Coronavirus: The psychology of why lockdown is making our relationships stronger

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A poll for Sky News suggests that the coronavirus lockdown is making significant relationships stronger for some.

The data, collected by YouGov and published last week, shows that despite being sadder and more anxious, Britons are building better bonds with those around them.

Some 19% said the lockdown had strengthened their relationship with their spouse, with 10% reporting it had got worse. Around 23% said relations with their children were better, with 10% saying they were worse.

Just over a quarter of people (26%) said they were friendlier with their neighbours, with only 6% saying relations were worse.

Here psychologist Honey Langcaster-James explains why lockdown is having a positive effect on some:

In terms of the social psychology at play, what we know about group dynamics is that a shared enemy or an external “other” often leads to an increase in collective cohesiveness.

Add to this our sense of shared values as we more obviously and overtly engage in a joint purpose, and a shared perception that we are all part of something big and are on a common mission, and you have a whole host of powerful predictors for increased relationship satisfaction.

Hence, during this time of great fear and loss, the external threat from COVID-19 may actually be bringing us closer together by reminding us that we not only need each other more than ever, but we actually like and enjoy being with each other too.

In this new socially distant society, we are reminded that the presence of others can make life a little better, more enjoyable, and a whole lot easier, just by us being there for one another.

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What about those we are actually at home in lockdown with? While for some households there may be increased conflict, cabin fever, and domestic strain, there are also opportunities for improved relationships and teamwork.

There is an old adage that “absence makes the heart grow fonder”; however, a number of social studies have widely debunked this myth and found that proximity is actually a far bigger predictor of liking, attraction and relationship satisfaction.

So as the world is slowing down, and we are now spending more and more time at home with our nearest and dearest, we have an opportunity to reconnect and rediscover the joy in our relationships.

Mid-afternoon the M6 motorway is deserted as people heed the official advice and stay home on Easter Sunday

Being in very close proximity to one another might actually reignite the flame in a previously cooled romantic relationship, or you may have a sudden desire to nip out and share a few words over the back fence with your neighbours even though previously you only really acknowledged them at Christmas.

Being increasingly interdependent and uniting together against the invisible enemy outside our doors may well make us appreciate one another more than ever.

'The new normal' - This is how the UK might operate once lockdown is eased

'The new normal' – This is how the UK might operate once lockdown is eased

Enforced social distance has also motivated us to reach out beyond our own households and local communities to connect with others who we might otherwise have rather complacently ignored in the past.

Some people tell me they are having regular video calls with elderly relatives, meaning that those who were already lonely and isolated might now be enjoying a little more company (albeit virtual) than they previously did.

Clapping for carers

Even estranged family members have been putting their differences aside and offering one another olive branches. It may sound macabre, but a deadly virus going round rather focuses the mind on just how short and precious life can be, and sadly it sometimes takes the perception of time running out to give us the necessary motivation to reach out, while we still can.

COVID-19 undoubtedly has an awful lot to answer for, but perhaps a glimmer of hope in all of this is that the more this invisible enemy seeks to tear us apart, the more our shared humanity will fight to keep us close.

“We are all in this together” has become a familiar phrase. I wonder whether this virus has turned our sense of “me” on its head, and reminded us all that it is “we” that really matters after all.


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