Experts offer tips on keeping relationships healthy, even in a pandemic

Relationships are hard but they can be even more difficult right now. So heading into this Valentine's Day weekend, experts say there are ways to keep your relationship strong even during a global pandemic.

After five-and-a-half years together, Cierra Starkey and Paul Leimer thought they had been through it all. So Paul thought a ski trip to Wyoming would be the perfect place to propose. Then the pandemic began.

"My proposal plans got completely messed up and we had to change them several times. Ended up proposing at Lake Norman nearby as a backup and she still said yes," Paul said.

Paul and Cierra then found themselves wedding planning, searching for a place to live and navigating a new phase in their relationship during a pandemic.

"I think the big thing is you just have to be adaptable. You have to plan, you have to adapt. Everybody is having to adapt, everybody is having to do the same thing," Cierra said.

Experts said there are some key elements to keeping your relationships healthy. First-decide don't slide. Make those big or small decisions together-instead of falling into patterns that just seem comfortable.

Two-do your part. You can only control your actions, not your partner's. So make sure you take the time to listen to their needs and what makes them happy.

"Paul loves to work out. And I like do it but I don't really like love it. So I'll like work out with him now outdoors because he can't go to the gym with his buddies," Cierra said.

And finally, develop a safe atmosphere for connection. Foster open communication so you both feel like you can tackle obstacles together. And take time for each other, regardless of how challenging that seems.

"It's definitely tested our communication. We've had to get a lot better at that. And I think we rely on each other," Paul said.

If you're trying to stay safe during the pandemic, you can date virtually. Here are some ideas from Heidi Williams, assistant professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences Department of Sociology at Virginia Tech:

  • Use Grubhub or DoorDash to order food for you and your date(s).

  • Pick a TV show or movie that you both might enjoy and chat with each other via Zoom or FaceTime during the viewing. If you know in advance what you will watch together, send something related to the show or movie to your love interest.

  • Send your love interest your favorite T-shirt ... you know the one that smells like you and is worn from wear! A piece of you will be with them during your date.


  • A day or two before Valentine's Day, send a playlist of your top 10 favorite songs. Plan to discuss why you like the songs and ask them which they enjoyed.

  • Take a free online origami class together. The next time you see each other you can give them your creation as a souvenir from your date.

  • Journal about why you are attracted to the other person, physically, emotionally, and intellectually, and share your thoughts with them.

  • Play a video or virtual game together.

  • Capitalize on your intelligence and read passages of your favorite books aloud to each other.
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