Forced social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a difficult transition for many consumers. Now, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of California at Riverside has found living with a romantic partner during this time can help fulfill consumers’ need for social connection.
Interestingly, the researchers found that no other in-home connections -- to kids, siblings, or pets -- produces these benefits the way that a romantic partner does.
“Research prior to the pandemic has shown that partners are one of the strongest predictors of social connection and well-being,” said researcher Karyanna Okabe-Miyamoto. “And our research during the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the same. Living with a partner uniquely buffered declines in social connection during the early phases of the pandemic.”
Finding connection at home
The researchers conducted two surveys -- one in the U.S. and U.K. and another in Canada -- to determine how living with a romantic partner during the COVID-19 pandemic has helped consumers feel more social. Nearly 1,000 participants answered questions about their social lives both before and during the pandemic to gauge what their households looked like during stay-at-home orders.
Regardless of how many people or pets were in the participants’ house, the researchers learned that those living with a romantic partner felt the strongest social connections during the pandemic. The researchers accounted for several potential factors -- working outside the home, spending time with kids, having several people in the home, and scheduling video calls with family and friends -- and none helped the participants feel as socially connected as those who were living with their romantic partners.
“Living with a partner -- but not how many people or who else one lives with -- appeared to confer benefit during these uncertain and unprecedented times,” the researchers wrote.
Finding ways to safely socialize
While nothing can replace connecting with friends and family face-to-face, it’s important for consumers to get creative and find meaningful ways to fill their days at home. The researchers are calling on legislators to find ways for people to socialize in small groups that would keep transmission of the virus to a minimum.
“In light of these results, policymakers might consider developing guidelines for social/physical distancing that protect people’s physical health while ensuring they retain a sense of closeness and connection by spending time in close proximity with partners, even outside their households,” the researchers wrote.
“Such approaches might be especially helpful for individuals who have been unintentionally and disproportionately socially isolated by social distancing measures, such as those who are cut-off, separated from their partners, or generally struggling with staying home.”