How positive relationships could help us all get through the COVID pandemic

  • Date

    Wed 20 Jan 21

Veronica Lamarche

Policies aimed at supporting happy and healthy relationships could make people more likely to follow lockdown restrictions and help in the long-term battle with COVID according to new research.

A study, carried out during the first national lockdown in March last year, highlighted the importance of maintaining positive relationships, despite the barriers created by the pandemic.

Researchers found those who felt happy and supported by their social networks, regardless of whether they were in a romantic relationship or whether they lived alone or with others, believed the COVID-19 precautions were more important and effective than those who felt less satisfied.

They also reported greater trust in how the government was handling the pandemic.

Relationships expert, Dr Veronica Lamarche, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex explained: “We all have an impact on each others lives and the likelihood of me contracting or spreading COVID is dependent not only on my own behaviour, but also on the behaviour of those around me.

“Social distancing and lockdowns are essential for preventing the spread of the virus, but they are also a threat to people’s fundamental need to belong. 

“For preventive measures to be effective, they require the majority of people to comply. But if those restrictions mean we have to choose between our own needs and the collective needs, there is a potential clash.

“This study showed those who feel their social worlds are safe become more trusting and more willing to sacrifice on behalf of others.
"In contrast, those who feel disconnected and let down by those around them are more likely to prioritise their own needs than the needs of others. Those with more individualistic viewpoints are also more likely to oppose vaccination programmes.

"This suggests the government should do more to keep people together, rather than apart, if they want them to continue following the rules for the greater good.”

Dr Lamarche believes investing in befriending, conflict resolution, and relationship therapy programmes which help people establish and maintain healthier and more supportive relationships, could be beneficial, alongside making sure people have access to the internet enabling them to maintain social connections when self-isolating.

Around 300 people were questioned for the study, which was repeated after a month to see if views had changed. 

People’s experiences of lockdown varied. For some living alone, with limited access to family and friends, lockdown represented a direct threat to their close relationships, putting them at increased risk of loneliness and feeling disconnected from society.

For others lockdown created increased demands, such as working from home, home schooling and caregiving, which left them little time to focus on their own needs.

Technological advances, such as video calls, also meant physical distance did not necessarily equate to complete isolation, as for some it was possible to remain connected to others through the internet.

“At the start of the pandemic the government raised concerns about ‘behavioural fatigue’ - the public’s ability to follow lockdown measures for prolonged periods. With the threat of further lockdowns and the potential for new pandemics emerging this could be a real issue. But this study raises hope that if people remain connected to others, this may be less of a problem,” added Dr Lamarche.

The study was published in Social Psychological Bulletin