More people are having virtual affairs as Covid-19 pandemic wears on, data suggests

Business Insider US
  • Coronavirus pandemic-related stress is a risk factor that could drive people to cheat, according to two University of Tennessee Knoxville psychologists.
  • They said that married people are contacting ex-lovers and using dating websites to have virtual affairs.
  • Couples who have to recover from affairs during the pandemic could face unique challenges like financial insecurity, interpersonal violence, and isolation, the psychologists said.
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Data suggests more Americans are having virtual affairs during lockdown, according to two psychologists who penned an editorial in the journal Family Process.

In the July 3 article, The University of Tennessee Knoxville psychologists Kristina Coop Gordon and Erica A. Mitchell said pandemic-related stress is straining relationships, driving people onto dating apps.

They said people who have affairs and get caught could have more trouble reconciling with their partners than usual "due to the intersection with the social, emotional, and financial consequences of Covid-19," they wrote.

What's more, they expect the current stress to drive an uptick in in-person affairs once the pandemic is over.

People are stressed, so they're turning to dating apps and contacting ex-lovers

Though the pandemic has limited in-person meetups, Gordon and Mitchell said technologies like FaceTime, online dating services, and smartphones have allowed stressed out partners to find solace in virtual affairs.

"Individuals who are dissatisfied in their current relationship are more likely to explore alternative options and the increased stress from the pandemic may be contributing to more negative perceptions for individuals of both their partner and their relationship," they wrote.

According to data Gordon and Mitchell obtained from a dating website for married people (they didn't disclose which site), 17,000 new people have signed up for the services every day during the pandemic. This compares to the 1,500 daily new member sign-ups in 2019.

People are also reaching out to ex-lovers during the pandemic despite being in committed relationships.

Researchers at the Kinsey Institute surveyed 1,ooo married people between 30 and 50 years old, and found in their preliminary results that 13% contacted an ex-partner during the pandemic.

Reasons for reaching out varied, but the majority of married folks said their motivations were having sex with their ex or rekindling a relationship with them.

Pandemic affairs could have serious psychological, physical, and financial consequences

No matter when an affair occurs, it can lead to distrust and even relationship dissolution. But Gordon and Mitchell said the high stress of the pandemic could make it even more difficult for couples who have weathered affairs to recover.

There's evidence that the pandemic has lead to an uptick in mental health issues like anxiety and depression, and those problems could only be made worse by an affair because of its "devastating" nature, Gordon and Mitchell said.

The pandemic could also exacerbate the financial fallout of an affair.

The unemployment rate in the US is at an all-time high, and those who have lost jobs and are currently dealing with financial insecurity could be at an increased risk for relationship violence if they experience an affair too, according to Gordon and Mitchell. They said that generally speaking, unemployment, lack of social support, and increased stress due to financial insecurity are risks for relationship violence, and the pandemic has only made these risks more common.

"These trends are alarming for couples in the aftermath of an affair, as they are already at higher risk for increases in conflict, aggressive behaviours, and intimate partner violence, as consequences of the affair," they wrote.

And lack of financial support in the aftermath of an affair could make it difficult to get resources like therapy that could help a person process and recover from the situation, they said.

Gordon and Mitchell said that solving these problems and recovering from an affair during a pandemic will never be easy, but it is possible.

They suggested the cheater in the relationship work with their partner to create a trust-building plan. That could include taking their children with them on errands so their partner doesn't feel like they're going off to cheat, cutting off contact with the person they cheated with, and allowing their partner space and time to process the situation.

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