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Relational turbulence from the COVID-19 pandemic: Within-subjects mediation by romantic partner interdependence

APA Citation:

Goodboy, A. K., Dillow, M. R., Knoster, K. C., & Howard, H. A. (2021). Relational turbulence from the COVID-19 pandemic: Within-subjects mediation by romantic partner interdependence. Journal of Social and Personal Relationship, 38(6), 1800 - 1818. https://doi.org/10.1177/02654075211000135

Abstract Created by REACH:

According to relational turbulence theory, major life transitions such as the COVID-19 pandemic may lead to instability in romantic relationships (i.e., relational turbulence), particularly because partners’ influence on each other can change during these transitions. Partners can influence each other by making daily life easier (i.e., facilitation) or harder (i.e., interference). This study examined how the pandemic has influenced individuals’ negative emotions (e.g., anger, fear, sadness) about their partner, perceived changes in their partners’ facilitation and interference, and relational turbulence. Civilian college students (N = 315) were asked to respond to all study measures twice: first, thinking about their relationship before the pandemic (i.e., January 2020); second, thinking about their relationship during the height of the pandemic (i.e., April 2020). COVID-19 may be partly related to greater relational turbulence due to less perceived partner facilitation and more partner interference.



Subject Affiliation:



Adulthood (18 yrs & older)
Young adulthood (18 - 29 yrs)
Thirties (30 - 39 yrs)
Middle age (40 - 64 yrs)
Aged (65 yrs & older)


Cross-Sectional Study
Quantitative Study


Goodboy, Alan K., Dillow, Megan R., Knoster, Kevin C., Howard, Heath A.


Relational turbulence theory posits that external changes to the relational environment compel romantic partners to navigate transitions by establishing new daily routines as interdependent couples. The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented transition fraught with difficult changes that have the potential to be especially disruptive to romantic partners’ daily routines as couples alter their patterns of interdependence and adapt their everyday lives. To study the pandemic’s effect as a relational transition, college students in romantic relationships (N = 314) completed measures of partner facilitation and interference, negative emotions, and relational turbulence as they recalled what their relationships were like prior to the pandemic (January, 2020) and then reported on their relationships during the peak of the first wave of the pandemic in the U.S. (April, 2020). On average, negative emotions (i.e., anger, fear, sadness) toward interacting with partners and relational turbulence both increased from before to during the pandemic, and partner interference was positively correlated, whereas facilitation was inversely correlated, with negative emotions during the pandemic. Results of a within-subjects mediation model revealed that changes in relational turbulence were explained, in part, by a decrease in partner interdependence due to the pandemic. A direct effect of the pandemic on increases in relational turbulence was also discovered.

Publisher/Sponsoring Organization:

SAGE Publications

Publication Type:


Author Affiliation:

Department of Communication Studies, West Virginia University, AKG


COVID-19, interdependence, negative emotions, relational turbulence model, relational turbulence theory

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Research Summary

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