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Love Beyond Lockdown

A report on navigating marriage and infidelity through a pandemic and the new normal

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Overview

In light of the COVID-19 global pandemic, specifically with how it has shifted the way everyone lives, there is a lot of speculation on how marriages and relationships will be impacted. Whether it is the reports of a divorce surge, or the likelihood of a baby bust, there is clearly an interest in understanding how domestic couples, in particular, are navigating the current reality. In this research, we set out to understand why married people are choosing to have extramarital affairs during isolation, what effect it has had on them as individuals, and what this all means for the future of marriage and monogamy in a post-pandemic world.

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Are married couples having more sex during the pandemic?

According to our data, couples are engaging in little to no physical intimacy with each other despite increased time at home together, few social or professional encounters - if any - outside the home, and virtually no change to their typically active libido. Many members report a decrease in attraction to their primary partner and exacerbated annoyance over cohabitation habits since the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown. Most members cite the lack of sexual activity within their marriage as the reason they stray, thus many are currently seeking or having sex with someone other than their spouse.

  • 75% Are having less sex or no sex at all with their spouse

  • 53% Are spending more time with their spouse now than ever before

  • 41% Have become less attracted to their spouse during lockdown

  • 25% Say not having sex is the hardest part of lockdown

Pet Peeves

  • 58% My spouse has not initiated any sexual intimacy

  • 28% My spouse is glued to their device (computer, phone)

  • 19% My spouse is rude, moody, and/or constantly picking fights with me

  • 18% My spouse has never given me any space or time to myself

  • 15% My spouse is messy and I’m constantly cleaning up after them

“Increased proximity to our partner during lockdown has led many relationships to get stale sexually. But although three quarters of people are having less or no sex with their partner, over half of people still long for sexual fulfilment. That disappointment is fueling the search for intimacy outside the marriage.”

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Lucy Beresford

Psychotherapist, TEDx speaker, and author of Happy Relationships

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How are married people dealing with increased domestic pressures?

The pandemic and subsequent time spent inside the household due to lockdown measures have provoked a range of emotions among married people including increased anxiety, fear, loneliness, boredom and frustration. Rather than seeking comfort from their primary partner during this stressful period, our members report mainly looking outside their relationship as a way to cope. Despite the vastly negative side effects lockdown has had on married people, our members report a change in their values and a lesson in self-care as a direct result of the enforced restrictions - something they vow to remember and adapt to life once the pandemic has passed.

Lockdown Personality Types

  • 75% “Seekers”: Preferred to keep busy during the pandemic to make up for the time lost being stuck at home / working from home / not socializing.  Bringing things into the home makes them happy (i.e. online shopping).

  • 25% "Nesters": Preferred to hunker down and stay as cozy and calm during the pandemic with little to no outside stimuli.  Finding things to do at home makes them happy (i.e. baking).

The benefits of having an affair during lockdown

  • 34% I have something to look forward to

  • 23% It’s a great distraction

  • 14% I have someone to talk to

  • 13% It helps me maintain a sense of normalcy

“With the vast majority of people looking outside themselves for stimulation, ‘seekers’ are more likely to want stimulation on a regular basis and they will feel more stuck in their shut down at home. They look outward for things or people to keep them excited with life and get bored easily. Nesters are okay with being home and maintaining their house, making bread, and are more introverted, and happy to stay alone or with the family for long periods of time.  Seekers are more at risk for affairs, but nesters might be better at hiding them.”

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Dr. Tammy Nelson

PhD and author of When You’re the One Who Cheats

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How have the restrictions put in place impacted the ability to carry out extramarital affairs?

While the lockdown period and physical distancing measures have forced married people to get more creative with how they interact with others, it has not stopped them from initiating and continuing their extramarital affairs. They have, however, modified how they vet potential outside partners, the excuses they use to meet with them in person, and the precautions they take when carrying out the date itself.

