Relationships in the Era of COVID-19

Posted on Aug 7, 2020

I have a confession to make. Even though I am considered a relationship expert, for the first time in a really long time, I am feeling socially anxious. I’m sure you can relate to the feeling too. We are navigating an entirely new way of interacting with the people around us, and it’s making everyone feel a little (or extremely) uneasy.


Initially, we were on a tight lock-down (in the NYC area). We adapted by using technology to stay connected.  In fact, many people connected with friends more frequently than they would have normally.  Frankly, introverts sailed through the first couple months of isolation with a comfort level they had not experienced in years.


Now that the restrictions have loosened, we are permitted to spend time with people outside our immediate homes.


This has resulted in a profound shift in thinking regarding relationships.


We are now consciously and intentionally choosing the people to interact with face-to-face. 


A new part of the matrix in making these choices is risk tolerance.


Some are naturally more risk averse generally than others, but each of us has personal considerations when it comes to the risk of exposure to the virus.


The fact that the virus can be spread via asymptomatic carriers means that we don’t know someone is 100% safe to be with in person.


In the era of COVID, questions like “Who else have you been with? Have you attended large gatherings? Have you recently visited a hot spot and did you quarantine?” are commonplace.


Essentially, we’re asking the basic question of intimacy, “Can I trust you?” 


Even though a relationship may be close emotionally, we can no longer assume that we know what to do in a given situation as everyone’s social comfort levels have shifted.


Boundary setting is always essential in relationships but now we may base our decisions on whether the people around us respect our needs and limitations when it comes to social distancing and mask wearing.


Unfortunately, differences in risk tolerance can put a strain on relationships. 


I am hearing a lot of judgment about the way that people are behaving on both ends. Many risk adverse people are angry at those who are more risk tolerant calling them “irresponsible” and many risk tolerant people feel that risk adverse people are “over-reacting.”


I’m not talking about the “knuckleheads” who are partying in masses.  I’m talking about our friends and neighbors who are making tough choices about co-quarantining with another family, whether it is safe to go on a vacation or visit extended family, whether to send their kid to camp or school in September.


In addition to following the CDC guidelines, I’d like to offer some suggestions.


  • Please remember that we are all outside of our comfort zones. To varying degrees and for various reasons, we are all struggling. We are all afraid.
  • Create and maintain your boundaries based on your needs and limitations but please do not treat friends and neighbors as potential contaminants.
  • If looking at social media is creating more anger, more strain on relationships and more negativity for you, please stop using it.


We are all just trying to figure out how to live in these crazy times. If we give each other grace, kindness and respect we’ll get through it together.