Just as many thousands of people are suffering lasting physical effects of Covid-19, the pandemic will also result in societal ‘long-Covid’, according to researchers studying the effects on families and relationships.
The Covid-19 pandemic has seen our lives turned upside down with every part of society infiltrated, forcing change in all aspects of our lives. Now, as the vaccination programme is rolled out and with a road-map to recovery, we are beginning to contemplate how life will be in the aftermath of Covid-19 and into the ‘new normal’.
Researchers from the University of Worcester, in partnership with Relate, have found that the pandemic, lockdowns and restrictions imposed will have enduring impacts on our relationships.
“There has been a complete change in our daily lives,” said Professor Jan Walker, OBE, President of Relate. “We have become a society plagued by high levels of fear and anxiety, and this fear will linger around for a long time, changing people’s behaviour. We need to look at how we manage this ‘long-Covid’ in our relationships going forwards.”
Over the past months, researchers have collected data from over 1,000 people in the UK as part of the Families Un-locked research study. More than 800 participants were in couple relationships – the majority being married or in a committed relationship - and about half were parents with children aged under 18 living in their household during the pandemic. Importantly, a third of respondents were employed in a ‘key worker’ occupation during the pandemic and a similar proportion reported that their spouse/partner were also key workers.
“We asked people to reflect on the effects of the first lockdown on their families and relationships,” said Dr Gabriela Misca, expert in child and family psychology and the research principal investigator from the University of Worcester. “As we launch the second phase of this study and aim to capture the impact of the subsequent lockdowns on family life, we are sharing initial findings from the original survey.”
- Almost half of the couples (45%) felt that lockdown put a real strain on their relationship and a quarter reporting that worrying about the pandemic caused tension in their relationship; and a similar proportion reported that money worries placed added pressure on their relationship.
- Almost a third of couples reported that the lockdown had a negative impact, worsening their already struggling relationships. It is noteworthy that among these couples a third were key workers and couples with partners who were key workers, pointing to the additional strain that they felt under.
- The vast majority of parents in the study reported enjoying spending time with their children during lockdown, however, three quarters felt overwhelmed by the childcare responsibilities and have been anxious about their children’s education.
- A significant finding of the study points to people’s fears for the future and how the impacts of the pandemic might affect them socially and economically. A third of participants reported feeling worried about the future most of the time and quarter worried that nothing will ever be the same again.
One of the remarkable findings of the study is that just over a third of couples (36%) felt that lockdown had been a positive experience for them; and about four in 10 couples reported that following lockdown they felt they were closer than before, despite also feeling tension in their relationship and both partners worrying. These findings point to the underlying resilience in family relationships - the so-called ‘ordinary magic’ - which enables couples to thrive and bring each other closer despite facing adversity.
Dr Misca commented: “A narrow focus on what has been bad about the pandemic and its scars on our families and relationships will miss the opportunities that this crisis has inadvertently given us, such as the opportunity to change our ways of relating to each other that have been taken for granted; and the opportunity to find better and more sensitive ways to support each other in the future.
As we now approach the landmark of one year, the researchers have launched the second phase of the research with a new survey: Families Un-locked Revisited and would urge as many people as possible to take part. As well as seeking to establish how relationships have evolved over the past year and re-current lockdowns, the research is also addressing questions around loneliness, loss and resilience. The researchers invite to participate anyone who took part in the first survey, as well as new participants from a diverse range of backgrounds; and are particularly keen to hear from men and keyworkers.
As the study’s data are analysed, the researchers will produce practice and policy briefings to help develop new policies and ways to support families, couples and children during the ‘new normal’ and any subsequent waves of the pandemic and/or other public health crises.
The research study is concurrently replicated in Australia in collaboration with Relationships Australia to enable international comparisons and knowledge transfer.
Find out more about the Families Un-locked research study and how you can take part in the second phase of research at https://ucw.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/families-un-locked-revisited