The YOU 2021 marriage survey: How the pandemic has changed our attitude to love and marriage

Would you have a baby with someone you’ve known 3 months? Why do couples divorce after 30 years of marriage? Have you tried an open relationship? In an exclusive survey for YOU, we asked 2,000 British people how the pandemic has changed their attitude to love and marriage. What they told us is fascinating…

No part of our lives has been left untouched by the pandemic. From health and finances to social lives and careers, its impact has been enormous. And never more so than when it comes to our romantic relationships.

you marriage survey, Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

In an exclusive survey conducted by YOU magazine, we spoke to 2,000 men and women across Britain to find out how their love lives have been impacted by almost two years of living in the shadow of Covid-19. Would you be surprised to learn that nearly a quarter of couples argued more than normal during lockdowns? Probably not. Home-schooling, working at the kitchen table and spending all your downtime together could send even the most solid couple to the divorce courts.

But bet you’d never guess that catching Covid could make you more sexually adventurous? Twenty per cent of people who had fallen ill with the virus told us they’d now consider an open relationship.

In fact, living through these fearful times appears to have fostered a more broadminded attitude to relationships. Almost half of all the women surveyed told us that they would consider a non-monogamous relationship now, and YOU readers are five times more likely to feel happy with their partner sleeping with someone else than they were before the pandemic.

Despite everything, though, love has endured: 73 per cent described themselves as ‘happy’ in their current relationship status, with parents more likely to be content with their lot, and those in Northern Ireland the happiest in the UK, versus the least happy Londoners. And commitment is definitely on the agenda, with one in ten now more likely to consider marriage, and the same proportion less likely to consider living apart from their loved one.

Of those dating who took part in the survey, 83 per cent began doing so in the past 18 months – and neither enforced separation nor an overdose of physical proximity has hindered relationships progressing. In fact, 44 per cent of engaged people we surveyed had become so since early 2020, and 20 per cent of those betrothed said the pandemic has ‘forced a greater level of commitment from them or their partner’.

you marriage survey, Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Unsurprisingly given lockdowns and social distancing, online dating remains a popular way to meet a partner, accounting for 22 per cent of younger couples.

Without doubt, it has been a time of romantic turmoil for many, but the 18-54 age group – particularly those under 35 – have had it hardest, representing the majority of those who have separated, divorced or called off a wedding during this period.

For those without a partner, it’s been a time of change in terms of emotional attachment, with 20 per cent of singles lonelier than ever, and ten per cent ‘more picky’ about who they’ll choose to be with.

What is clear is that, wherever you fall on the relationship spectrum, you’ll have felt the seismic impact of the pandemic – and, for many, connections with others may never be the same again.

Love in the time of Covid: Your stories

From a devastating divorce to sex parties, these couples’ love lives have been transformed…

‘I grew to hate the sight of my husband’

Maria*, 50, is an accountant and lives in North London with her two children.

We didn’t begin the pandemic a perfect couple. But I never expected that by now we’d be in the midst of a divorce, our marriage irreparably broken.

Nick* and I married in 2000 and over the years, like lots of couples, the spark faded and the issues between us multiplied. He drank too much to relieve the pressures of his job in the City. I was expected to take on too much at home, while also working full time, which caused rows. And over time, our sex life had dwindled to nothing, we were rarely affectionate to one another and I no longer found him attractive. But we had two beautiful children in their teens, a lovely home and a ‘good’ life, so we made the best of things. Our main coping mechanism was living quite separate lives.

I had my friends to socialise with, he had his. He golfed, I did yoga. At the weekends, he’d take our sons to football matches, on school breaks I’d take them to see my family in Scotland. Even at home, we’d watch TV in separate rooms in the evening.

It was a way of life we’d fallen into that worked for us. We were happier spending only minimal time together, and for the sake of the children, I would have carried on that way. However, everything changed when the pandemic began.

Both working from home, we were under huge pressure to perform professionally while also home schooling. We were stressed and would argue furiously over who got to use the home office and whose turn it was to supervise the kids.

With nowhere to go and nothing to do, there was no respite from the pressure cooker that our home became – no golf or pub for him, no gym or a meal with friends for me. No opportunities to spend time apart, bar a trip to the supermarket.

Every night we had horrible rows about everything and anything, slinging insults, taking out all our stress and frustration on one another. I grew to hate the sight of him – I’m sure he felt the same way about me – and began sleeping in the spare bedroom.

I remember one particular argument, as that first lockdown neared its end, when I thought: ‘I just can’t carry on with this marriage, I despise you so much.’

