Many couples who began dating during the COVID pandemic moved at total warp speed. Some went exclusive and moved in much earlier than they otherwise would have, and a 2020 report conducted by eharmony found a third of newly shacked-up couples think the last two months of the quarantine have felt like two years of commitment. But many of the most isolating, immobilizing aspects of the pandemic have started to wane as the national vaccine rollout opens up new opportunities to more safely spend time with more people. So, what exactly does that mean for the turbo relationships that formed as a survival mechanism in those early days of uncertainty?
According to couples therapist Alicia Muñoz, LPC, relationships built on the foundation of crisis don’t always survive outside of it. “A relationship can feel odd, unfamiliar, and foreign to partners who have only known each other in the role of desperate, unhappy people with no options,” Muñoz tells Bustle. “One or both partners may not know how to connect with one another — or even feel safe in the relationship — when things are going well, when there’s more freedom, and when there are opportunities for joy and pleasure.”
Of course, the opposite can also be true. “Just as soldiers, or others who bond under extreme, life-threatening circumstances, can feel a powerful, unshakable bond because of what they’ve been through and survived together, partners can also feel this way,” Muñoz says. “Surviving and/or thriving in a crisis can give a relationship meaning, depth, purpose, and richness.”
So, how can you tell if your relationship was simply a way to avoid weathering a pandemic alone — or if it’s the real deal? Try asking yourself the following questions recommended by couples therapists.
1. Do you like them for who they are — or how they make you feel?
Get real about why you’re drawn to your partner, says couples therapist Beverley Andre, LMFT. “If you truly like someone, you will have examples of what you like about them (i.e., friendly, smart, honest, driven, etc.). If you find yourself coming up with descriptors that align with what they can do, then you may like them for what they can do for you and not for who they are.”
For example, suppose the main reasons you like your partner are that they’re consistently available and they keep your mind off the stress. In that case, your relationship may be based more on convenience and self-soothing than an actual connection.
On the other hand, maybe you like your partner because they’re a really good listener, they’re genuinely hilarious, and they understand you in a way most people don’t. Those types of attributes are all focused on who they are, which is a good sign that you’re actually into them in a meaningful way.
2. How do you feel when this person shares their inner world with you?
Think about the times when your partner tells you about their “feelings, thoughts, desires, fears, struggles, and hopes,” Muñoz says. Do you generally feel excited to be learning more about your partner?
“Those feelings are part of what will keep you curious about them and them feeling cared for by you, and consequently, open to and curious about you,” Muñoz says. “This emotional reciprocity — coming from a place of genuine excitement, curiosity, and eagerness to know more about each other — is one sign that two people have ‘relational stamina.’”
Find yourself feeling annoyed or indifferent whenever your partner talks about themselves? That could be a sign that you may not actually be that interested in them as a person. Pay attention if you find yourself feeling frustrated whenever your partner talks about themselves. Sometimes, a person can be good company, but you may not necessarily find their personal life that interesting or connect with them on a deeper level. That’s totally fine for a casual or temporary relationship, but it’s not ideal if you intend to be with someone for the long haul.
3. Would you be willing to make sacrifices to make this relationship work?
Consider whether you’d be willing to put in work and go through some challenges to have this person in your life. Muñoz recommends thinking through a hypothetical: Would you choose to go through a mix of highs and lows with this person over having a relatively easier life but without them in it?
“If your answer is yes, there’s a good chance you’re not with this person purely or even mostly out of convenience or for comfort or to quell fears, and that your relationship with this person is genuinely enriching you,” she says. “The hallmark of a true, lasting love relationship where two people are both ‘in it’ is a willingness to go through growing pains together because the connection feels special or meaningful.”
All relationships will inevitably go through rough patches and hard times. Is that something you’d be willing to go through to make things work with this person? Is being with this person worth the emotional struggle? If you’re answering “yes” to all this, you’re probably finding true value in your partner and your relationship.
4. When you think of the experiences and adventures you’ll be able to have post-COVID, do you want this person at your side?
Consider all the things that might be possible in a world where COVID-19 and its variants are no longer a barrier, Muñoz says: things like connecting with lots of people, exploring the world again, having more mobility and financial possibilities, and more. When you think of everything that awaits you on the other side, do you envision your partner there with you?
“If you can picture yourself with your current partner in a world where abundance, possibility, and connection are ascendant — and it doesn’t feel like your partner or this relationship won’t translate into that new context — then chances are, your current relationship has staying power,” she says.
5. When you envision your life five years from now in a relationship, is it with this person?
Take yourself a step further, beyond just the pandemic and into your long-term dreams for the future.
“This question brings to the forefront relationship longevity: Do you see a future with this person?” Andre asks. “Is it a clear picture where you can see what your home life looks like and any other further investments into the relationship? If you are engaged with someone out of pandemic loneliness, you probably haven’t thought about the future with them. They are essentially meeting your temporary needs.”
It’s OK not to have all the answers just yet. But if these questions have you freaked out, that’s something to pay attention to. On the flip side, if your heart is fluttering thinking about the bright possibilities of life after COVID with your partner, then you might just have something —and someone — worth holding onto.
Alicia Muñoz, LPC, couples therapist
Beverley Andre, LMFT, couples therapist