Job stress, money problems and other everyday frustrations can undermine relationships, but big challenges like the coronavirus pandemic may actually leave couples happier, a new study reveals.
The reason: They’re more likely to be aware that stress is affecting them.
“Because of this awareness, when major stressors occur, romantic partners may be less likely to blame each other for their problems and more likely to blame the stressor, which may reduce the harmful effects of stress on the relationship,” said study co-author Lisa Neff, an associate professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas at Austin.
Her team found that the widespread impact of the pandemic provided a unique context for testing this idea.
To do so, researchers analyzed data collected from 191 volunteers during the early weeks of the pandemic and again seven months later.
Participants completed a questionnaire about the degree to which they blamed the pandemic for their problems along with a daily survey for two weeks that focused on their daily stressors, relationship satisfaction and any negative behavior they exhibited toward their partner.
As expected, most people blamed the pandemic — and not their partner — for their problems. And that had a big benefit for their relationships.
“Individuals who were more blaming of the pandemic were more resilient to the harmful effects of stress,” Neff said.
Researchers said the findings underscore the importance of recognizing that stress can change how partners see their relationship. But even though blaming the pandemic may reduce the harmful effects of stress on a relationship, it doesn’t eliminate them, they added.
“When couples are aware that stress may be impacting their relationship, it’s easier for couples for shift blame for their problems away from each other and onto the stressor,” Neff said. “Doing so can help partners support each other more effectively, and ultimately, be more successful in weathering those difficult times.”
The findings were published June 21 in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Psychology Today offers tips for handling relationship stress during the pandemic.
SOURCE: Social Psychological and Personality Science, news release, June 21, 2021