conduct it virtually.

  • Use Grubhub or DoorDash to order food for you and your date(s).
  • Pick a TV show or movie that you both might enjoy and chat with each other via Zoom or FaceTime during the viewing. If you know in advance what you will watch together, send something related to the show or movie to your love interest.
  • Send your love interest your favorite T-shirt … you know the one that smells like you and is worn from wear! A piece of you will be with them during your date.
  • A day or two before Valentine’s Day, send a playlist of your top 10 favorite songs. Plan to discuss why you like the songs and ask them which they enjoyed.
  • Take a free online origami class together. The next time you see each other you can give them your creation as a souvenir from your date.
  • Journal about why you are attracted to the other person, physically, emotionally, and intellectually, and share your thoughts with them.
  • Play a video or virtual game together.
  • Capitalize on your intelligence and read passages of your favorite books aloud to each other.

The advantages of a virtual date:

  • You will get to see their entire face, mask-free!
  • You will have an opportunity to get to know a prospective partner, as you will be focused on talking.
  • If this is a first date and things don’t go well, you likely saved some money, whether that means you didn’t buy new shoes or you didn’t have to pay for drinks or dinner.

If being face-to-face is vital, the following are suggestions:

  • Get tested. If all parties test negative for COVID-19, then plan an in-person rendezvous.
  • If going out, be sure to adhere to the CDC’s mandates: wear a mask and stay at least six feet from others you encounter.
  • Go for a hike on a local trail.
  • Rent a bike and explore your community.
  • Grab food, go to your favorite outdoor spot, and have a picnic. If it’s snowing, revert to hot chocolate or coffee and stroll through town.
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