3 Ways COVID-19 Will Change Marriage for Better...and Worse

Some may think these changes positive; others will hate what's going to happen.

Posted Sep 27, 2020

We are very likely going to see a global recession (or perhaps even depression) in the coming months thanks to COVID-19. As a result, I believe marriage in many cultures is going to change dramatically. The greatest fallout from this deadly virus is the loss of life, but there will be many other losses: casualties of lost jobs, eradications of positions, as well as shuttered businesses; people will lose homes, investments and a sense of security. Marriage will not come out unscathed.

How can I say this with such certainty? We don't have to look too far back in our history to see that, because we are changing as a society—we have more choice and opportunity than ever before with where we live, what job we take, and how we form partnerships and family—but that marital trends tend to change dramatically in economic downturns.

Here are my three predictions of the changes we will see.

1. How and When People Get Into Marriage Will Change

Money will be tight for more and more people all around the world. The out-of-control mega-weddings will get toned down. This is probably a good outcome due to the fact that the wedding industry has gotten ridiculously expensive with the annual spending globally of $72 billion.

Research shows that the more couples spent on their nuptial celebrations, the more likely they were to divorce, so toning down the spending may keep everyone more grounded and realistic—and married.

One downside of smaller weddings is that there may be a loss of some of the celebratory aspects. Fewer loved-ones to be supportive witnesses of two people making their union legal. 

 Urban Institute Screenshot/Susan Pease Gadoua
Source: Urban Institute Screenshot/Susan Pease Gadoua

Young people are already delaying marriage in unprecedented numbers due to the fact that they want to build their wealth and establish themselves in their careers. I believe, based on The Urban Institute data, that this trend will continue into the future.

2. How Long and Why We Stay in Marriage Will Change

Jonatas Domingos/Unsplash
Source: Jonatas Domingos/Unsplash

As I just mentioned, we're already seeing young people delay marriage until after they have their finances and career on solid ground. Andrew Cherlin says that marriage has gone from being a cornerstone in our lives to a capstone; the cherry on top, if you will.

We no longer view marriage as a rite of passage into adulthood. 

Young people, having witnessed their parents opt out of marriage don't feel the same pressure to make a lifelong commitment that previous generations did. Marriage has changed already in the past two decades. As Eli Finkel states, “Americans today have elevated their expectations of marriage and can in fact achieve an unprecedentedly high level of marital quality.”

Young people see this and they are wise to how very flawed our current marriage setup is. They want to make sure their lives are in order before committing to marry and start a family with this person. They know that waiting will allow them to mature and grow and have a better sense of what they want and need in relationships.

3. How and Why We Get Out of Marriage Will Change

Although the divorce rate has dropped in the U.S. recently, it is still around 40 percent. That's still fairly high (it is closer to 50% in those 50 and older). If we went into any other venture with such a horrendous "success" rate, we'd go back to the drawing board and rethink how it was done. But out of duty, tradition and a sense of shame, we stay stuck on an outdated model of coupling. 

The status quo has already begun to be questioned but I think COVID-19 is really going to shake things up. The changes we see will have an impact for generations to come. China has already seen a spike in their divorce numbers. More countries will likely follow suit.

I believe more 40- and 50-somethings will leave their marriages. COVID-19 is what I call a pivotal event. These are events that cause people to re-evaluate their lives and ask themselves if they are living the way they truly want to be. Like so many of these events, this virus has brought home the fact that life is short. Folks who realize they are not living authentically may make the changes they need to to be more in alignment with their truth.

Modernizing Marriage

With fewer young people going into marriage and more older people getting out of marriage, I think it's time we take a look at changing some of the laws to better suit who we are. Let's update marriage and work to have a success rate based on the quality of the union versos on how long the relationship lasts.

Changes such as having time-limited marriages, having an a la carte paradigm (being able to pick and choose what aspects we want to include: living together, living apart, monogamous or not, 'til death do us part or short term marriages, love-based or purpose-based, etc.).

Marriage has a great deal to offer. It is an institution that is wholly worthy of saving. It just needs to become more flexible in order to remain pertinent. As Michael McGriffy says, "Blessed are the flexible for they shall not get bent out of shape."

I'd love to know your thoughts.