From now until there is a vaccine

  • 65% Are likely to be more selective with who they go on in-person dates with

  • 55% Are likely to stop having multiple physical partners at the same time

  • 43% Are likely to wait longer until they have sex with someone

  • 56% Are likely to be creative with socially distant dates

Staying Safe on Dates

  • 41% Regular use of hand sanitizer

  • 36% Avoiding crowds

  • 11% Outdoor dates only

  • 9% Ensured partner tested negative for COVID-19

  • 3% No sexual contact

“For many people, meeting in person, being loved and desired by their lover compensates for the implied risk. Therefore, the fear of getting caught minimizes over time. Due to these circumstances some people might focus on one meaningful affair instead of several like they used to have in pre-COVID times.”

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Lara Ferreiro

Couples and sex therapist and university professor in Madrid

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Is social distancing and increased isolation a threat to monogamous relationships?

There have been several reports of surges in divorce filings resulting from the period of enforced lockdown, but our study tells a different story. Married daters actually report little to no intention of dissolving their marriage despite the heightened tension, lack of sex, and the overall stress placed on couples in response to the pandemic. In turning to infidelity as a coping mechanism and classifying their affairs as a reliable form of self-care, married people have been able to gain the excitement, appreciation, and desirability lacking in their marriage so they can remain a focused partner to their spouse while navigating the uncertainty of the future. Extramarital affairs have proven to be an unexpected port in the storm.

  • 92% Disagree that they will get a divorce following social distancing or aren't even thinking about this

  • 87% Say their marriage hasn’t changed since social distancing began

“The pandemic, and the lockdown it led to, amplified conflicting feelings of fear and boredom. However, many people found they couldn’t rely on their spouse to provide adequate emotional support in these uncertain times. As a result, infidelity has proved to be the complete antidote to this, providing excitement and validation without the insecurities and unknowns that can be triggered by a divorce.”

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Lucy Beresford

Psychotherapist, TEDx speaker, and author of Happy Relationships

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What does the future of marriage and domesticity look like?

The pandemic has shone a light on the importance of home life since people have suddenly been forced to isolate more than ever before. This might bring a much-needed dose of reality in order to understand the true value of marriage - all that it is and all that it isn’t. There might begin to be a greater understanding of the unfair pressures placed on romantic partners in modern monogamous relationships. Along with it, a shift toward no longer expecting one person to fulfill another’s every need. Instead, people will see their partner for who they are and who they aren’t and begin to find outside relationships to fill in those gaps, perhaps in a more open and transparent way.

  • 20% Miss dating and casual sex the most during lockdown

  • 21% Can’t wait to resume going on in-person dates once everything is back to normal

  • 36% Are more excited to see their affair partner(s) than anyone else once everything is back to normal

  • 57% Are somewhat or very likely to pursue both physical and emotional affairs once everything is back to normal

“When the pandemic is lifted we may see that some marriages didn’t make it. Some couples who had fault lines that ran deep in the foundation of their relationship found that their couplehood wasn’t strong enough to get through a pandemic. Other couples will find that they are closer than ever. They might realize that they are more intimate, more connected and more honest with each other about their needs and desires. One result could be a more flexible and fluid conversation about monogamy. Creating monogamy agreements that are not as traditional or conservative as they have been in the past could work for many couples who consider themselves primary to one another but crave something more. A more open monogamy might include other sexual partners, or even more help with parenting or household responsibilities.”

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Dr. Tammy Nelson

PhD and author of When You’re the One Who Cheats

Sources

This data was extrapolated from six member surveys:

  • Survey 1: “Affairs in Isolation” comprised of 1,470 Ashley Madison member respondents from March 17-20, 2020

  • Survey 2: “Pet Peeves” comprised of 2,047 Ashley Madison member respondents from April 7-9, 2020

  • Survey 3: “Habits” comprised of 2,085 Ashley Madison member respondents from April 22-24, 2020

  • Survey 4: “Post-Isolation” comprised of 1,861 Ashley Madison member respondents From May 28-June 5, 2020

  • Survey 5: “Specifics of Cheating During Lockdown” comprised of 2,258 Ashley Madison member respondents from July 24-28, 2020

  • Survey 6: “Self-Care” comprised of 2,249 Ashley Madison member respondents from August 10-12, 2020

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