New York: Covid-19 not only affected health to a greater extent globally but also hampered relationships among married couples amid lockdowns and limited social interactions, a study has revealed.
The study by researchers at the University of California-Los Angeles, published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, is the first to examine the pandemic-related loss of connections with family, friends, and colleagues among diverse couples recruited from lower-income neighbourhoods.
Following the lockdowns and restrictions on public gatherings in the early days of Covid-19, the social networks of white, Black, and Latino couples all shrank.
But these networks shrank most significantly among lower-income and Latino and Black couples and didn’t fully recover even after vaccines became available and the most severe restrictions were lifted.
“Limiting social interactions may well have reduced the spread of infection,” said lead author Benjamin Haggerty, a doctoral student in the UCLA Marriage and Close Relationships Lab, “but this policy also had unexamined and potentially lasting social costs”.
Psychologists found that when the pandemic began, face-to-face interactions declined overall by 50 percent, with little recovery over the next 18 months.
Black and Latino couples and those with lower incomes, they discovered, maintained even fewer of their relationships than white couples and those with higher incomes.
While many people attempted to compensate for a lack of in-person gatherings through increased use of technologies like Zoom and FaceTime, the researchers found that among the couples they studied, even virtual interactions declined during the first months of the pandemic.
Significantly, these declines weren’t restricted to particular types of relationships — they affected connections with family, friends, and co-workers alike.
“What happened to those lost relationships? One answer is that some simply could not be sustained for so long without frequent interactions to nourish them,” said study co-author Benjamin Karney, co-director of the lab.
In general, for white couples and for wealthier couples, the picture was a bit rosier.
The findings suggest that to prepare for future disease outbreaks, there is a need to develop ways to limit pathogen transmission without harming the in-person interactions necessary to sustain meaningful relationships.