Coronababies or Covidivorces: the effects of COVID on couples

The COVID-19 pandemic has, among other things, had the paradoxical effect of removing many people from their occasional social interactions while placing them in prolonged forced confinement with their intimate partners. While the effects of this sudden change are bound to be huge, they are unlikely to be straightforward.

Source: mohamed hassan for pixabay

An early and justified concern in this unprecedented situation was the safety of people (mainly women and children) in abusive relationships. Research has shown that domestic violence tends to increase during times of social unrest, public health emergencies, and large-scale disasters. The specific nature of the pandemic – forcing families to stay indoors and isolating them from community relationships and outside resources – presents unique risks for those who were already at risk prior to the domestic violence pandemic.

Beyond this obvious worry, the picture was to become darker. Indeed, it didn’t take long for the media to predict the surge in divorce filings, the increase in online searches for breakup advice, the boom in divorce deal sales and the surge in divorce. divorce rate.

These doomsday scenarios, alas, were quickly contradicted by preliminary data suggesting that divorces declined in 2020 and that most people felt a greater appreciation for their spouse and a deeper commitment to their relationships. The New York Times, covering all bases, reported talking about waves coming from both ‘coronbabies’ and ‘covidivores’.

So what is it ? Do intimate partners rekindle their flames or read to catch fire? Will the pandemic strengthen or unravel the bonds of intimacy? Who is right, those who predict that couples will succumb or those who anticipate that they will win?

In the old joke, a quarreling couple seeks marriage advice from the rabbi. The wife comes in first and produces a litany of complaints about her naughty husband, which is certainly the cause of their troubles.

“You are right,” said the rabbi.

After she leaves, the husband enters, recounting his own myriad of complaints about his bad wife, who is definitely to blame for their problems.

“You are right,” said the rabbi.

After they both left, the concierge, who was listening from the hallway, came in to confront the rabbi: “Forgive my chutzpah,” he said, “but the woman said one thing and you told her that ‘ she was right. The husband said the opposite and you told him he was right. That does not make sense !

“You are also right,” said the rabbi.

A study on the impact of the pandemic on couples

Relationships are complicated systems and they respond to challenges in complicated ways. Useful insight into one aspect of this complexity can be found in a recent (2020) study by Hannah Williamson of the University of Texas at Austin, which examined the potential impact of the pandemic on couples’ relationships. Williamson collected data from 654 participants three times between December 2019 and April 2020.

The participants (60% female; 92% heterosexual; 82% white) were all adult couples (couples, engaged or married) from various socio-economic circumstances and residing in the United States. Forty-one percent of the participants had children living with them.

Williamson collected data on three outcome variables:

  1. Relationship satisfaction: “overall feeling of participants towards the relationship”.
  2. Causal attributes of the relationship: The causes that participants attributed to negative partner behavior (example quiz item: “The reason my partner criticized me is not likely to change”).
  3. Responsibility-Attribution: “The extent to which participants view the behaviors of their partners as intentional, selfishly motivated and blameworthy (i.e.

Williamson also examined several potential “moderating variables”, factors that may affect the link between sequestration of the pandemic and couples’ outcomes. These included demographic measures such as household income, education, relationship length and status, and children at home, and psychological variables, including negative experiences with the pandemic (i.e. : “How well do you think you and your partner have worked together as a team?”) And relationship conflict (for example: “This section asks questions about how you and your partner have been doing since the start of the pandemic. coronavirus’).

The results showed moderate levels of negative experiences among participants linked to the pandemic. The three most widely shared concerns were concerns about the health of family members, feelings of isolation from others, and difficulty obtaining favorite foods. However, the average relationship satisfaction did not change significantly.

Demographic variables (income, education, relationship status, cohabitation status, length of relationship, and presence of children in the home) did not affect relationship satisfaction, causal attributions or responsibilities attributions; neither do the pandemic-related negative experiences and stress levels. However, levels of relational adaptation and relational conflict moderated changes in all three outcome variables (relationship satisfaction, causal attributions, and responsibility attributions).

Specifically, “among people with higher levels of adaptation, relationship satisfaction increased and attributions of causation and responsibility decreased, while among people with lower levels of adaptation, satisfaction with the relationship declined, causal assignments increased, and responsibility assignments remained stable.

Conversely, “among individuals with lower levels of conflict, relationship satisfaction increased and attributions of causation and responsibility decreased, while among individuals with higher levels of conflict, relationship satisfaction has declined, causal allocations have increased, and liability allocations have remained stable.

In other words, couples forced into escrow at the start of the pandemic have not experienced an overall deterioration in their relationship satisfaction. In fact, the author notes, many participants became more forgiving and blamed their partner’s negative behaviors less, attributing them to the pandemic rather than their partner’s faults. However, the picture is not uniform. The results correspond to a variation of the phenomenon “the rich get richer” with regard to responses to the pandemic. Stronger couples benefited, while weaker couples suffered more.

The author notes that more data is needed to clarify whether these observed trends hold over the long term and whether differences between couples in their response to the pandemic may later translate into systematic differences in important life outcomes. such as marriage, divorce and procreation decisions.

But in the short term, it appears that the effects of the pandemic on couples’ relationships can go both ways, accentuating strengths and exacerbating weaknesses. Stronger couples tended to overcome, while struggling couples perhaps became more likely to succumb.

In a way, then, everyone’s predictions were, well, law.

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