The Good and The Bad of Marriage During COVID: More Stress and More Commitment

The past year has felt like a test for many couples. Spending hours upon hours together uninterrupted is not what most people visualize when they say “I do.”

What does that kind of intense isolation and pressure do to relationships?

We’ve been curious about marriage during COVID, too, so we consulted research from the Institute for Family Studies (IFS) to see how the pandemic has affected married people in America. While some of the expected negatives did surface, we actually found quite a bit of room for optimism. Let’s break it down.

Stress: Up

No surprise here. If you felt more tension in your marriage throughout 2020, know that you’re not alone. Marriage during COVID has been… intense for many couples. Why exactly? Well, one big reason is finances.

The married couple participants were split according to their pandemic income change: declined, steady, or improved. At least 20% of couples from all categories reported increased stress. The highest stress increase (45%) occurred in the financial decline group. Which, again, is not surprising.

Sex: About the Same

You would think we’d see a flood of pandemic pregnancy announcements after all these hours cooped up. However, the IFS survey only found a small increase in sex for some married couples. 

This steady rate of intimacy looks like a dream compared to that of unmarried folks in 2020, though. 22% said they were having sex less often. If you suspect it was a hard year to be single, you would be right.

Marriage: Down

Not surprisingly during a pandemic, many marriages were delayed. Part of this relates to the danger and impracticality of hosting a pandemic wedding. Offices that issue marriage certificates have also seen work slowed or disrupted by the virus.

Divorce: Also Down

Weren’t we supposed to see a bunch of pandemic divorces? Contrary to popular expectations, divorce rates actually fell in 2020.

But while that statistic can be interpreted in a rosy way, remember that we’re in a recession, and divorce is expensive. Similar studies found that divorce dropped during other economic recessions as well.

Couples experiencing any financial instability were more likely to report their marriage as “in trouble.” Perhaps with so many changes happening in the outside world, adding one more can push relationship strain over the top.

Commitment: A Reason For Hope

The brightest spot of optimism we found in the research: marriages out of the trouble zone actually showed strengthened commitment in 2020. This especially shone in the category of couples who struggled with income and job loss. Many expressed deeper appreciation for their partner as someone to lean on in hard times. 

It’s Normal to Need a Little Support Right Now

Tim Higdon and Norene Gonsiewski understand that getting a little support can be even more valuable in times like these. If you can relate to any of the marriage struggles mentioned above, don’t hesitate to reach out