Love in the time of coronavirus: How the pandemic is affecting relationships

Relationships of every kind are being affected by COVID-19, for better or for worse. Some are rising to the occasion, while others feel extra tension.

'We cannot see the virus … and so the danger is that we're going to take it out on each other'

Carolyn Alexander says her relationship with her boyfriend Mark Casley got a lot more serious after they were forced to quarantine together for 14 days. (Submitted by Carolyn Alexander)

Carolyn Alexander welcomed her Irish boyfriend Mark Casley to Winnipeg a couple of weeks ago — just before Manitoba identified its first cases of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

"We just went on the one first date when he got here and we've been living together ever since because of the quarantine," Alexander said.

Around the world, relationships of every kind are being affected by COVID-19, for better or for worse. Some, like Alexander and Casley's, are rising to the occasion, while others are feeling extra tension.

Casley moved to Winnipeg earlier than he planned, knowing flights would be cancelled and it would be difficult to travel.

The couple's relationship got serious quickly, in part because they're both in their 50s and want a commitment, but also because they had to be in such close quarters.

Alexander, who is the founder of Singles in the Peg, a platform for single Winnipeggers looking for love, said she and her boyfriend have been spending a lot of time playing board games and "enjoying the simpler things in life."

The social isolation helped bring their relationship to the next level and they're talking about getting married in a few months, she said.

That's the opposite of what's happening in some districts of Xi'an, the capital of northwest China's Shaanxi province.

Marriage registration offices in the city saw unprecedented numbers of applications for divorce after the region was quarantined earlier this month, a Chinese state-run newspaper The Global Times reported.

"We, as a whole world, a global community, are experiencing stress related to the COVID-19 virus, and so that's going to impact every relationship," said Carolyn Klassen, a marriage and family therapist at Conexus Counselling in Winnipeg.

There are many stressors associated with the pandemic, Klassen said.

"We cannot see the virus. We cannot yell at it, and so the danger is that we're going to take it out on each other because it's not just about the fear of getting the virus," she said. 

"It's also the fear of lost income, what the future's going to be, how long this is going to last. There's so many layers of legitimate stress."

Kristin Millar and her partner Dustin Cochrane are separated for a couple of weeks because Millar is immunocompromised and Cochrane's children were exposed to people who travelled internationally recently. (Submitted by Kristin Millar)

For some, being apart from loved ones is a source of stress.

Kristin Millar is living apart from her partner for two weeks because she is immunocompromised following a heart transplant, and his two children were exposed to people who travelled internationally.

"Being separated from your home or a really important support person is really difficult. It's really challenging. You want to be around the person who provides the greatest support or comfort," she said.

Millar is staying with her parents in Winnipeg for two weeks to ensure she's safe. In the meantime, she and her partner are communicating over the phone.

In spite of everything, Millar feels "really, really lucky" to be able to work from home and to have the support of her family and partner.

Relationship advice

Klassen said she's not seeing more clients during the pandemic because many people are too concerned about their financial situation to pay for counselling, but she's heard from many people in the community that they're struggling with their relationships given their new reality.

"We are wired for connection. We need each other and yet we have to figure out how to navigate these waters and when there's stress, one of the ways we cope with that stress is we take it out on the people close to us," she said

Carolyn Klassen, a marriage and family therapist in Winnipeg, thinks relationships of all kind will be affected as people adjust to social distancing. (Ian McCausland)

There are better ways to cope, she said, starting with recognizing we're in a brand new situation and aren't going to be very good at it at first.

"When you learn to ride a bike, when you start a new job, there's always a period of orientation, a period of recognizing that you're not going to be very efficient and very effective," Klassen said.

"I think we have to give ourselves permission to say this is going to take some time to figure out, because none of us have ever done this before."

Klassen said people in relationships — platonic or otherwise — need to look inward to see what they need to be healthy and happy, and then communicate that effectively to others.

She also recommends limiting screen time.

"I think one of the challenges is to figure out how to get off screens and be with each other in ways that might feel kind of weird," she said. 

"Some of us are pulling up board games for the first time in years and it's weird, and yet it actually is also really good."

Online-only dating

While some are struggling with their relationships or working on trying to strengthen them, others are looking for new people online.

Alexander, who normally hosts in-person speed dating events in her capacity as owner of Singles in the Peg, has moved them online in light of the pandemic.

"Don't let COVID-19 stop you from finding the love of your life, because there's still avenues that you still can," she said.

If speed dating isn't your style, there are apps geared toward finding new friends or dates.

Last year, the dating app Bumble came out with the option to video chat with matches, which is coming in handy now for people wanting to take the next step with someone they're interested in while maintaining physical distance.

Another dating app, Hinge, is coming up with a number of different options for people who can't see each other but want to spend time together. 

Hinge suggests cooking the same meal, ordering your favourite food to the other person's house, playing games and giving each other tours of one another's homes — all over video chat.

Klassen sees the pandemic as an opportunity for people to focus on the relationships that matter.

"While this might be a stressful time, it also, I think, has the potential to transform relationships for good. We can make lemonade out of lemons."


Rachel Bergen is a journalist for CBC Manitoba and previously reported for CBC Saskatoon. Email story ideas to