After a hellish day of working while also supervising the children, cooking a meal, ordering an online shop and worrying about my mother in Scotland who had been diagnosed with Covid, I was completely exhausted. So when Nick strode into the kitchen in his Lycra cycling kit, announcing he was off out on his bike ‘to unwind’, after he’d spent the day ensconced in our home office, I hit the roof.

Weeping with rage, I told him he was a selfish pig who only cared about himself, to which he responded I was ‘a bloody nag’, before leaving me sobbing on the kitchen floor. I realised how precarious our marriage must have been if, in the space of months, we could sink to such dire emotional depths. We’d been papering over the cracks for years by living separate lives but, thrown together by the pandemic, they were exposed and wider than ever. I think I knew in my heart that there was no way back for us. How could I carry on sharing a life with someone I could barely look at?

We never recovered from the first lockdown, despite going for counselling in a bid to salvage our marriage. There was too much toxicity, too much anger, I couldn’t see a way back and neither could he. We agreed the pandemic had done too much harm to an already rocky relationship.

It was a mutual decision to divorce, which we’re in the process of at the moment. He’s renting a flat, I’m in the family home with the children, but it will be sold soon so that we can buy separately.

It’s as amicable as it can be – I think we’re too worn out by everything that has happened to fight any more.

I never expected to be a 50-year-old divorcée and single mother. But perhaps no marriage is better than the sham of one ended by the pandemic.

‘I asked him to move in after five dates’

Shikha Rishi, 39, is a beauty clinic boss and her partner Flaviano, 40, is a company director. They live in Bournemouth with their five-month-old son Leo.

When Leo was placed in my arms after his birth this summer, it hit me just how transformative the pandemic has been for my personal life.

Flaviano and I met through a dating app in late December 2019. Between January and March 2020, we went on five dates and were in touch a lot by phone. I really liked him and when the UK went into the first lockdown, I couldn’t imagine not continuing to see him.

It was totally out of my character but nothing then felt normal, so one night I asked Flaviano if he wanted to come and stay with me, in my flat, until the lockdown was over.

He agreed, but as he was moving his stuff from his flatshare into my home in early April, I admit I was very nervous. What would it be like living together 24/7? I have my own beauty clinic but that had to close in lockdown. Meanwhile, Flaviano had been furloughed – so all we had was each other.

Shikha and Flaviano
Shikha and Flaviano’s son Leo was born just over a year after they started dating

But that meant we had time to fall in love with no distractions. We walked, cooked, decorated my flat, drank wine and met each other’s friends through Zoom. For many it was such a challenging time. We felt so lucky to be safe and have each other.

Our most challenging period came as lockdown began to ease and we were adjusting to living our relationship in the real world again – we had gone straight in to being this little bubble of two, so hadn’t had the chance to be a ‘normal’ couple.

Flaviano decided on a career change, launching his own business, and I went back to running my clinic, so we had less time together. After the simplicity of those months of lockdown, the return of normal feelings of tiredness and juggling our relationship with catching up with family and friends was tough.

Did we have a few arguments? Absolutely! It was part of the transition to being together in a more normal sense but, by then, our bond was there, the love was strong and we got over those bumps in the road.

In November 2020 I discovered I was 13 weeks pregnant. It was a massive shock – the only symptom I had which led to me taking a test was feeling very tired. Although it was certainly not planned, we were overjoyed. Leo was born in July and we are so in love with him – and each other. The old me would never have believed a relationship could, or indeed should, move so fast. I’d have been wary of things happening far too quickly.

But the pandemic ripped up the rule book and pressed fast forward on my life. I’ve learnt if something feels right, why wait?

‘We spent lockdown at online sex parties’

Alice*, 39, is a personal assistant and lives in Hampshire with her husband Rob*, 40, and their three children.

After tucking the children into bed, I quickly changed into some lingerie then joined my husband in the living room with a laptop and a bottle of wine, ready for our pandemic date night.

We’d be taking part in a Zoom sex party, doing everything from playing sexy games to watching other couples have sex, and breaking off into private online groups to swap numbers for sexting.

For some couples, the endless nights of the pandemic may have been defined by boxsets, takeaways and arguments. But for me and Rob they presented a unique opportunity to explore a new dynamic to our relationship.

We’ve been married for 12 years and have always made an effort in the bedroom. We both believe a healthy sex life is an important part of a happy marriage and, pre-pandemic, we had regular sex and made an effort to keep things exciting with things such as sex toys and trying different positions.

In the past we’d talked about pushing the boundaries of our relationship, and involving other people. It wasn’t about being dissatisfied with the sex life we had – we’re just naturally adventurous people and have always believed that new experiences are the way to keep our love life alive. However, we’d never actually done anything about it – until the pandemic came along. With both of us furloughed and no social life or chauffeuring duties for the kids, our evenings were our own, so we used the time to experiment and explore together.

