Why Many Marriages May Not Survive a Second Wave

Recent reports show COVID-19 to be unhealthy to marriage—and it's getting worse.

Posted Jul 14, 2020

Geralt Pixabay CC0
Many Marriages Won't Survive
Source: Geralt Pixabay CC0

“After the epidemic, the first thing I want is a divorce,” titled a thread on a Chinese social media site Zhihu. 

Around the world, couplehood faces one of its hardest times in human history. The expectation is that once courts are fully open in the West, divorce rates will skyrocket, as has already happened in China, Hong Kong, and other places after a first wave of COVID-19.

While divorce rates already stand at around 50% in many Western countries like the United States, these numbers are expected to rise even higher.      

Rising divorce rates are only the tip of the iceberg. All over the world, we see rising numbers of domestic abuse cases. According to a United Nations report, in France, for example, domestic violence cases increased by 30 percent since the lockdown on March 17.  In Argentina, emergency calls for domestic violence have increased by 25 percent since the lockdown on March 20.  

These numbers reveal a broader picture of severe crises worldwide. The family institution is falling apart everywhere. The current number of women who experienced domestic abuse in the last 12 months alone stands at the impalpable number of 243 million women and girls worldwide. Divorce rates are rising even in the most conservative countries and birth rates are plunging in almost all countries.

No doubt, the family as we know it is no longer "heaven on earth" if it ever was, and this situation is only getting worse under the pandemic. In Saudi Arabia, for example, reports show that the COVID-19 lockdown brought women to uncover secret marriages of their husbands, leading, yet again, to rising divorce requests.

What will happen in the second wave of COVID-19? 

It's time to look at what will happen next to those who are married as well as to those who cohabit together.

Researchers argue that the continuation of social distancing will bring many partnered people to deal with troubled relationships. During the first wave of COVID-19, many couples faced painful situations of conflicts or simply boredom, and these situations are only getting worse as the lockdown continues.

One of the reasons for this is that couples may be “trapped” in a relationship they were forced into, socially and mentally, due to social pressure and the expectations of society. Many of them managed to avoid the troubles they had in their relationships up until now. But the unique situation we are in forces many couples to face each other. Couples need to deal with the fact they are together only because they fear to be alone or stigmatized as singles.

Another reason is that married life is apparently not as positive as often portrayed by the media. Research shows that the "honeymoon effect" of marriage, during which people feel great about their marriage, lasts around two years. This is certainly not a happily-ever-after scenario.

Moreover, a more recent study shows that people in poor marriages are much less happy than unmarried people, even in the first years of marriage. According to data from the General Social Survey, around 20 percent of American couples hold on to a marriage, although they don't feel good about it. This is in addition to around 50 percent of people who forgo marriage at some point, as stated above. 

Facing the coming second wave, is there an alternative to couplehood? 

Although the numbers above paint a bleak picture of family life, many people don't see an alternative. Many think that the continuation of social distancing might hurt those who live alone more than anyone else. After all, singles don’t have anyone to talk with at such times. In contrast, married people are surrounded by family members who keep them company.

However, as much as this narrative sounds familiar, it might be completely wrong. Surprisingly, many singles had an advantage in the first wave, and this advantage is expected to continue in the second wave.

The quality of the alternative of living alone mainly depends on how singles treat their singlehood. Those who accept and embrace their singlehood are those who many times also know how to turn aloneness into solitude instead of loneliness. Others belong to the trend of flourishing modern communities or “urban tribes” that interact with each other. They live close by yet apart. It’s a safety net made of many threads and ties.

The co-housing way of living is already preferred by many in the COVID-19 crisis. For example, Marianne Dickinson, a design development consultant and affordable housing advocate who lives in a New Mexico co-housing community, is cited saying: "One of the things about living in co-housing is that... we, here, are feeling a sense that we can handle things or that there would be people there who would help us."

Simply put, singles who learned how to be happy about their situation are less threatened in times of social distancing. This is not only because they acquired the skills to be with themselves, but also because they know how to reach out to others or take this as an opportunity to develop communities of social support.

The next wave of COVID-19 might be a real test to the marriage path versus the living-alone path. Both conditions are expected to evolve and change with more stress and social distancing rules.

We must think about how to support all living conditions, and be more flexible in accepting and embracing new choices that might arise among our friends and relatives who went through a difficult time in the past months.   

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