Families Un-locked: Relationships Emerging from COVID-19 into the “New Normal”

Nov 20, 2020 | Blog

By Relationships Australia National Office 23 November 2020

In March 2020 Australia went into lockdown and our daily lives changed beyond recognition. Suddenly families, couples and individuals found themselves navigating new challenges within the confinement of their homes.

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted  the lives of many across the globe this year, with periods of lockdown at home, separation from family and friends and, for some, loneliness, unemployment, anxiety and bereavement.

Research carried out by Relationships Australia in May, for example, found that over 55% of people had been challenged by their living arrangements during the pandemic, and many had spent more time and effort maintaining their relationships. However, while some relationships had grown stronger, others had deterioratewhen d. Loneliness was a significant issue for some 45% of people in the survey and this was often linked to relationship breakdown.

Additional research, conducted in July, explored Australians’ views and concerns about the relaxation of restrictions and the return to “normal”. Since then, we have witnessed subsequent waves of lockdowns and restrictions in response to recurring patterns of COVID-19 within the community.

Our research, along with the insights of our practitioners who have been delivering online counselling and other crucial services during the pandemic, have provided a unique snapshot into the highs and lows of relationships and family life in lockdown, and we must now work to understand the medium and  long-term impact of the pandemic, here in Australia and overseas.

This is why Relationships Australia is proud to partner in an international long-term research study Families Un-locked: Relationships Emerging from COVID-19 into the “New Normal” led by Dr Gabriela Misca, an expert in child and family psychology at the University of Worcester in the United Kingdom, in partnership with Relate.  In collaboration with Griffith University researchers, the study is being now replicated in Australia and aims to understand these impacts across the two countries.

We’re delighted to be part of the team bringing this study to Australia, giving us a unique insight to different experiences across the world.

We’re calling on members of the public to take part in the study and share their experiences on how the pandemic has affected and continues to affect families and relationships across the Australia.

This is what Dr Misca has to say about the project:

“The Families Un-locked research study is looking in depth at the medium- to long-term impacts of the pandemic on relationships and family life. The study collects data through on-line surveys, repeated quarterly over the next year. The first survey, launched in the UK in August 2020, has now closed, and we are delighted to launch the study now in Australia in collaboration with colleagues from Griffith University. Due to the different approaches to dealing with the pandemic, the replication of the study in Australia provides a unique opportunity to compare the impact of the pandemic on relationships in different contexts. We are hoping to receive responses from large numbers of diverse groups of participants from each country, and to achieve this, the study is crucially supported by our key practice partners: Relationships Australia and Relate, who are both leading providers of relationship support in Australia and the UK, respectively.”

Over the next year, the research study will discover how people’s relationships are faring as initial lockdown restrictions continue to lift and we learn to live with the ongoing threat of the pandemic and the hope provided by the new treatments and effective vaccines becoming available.

The research will delve into the pandemic’s effects of home schooling, living in confined spaces, living apart from loved ones, changes to working patterns and increased unemployment, dealing with poor health and bereavement, managing anxiety, uncertainty, financial insecurity, tension and conflict.

We want to recruit a large number of participants from diverse backgrounds to take part in the study, including people who have worked and continue to work on the ‘frontline’ and their families, to understand how people from all walks of life have been impacted and how they are moving forward.

Professor Janet Walker OBE, Relate President and Research advisor to the study, has a bit more detail about what the research aims to achieve:

“The ultimate goal of the research is to develop new ways to support people as they navigate the ‘new normal’ and to be better prepared to deal with any subsequent waves of the pandemic or similar public health crises. It is clear that more traditional ways of supporting individuals, couples and families have had to change and we need to find more innovative ways to ensure that people can safely and easily access the help they need when they need it.”

Dr Patricia Fronek and Associate Professor Lynne Briggs, the Research Co-investigators from the School of Human Services and Social Work, Griffith University added:

“Research evidence globally indicates that people from different cultural backgrounds are being differently affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Australia has a culturally diverse population and gaining an understanding about these challenges in Australia will provide useful insights to compare with those from the UK.”

Mr Aidan Jones, OBE, Relate CEO also commented:

“Relate is excited by this opportunity to strengthen links with our ‘sister’ organization Relationships Australia and support together the Families Un-locked research study. By sharing experiences across international borders, the ultimate goal of this research is to help practice organisations like Relationships Australia and Relate to develop new and effective ways to support people and relationships in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and transitioning into the ‘new normal’.”

Relationships Australia continues to provide ongoing support across Australia.

If any participants are affected by any of the issues mentioned in the survey and feel they need support, Relationships Australia have a comprehensive hub of COVID-19 related information which may be useful:


Participants can also access a comprehensive list of Crisis Help and Support agencies which offer free of charge services here:


Or participants can contact Relationships Australia directly for support on 1300 364 277

Relationships Australia has a long history of responding to societal change and this research will be vital for informing our services in these exceptional times.

Taking part will initially involve completing a 20 minute online survey

Find out more about the Families Un-locked study and how you can take part