Neither of us wanted to grow bored or irritable with one another while locked down – my WhatsApp groups were filled with messages from my friends who were fed up with their husbands, and I didn’t want that to happen to us.

In April last year we signed up to the Killing Kittens app – an online community for the sexually adventurous. I felt excited, nervous, turned on and also proud that behind closed doors we were anything but boring, despite our years together and outwardly very ordinary appearances.

At least one evening a week we’d attend a Zoom party – they became our date night and a way to unwind from the monotony of home schooling and endless walks.

It was liberating to meet other couples who felt the same as us when it came to sex – that it’s fine to be curious and kinky, but still be happily monogamous.

As life has become more normal again since the lifting of lockdown, we’ve carried on attending online parties every weekend, and it’s had a ripple effect on our sex life, injecting new excitement into it.

We still keep what we get up to a secret – nobody in our ‘real’ life knows about it. Partly this is because we enjoy the thrill of sharing such a sexy secret, but mainly it’s because I don’t know how our friends or families would react.

There’s still so much taboo around sex and I worry people would judge us and think it reflected badly on us as parents. My worst nightmare would be this getting back to our children through other parents gossiping.

Recently, I went to a real-life, women-only Killing Kittens party in London with Rob’s blessing, though he was gutted that men weren’t allowed.

While there I had sex with a woman. Back in my hotel room later, I FaceTimed Rob and told him all about it, which he loved. We trust each other implicitly so there was no jealousy on his part and I felt really empowered that I had taken a fantasy and made it come true.

We’re planning to attend a real-life sex party together as soon as possible – both of us feel comfortable about the prospect of watching the other sleep with someone else, or having a threesome. Now I’ve been to one, I can’t wait to share the experience with Rob.

When other mums at the school gates moan about how the pandemic has had a negative effect on their relationship, I do feel quietly smug. If only they knew how we’ve managed to keep our spark not just alive but brighter than ever.

‘We didn’t touch each other for months’

Rivkie Baum, 35, is a content creator and lives in London with her husband Dan, 34, a graphic designer.

When we went into the first lockdown last year, Dan and I had been dating for five months. As I lived with my parents, and him in a nearby flatshare, we agreed the only way to keep each other and our loved ones safe was to remain socially distanced.

From March to August 2020, we had no physical contact. There were times when it was very tough. When I felt low, scared by what was happening in the world or stressed about work, more than anything I wanted to feel Dan’s arms around me. Instead, we threw ourselves into socially distanced dating, determined to make it as much fun and as romantic as we could.

Dan would come to my garden with a cheeseboard and takeaway cocktails from the bar where we had our first date, or I’d prepare an afternoon tea and we’d sit outside for hours talking and laughing. We once had a dinner date at the side of the car park at his block of flats, which was more romantic than it sounds! Talking was all we had in the absence of touch, and we talked about everything from our hopes a vaccine would be invented, to the dinner parties we would host when we could be together properly again, even our shared dream of running a restaurant together one day.

Rivkie and Dan
After dating through lockdown, Rivkie and Dan got married this summer. Image: Leivi Saltman

We’d see each other several times a week and in between we remotely dated, too, watching boxsets at the same time while on Zoom, playing online games and cooking the same meal in our respective kitchens then eating ‘together’ by FaceTime.

Although I wish we could have had a ‘normal’ relationship, we put so much effort in it still felt special and it definitely cemented our bond. I learned that Dan was someone I could talk with for hours and we’d never run out of things to say. And if after months of no physical contact we still found each other attractive, that was a good sign!

In August 2020, we went on a staycation together, ending our distancing. It felt amazing to just hold hands and cuddle up together.

At the end of that trip, Dan proposed and I said yes without hesitation – even though we had been dating for less than a year. After that he moved into my family home, which was great as it gave my parents a chance to get to know him better. We married in August this year and because of the pandemic it was the first time my parents had met Dan’s dad, and for Dan and I it was a chance to also meet each other’s family and friends.

Married life – and being together in a proper sense – is wonderful. It wasn’t easy, but pandemic dating has given us a happy ending.

YOU 2021 marriage survey

  • 1/4 of couples who called off a wedding did so in the past 2 years
  • 1 in 10 singles say the pandemic has made them more picky about a partner
  • In the past 2 years, 12% have had sex with someone other than their partner
  • 83% of those who are dating began doing so in the past 18 months
  • 44% of engaged couples’ proposals have happened since early 2020
  • 20% of those who had Covid would now have an open relationship

*Names have been changed