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February 18, 2021
by Elizabeth Pratt

Pandemic Life Can Lead To Turbulence in Relationships

February 18, 2021 17:22 by Elizabeth Pratt  [About the Author]

Life in a pandemic for married couples can lead to feelings of sadness and anger.

Many couples across the country are co-existing at home for extended periods due to COVID-19.  

Now, researchers have found the more a person feels their spouse disrupts their daily lives, the more they view their relationship as turbulent. 

“When you impede your significant other from accomplishing their goals or disrupt their daily routines, your significant other will understandably have a negative emotional response to that. Based on our findings, more interference from one's spouse leads to sadness and anger directed toward future communication, which can subsequently lead to perceptions of a turbulent relationship,” Kevin Knoster, co author of the studh and a third-year doctoral student in the Department of Communication Studies at West Virginia University told Theravive. 

In undertaking his research Knoster, together with co-researchers Heath Howard, Alan Goodboy and Megan Dillow took inspiration from the living situation facing Knoster and Howard personally.

“The idea for this study came about while we were initially adapting to life under lockdown following the outbreak of COVID-19. Heath Howard and I are both doctoral students in the Department of Communication Studies at West Virginia University, and we were in the process of preparing for our comprehensive exams as social distancing orders first went into place. While cramming and quarantining, we realized that a particular theory we were studying (Relational Turbulence Theory) for our exams really aligned with our recent experiences as PhD students living with spouses during the pandemic,” he told Theravive. 

“In periods of uncertainty, especially (but not necessarily) transitions, partners can often end up interfering more in one another's routines and experience heightened uncertainty. This can affect communication in a manner which facilitates relational turbulence; a perception of one's relationship as chaotic,” he explained.

Relationship Turbulence Theory, he argues, is all the more relevant now due to the challenges faced during the pandemic.

“COVID-19 represents a massive transition that has impacted families around the world - whether through sickness, job loss, loss of a family member, extended close proximity due to mandates to quarantine… there's really no rule book for how to handle this sort of thing in a way that doesn't affect our relationships in some way. People are uncertain and their routines have been thrown into flux, and even almost a year later I think a lot of us are still adapting,” he said.

In undertaking the study, Knoster and his colleagues enlisted 165 married couples and studied how partners interfered with their daily routine. The age range of the couples studied was 18 to 74 and they were studied in April 2020, about a month into pandemic related restrictions in the US. 

The participants were asked to share their level of agreement with statements like “my spouse interferes with plans I make”. The survey also asked participants about their feelings interacting with their spouse during the pandemic. 

They found that spouses who felt their everyday routine was interrupted by their spouse had negative emotions towards their partner and viewed their marriage as turbulent. 

“A lot of it comes down to the frequency with which disruptions are taking place. If you are consistently impeding your spouses' goal pursuit or are otherwise introducing barrier after barrier to his or her routines, there's a point at which the proverbial straw breaks the camel's back. When that happens, it can lead to intense emotional reactions and polarized communicative responses that can exacerbate issues and lead to spouses perceiving their relationship as chaotic,” Knoster said.

He says the findings of his study are a reminder that couples should be mindful to pay attention to the other’s needs and be proactive.

“Recognize your partners' goals and the routines that are important to them, and support them to the best of your ability. At a minimum, at least not try to create unnecessary obstacles for your partner to navigate,” Knoster said.

“If you anticipate that your routines might interfere with those of your partner, strategize ways in which you can mitigate that interference - whether by adjusting schedules, pursuing goals in alternative ways, or whatever works for your unique situation. It takes two to tango, so it's got to be a bit of give and take from both partners.”


About the Author

Elizabeth Pratt

Elizabeth Pratt is a medical journalist and producer. Her work has appeared on Healthline, The Huffington Post, Fox News, The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, The Sydney Morning Herald,, Escape, The Cusp and Skyscanner. You can read more of her articles here. Or learn more about Elizabeth and contact her via her LinkedIn and Twitter profiles.

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