Will the coronavirus outbreak, with more people working at home, lead to an increase in divorces? Forty-five percent of young Americans think the answer is yes. That's the result of a survey of 1,543 Americans, age 16 to 35 by the opinion-seeking app TruePublic, conducted just last week. And in a similar survey of 2,756 people in the same age group, 32 percent said being forced to stay home with a spouse or partner had already worsened their own relationships.
It's really not surprising that being stuck home with your partner, with or without children in the mix, is making things tougher for couples across the United States. In most couples, at least one partner works outside the home. Even if both work at home (or the couple is retired), one partner or the other usually takes part in outside activities, or sometimes just leaves the home for a bit to provide the little bit of time apart most relationships need to thrive.
These days, there are few if any options for getting some space from your spouse or partner. Add in the high level of anxiety most of us are feeling over the pandemic, the possibility of income loss, and perhaps the strain of having one or both partners working at home for the first time. It's enough to test even the healthiest relationships.
Here are some simple steps you can take that are guaranteed to make things better.
1. Give yourself and your partner some space.
Depending on your living arrangement, this may or may not be easy. But a little time apart is necessary and healthy for every relationship, so do whatever you can to make that happen. Take a walk or do some gardening. Find a space in your home where you can be alone, if possible, and ask your partner not to disturb you while you're there. Even putting on headphones and sinking into a movie or music or a book can give you the feeling of having some space to yourself.
2. Connect with other people.
You don't expect your partner to be the only person in your life normally speaking, and he or she shouldn't be that now. So make the effort to connect with other people in your life. Call a friend, set up a video chat, or have a virtual happy hour or party. The less you and your partner depend on each other to meet every emotional need, the better off you'll both be.
3. Be emotionally generous.
Both you and your partner are experiencing loss, and it's probably not exactly the same for both of you. In my case, I've been remote-working for decades so the stay-at-home order here in Washington State didn't change a thing about how I do my job. My husband is a musician who was accustomed to playing live music in a bar or restaurant two or three nights a week so the change to his routine has been dramatic. I frequently catch myself thinking, "What the heck is wrong with him?" and then a second later, "Duh!"
New York Times opinion columnist Jennifer Senior wisely notes that there is no one right response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Your spouse may want to think and talk about it all the time, while you may want to put it our of your mind for as much of the day as possible. You may need to vent your frustrations and let off steam, while your partner's response might be to stay very calm. Make space in your mind and your heart for whatever both you and your partner need to feel and do to get through this very strange time.
4. ...Or consider your options.
In some cases, the enforced togetherness created by social distancing orders might bring one or both partners to acknowledge existing cracks in the relationship that have been there for a long time. If that's your situation, you may choose to try and repair your partnership or figure out how to move on from it. However, if your partner is in any way physically or emotionally abusive to your or your children, social distancing orders put you and them at increased risk. If this applies to you, or even if you're not sure if it does, please consider reaching out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline by calling 1-800-799-SAFE, by texting LOVEIS to 22522, or by live chat.
Although we've never seen anything like this pandemic in our lifetimes, there have been periods when huge segments of the population came under strain due to unexpected circumstances. One of these was Hurricane Hugo in 1989, and researchers found that after it was over, divorce rates did indeed rise above normal. But then, so did marriages and birth rates.
Years from now, we'll look back on this social distancing period of 2020 as a time that either strengthened our relationships or ended them. Which will you choose?