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Is COVID-19 Ruining Your Marriage?

Financial concerns, too much togetherness are straining unions

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Tero Vesalainen / Alamy Stock Photo

The pandemic has put marriages under significant pressure as couples struggle to navigate financial hardships, lack of privacy, stress over medical concerns, and family and professional worries.

While COVID-19 has created new conflicts for married couples, it has also exacerbated existing problems. A website that provides legal documents reported a 34 percent increase in sales of divorce agreements during the pandemic, compared to the same time period last year. A relationship site surveyed its audience and found 31 percent of those couples said the pandemic was damaging their relationships.

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Chris Taylor, 51, of Orlando, Florida, sees his own relationship mirrored in those statistics. When the pandemic hit, Taylor and his wife of four years were in marriage counseling, which they were unable to continue in person after quarantine. Taylor opted out of teletherapy but now says he regrets the decision. The couple eventually separated, and Taylor's wife filed for divorce.

COVID-19 exacerbated the couple's communication problems, Taylor says. Too much togetherness, a lack of personal space and the inability to do normal activities, like going to the gym, were damaging, he says.

"It just magnified the problems that we had because we couldn't spend any time away from each other,” Taylor says.

Pandemic divorces may be on the rise

There are some indications that the coronavirus and its related stressors are prying some couples apart. Legal Templates, a website that provides legal documents for free and for sale, noted a 57 percent increase in interest in the company’s separation documents from February to April. Company data showed that couples married in the last five years, those with children under 18, and couples in Southern states appeared to be seeking divorce documents more often than others.

A separate survey of 300 couples, by demographic tool Lucid, found that 41 percent think COVID-19 is likely to increase arguments, and 35 percent think it's likely to increase divorce rates.

Older adults are not immune to these marital issues. A 2020 survey by The Senior List, a website dedicated to studying aging, found that 17 percent of 191 older coupled individuals said COVID-19 had a “somewhat negative” or “very negative” effect on their relationships. In the survey, respondents listed restrictions on activity and travel, family stress, COVID-19 precautions and politics among the top issues causing marital strife.

Prevent marriages from ending

Though the pandemic is clearly stressing couples, there are ways to stave off problems, says Katherine Friedman, a Portland, Oregon-based licensed professional counselor. Friedman is seeing more requests for couples therapy this year and is working with clients to resolve pandemic-related issues.

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During typical pre-pandemic sessions, “usually one person is feeling better, one's better rested, and one is having difficulty with their job. The other is not,” Friedman says. “Right now, both people in the couple are under tremendous amounts of stress."

As in Taylor's relationship, Friedman is finding that “long-term communication challenges are becoming more acute.”

She recommends that couples try to be more mindful, addressing feelings as they arise instead of bottling them up until there's a “huge blowout.”

Friedman also encourages couples to have gentle conversations about how they're feeling toward spouses. Couples should lower their expectations of each other, since partners may be unable to provide support each other in the same ways they did pre-pandemic.

Even with therapy and hard work, some relationships will not survive this unusually stressful time. But there are ways to make ending marriages less contentious, says Miami-based divorce lawyer Christina McKinnon, who says she has seen an increase in splits between couples over 50 with marriages spanning more than a decade.

Long-term marriages can make divorces messy, with lots of acquired assets to split. “Know what your assets are,” McKinnon says. “Look to the end, release the anger, move forward."

What to Do When Your Relationship Hits the Rocks

Are you in a struggling relationship? Katherine Friedman, a licensed professional counselor, shares tips on improving marriages:

  • Be mindful of emotions instead of bottling them up.
  • Have gentle conversations at appropriate times with your partner.
  • Reduce expectations and remember that everyone is stressed and worried right now.
  • Seek therapy or counseling, including digital therapy or telehealth.

Is your relationship or marriage ending? Attorney Catherine McKinnon shares tips for successfully navigating divorce:

  • Know your assets, even if that involves hiring a forensic accountant. Long marriages often mean hidden or forgotten assets accumulated over time.
  • Take responsibility. “It's not the other person 100 percent,” McKinnon says. “Take responsibility for staying too long, or marrying the wrong person, then move on."
  • Seek therapy or a divorce coach, who can help you navigate the experience of splitting up.

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