COVID-19 has drastically affected long-distance relationships. How do couples handle the distance while coping with the stress of the pandemic?
For many of us, what once was difficult before the pandemic has now become an even bigger challenge. Whether it’s finding the motivation to complete day-to-day tasks or working from new environments, we have all struggled to adjust.
But when it comes to long-distance relationships, the adjustment hasn’t been so clear-cut.
Long-distance dating requires time and commitment that will hopefully make up for the lack of physical appearance and touch. Therefore, maintaining a connection with your significant other—even if they are far away—is important. That connection is what builds up the anticipation for when you get to see them next.
But for some, that “next time” is longer than expected.
Before the pandemic hit last March, I spent time with my boyfriend almost every day at school. Our relationship was strong because we were able to communicate and grow through the time we spent together. But as COVID-19 intensified and school was officially moved online, our relationship considerably changed.
Living on opposite sides of California, communication became a challenge for us as we were limited to the use of our cell phones. We lost the ability to speak face-to-face. It was a constant struggle that greatly impacted our relationship and has made me realize how much I took the time we had in person for granted.
Grace Mathews, 19, and Tommy Aguilera, 19, are a couple that has been together for two years. Although the couple experienced the challenges of long-distance dating in the past, they didn’t expect those challenges to become greater during the pandemic.
“Tommy is in the Marine Corps and when COVID-19 first took off, his leave to come home was constantly pushed back due to new restrictions,” said Mathews. “The biggest challenge the pandemic brought us was the distance and not knowing when we would see each other again.”
Mathews said he felt constant stress and fear amidst the distance.
“I experienced terrible mental health at the beginning of COVID-19 with all of the unknowns,” she said. “He is in constant close contact with hundreds of men in his unit,” which puts him at more risk of contracting the virus.
Couple Valeria Gonzalez-Larez, 21, and Frankie Vera, 20, were affected by COVID-19 for five months. Larez was home in Northern California while Vera was residing in Southern California.
“During this time, our relationship was affected because we were no longer able to fly on an airplane to see each other,” said Larez. Her boyfriend ended up getting a car so that he could drive to see his girlfriend, “but even that was still a struggle with the pandemic.”
Driving may be safer than flying right now, according to UCLA Health. Driving alone eliminates close interactions with others if it’s somewhere you can reach within one day. But the risk is still high. Pulling over for gas and food requires contact with people and outdoor surroundings that could expose you to the virus.
“COVID-19 scared me quite a bit,” said Larez. “Sometimes I didn’t want to risk traveling because if I did travel by car, I would have to stop at gas stations and spend the night in a hotel.”
In my personal experience, driving down the I-5 freeway to visit my boyfriend in Southern California was sometimes very nerve-racking. The thought of gas stations and the germs they carry made me nauseous. But in a long-distance relationship, you sometimes take risks to see the one you love.
While taking risks such as driving long distances or catching a crowded flight may be worth it, it’s sometimes best to wait it out. But in romantic relationships, the wait isn’t always easy.
According to hypnotherapist Pranjul Somani, people in long-distance relationships are at a higher risk of experiencing a decline in their mental health. Some of the psychological effects they are prone to experience are anxiety, insecurity, stress and loneliness. These effects occur because dating long-distance influences mental instability, knowing you can’t reach your partner as easily.
These effects can be extremely tough to overcome, which is often the reason many couples turn to therapists or counselors for help. At Azusa Pacific, the counseling staff is currently offering their services via phone calls and virtual appointments.
Throughout the pandemic, multiple couples have reached out to the counseling staff at APU, requesting help and advice.
“In this season of social distancing, there has been a lot of extra stress put on relationships,” said Nathaniel Fernandez, the psychologist and outreach coordinator at APU. “Some couples are stuck trying to keep a dating relationship alive while living apart. These stressors can cause relationship problems on their own, but also can make existing conflicts in relationships more difficult to manage.”
Addressing mental health can be confusing and sometimes difficult. It is important to communicate the emotions and concerns we have with our partners to ensure that we are being completely open and honest with them, according to Fernandez.
Throughout my own experiences with mental health, it became tough and exhausting to communicate with my significant other through the phone. I was constantly frustrated and eager for time to fly by until I could see him again. This negatively affected my relationship but also encouraged both my boyfriend and I to openly talk about it and be on the same page.
Though the distance may be tough, it’s important to remember that speaking up and communicating with your partner will guide your relationship in a strong direction. Your mental health is just as important as the relationship itself and only you are in total control of what you want to do about it.