Yes, the coronavirus lockdown has been terrible. But a study has found that, on the whole, it is actually strengthening romantic and marital relationships.
I don’t want to minimize the lockdown’s negative effects. The economic impact has been devastating, especially for people who can’t work at home. People’s mental health is taking a toll, with 56% of Americans reporting problems with stress, insomnia, shortened temper, self-destructive behavior such as alcohol abuse, and worse due to the epidemic and its restrictions. Suicides are up. Our liberties, including our religious freedom, have been drastically curtailed. And, of course, over 100,000 Americans have died.
And yet, some good can come from evil. The Monmouth University Polling Institute has found, in the words of their report’s title, that Relationships Weather the Pandemic.
The researchers surveyed Americans who are married or in a romantic relationship and asked them about their relationship during the coronavirus epidemic and shutdown. They found that 59% are “extremely satisfied” with their relationship and 33% are “very satisfied,” for a total of 92%. Another 4% are “somewhat satisfied,” with just 1% being dissatisfied. (The remaining 2+% “didn’t know.”)
Married couples are more likely to be “extremely satisfied” with their relationship (64%) than unmarried partners (47%). The satisfaction levels show little variation when broken down by gender, age, or race.
Many people expected that stay-at-home orders would make couples sick of each other. But, on the whole, this has not happened. The “extremely satisfied” numbers are about the same as before the epidemic, according to similar studies going back to 2014. And there is evidence that the epidemic has actually improved some relationships. Before the epidemic, the “somewhat” and “not at all” satisfied were at 11% in 2017 and 12% in 2014. During the epidemic, that number dropped to 5%, while both the “extremely” and “very” satisfied” climbed by 2%.
When asked specifically how their relationship has changed during the COVID-19 epidemic, 74% of the respondents said that it is the same, 10% said that it was “a lot better,” and 7% said that it was “a little better.” Only 1% said that it was “a lot worse,” and 4% said that it was “a little worse.” (4% “did not know.”) The data was similar for the number of arguments and “sex life.”
The respondents were also asked, “After the outbreak is over, do you think your relationship will have gotten stronger or gotten weaker, or will it not have changed?” In their expectations for the future, 28% believe their relationship would be “a lot stronger” and 23% believe it would be “a little stronger,” making a majority of 51% who believe the ordeals they have been going through will improve their relationship. The number who expected their relationship would remain the same was 46%. Only 1% thought it would be “a little weaker.” No one said that it would be “a lot weaker.” (2% didn’t know.)
Not that the COVID-19 epidemic has been easy on couples. Their relationship increased the level of stress for 26%, probably out of a sense of responsibility for each other. And there are horror stories. Spousal abuse cases have risen, though child abuse cases are down, perhaps because they are not getting reported. But, on the whole, family relationships seem to have strengthened.
“The extra demands on the relationship from managing work-life balance, home-schooling kids, and generally dealing with a global pandemic are balanced out by more quality time with the ones we love,” said Monmouth University psychology professor Gary Landowski, commenting on the findings. “Overall, these results suggest that the global pandemic may not be as bad for relationships as many have feared. Instead, it seems similar to what research showed following 9/11. Our relationships may become stronger and even more important than they already were.”
When people are shut up together there is indeed more quality time, but there is also something perhaps even more important: quantity time. A major problem in today’s marriages is that both the husband and the wife are often so busy–with work, outside commitments, even church–that they do not spend enough time with each other. Now they do have that time.
The study didn’t look at the relationship between parents and children, but we are hearing about families now having meals together in a way they did not before. The children–freed from the time demands of school, friends, and endless activities–are staying home and interacting more with their parents. I read a testimonial from a father who is now getting to spend time with his teenaged children, playing board games as a family, instead of each person frantically going his or her own way, and how satisfying that has been.
In addition to the time factor, I suspect that the very hardships, fears, and frustrations are also pulling couples together. The tribulations give them a common purpose. They have to work together for the good of their family. So they support each other and are drawn closer.
Rev. Harold Senkbeil has written about how the virus refines us, a Biblical image (e.g., Isaiah 48:10, 1 Peter 1:6-7) that captures how precious metals emerge when the ore is subjected to intense heat. If a piece of rock could feel, it would find the metalworker’s furnace excruciating, but the experience would be purifying, as what is really dross is burned away, leaving behind the gold.