Early Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Relationship Satisfaction and Attributions

Psychol Sci. 2020 Dec;31(12):1479-1487. doi: 10.1177/0956797620972688. Epub 2020 Nov 5.


How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected intimate relationships? The existing literature is mixed on the effect of major external stressors on couple relationships, and little is known about the early experience of crises. The current study used 654 individuals involved in a relationship who provided data immediately before the onset of the pandemic (December, 2019) and twice during the early stages of the pandemic (March and April, 2020). Results indicate that relationship satisfaction and causal attributions did not change over time, but responsibility attributions decreased on average. Changes in relationship outcomes were not moderated by demographic characteristics or negative repercussions of the pandemic. There were small moderation effects of relationship coping and conflict during the pandemic, revealing that satisfaction increased and maladaptive attributions decreased in couples with more positive functioning, and satisfaction decreased and maladaptive attributions increased in couples with lower functioning.

Keywords: COVID-19; coronavirus pandemic; couples; interpersonal relationships; relationship quality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • COVID-19*
  • Conflict, Psychological*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Personal Satisfaction*
  • Sexual Partners / psychology*
  • Spouses / psychology*
  • Young Adult