Are Couples Closer or Farther Apart? It’s Both
“(I need) a more supportive spouse who understands that just because I’m working from home doesn’t mean I get to be responsible for all of the housework and childcare. My job still needs to get done.
“… I wish I had a support system. Dealing with everything on my own and walking on eggshells around my husband is hard emotionally.”
”…I love that I am working less and bringing in less money, and my spouse isn’t complaining about it.”
“Spending more time with my daughter and spouse. Bonding with spouse over how to relax.”
Over 1,200 parents shared their pandemic stories since March. The majority (92%) are Mothers (95%) and either married (85%) or live with their partner (7%.) As they continue to work without childcare, breaks or diversions, most crave more “time,” “sleep” and “quiet,” preferably “alone” for their wellbeing. And with their villages at a social distance, they expect hands-on solidarity from their partners.
Every marriage has its fault lines. And with the pressure of home becoming the default office, school and play space, it can feel like a sanctuary or cage. Overall, surveyed parents report more conflict and resentment. Yet, surprisingly, some couples are thriving in lockdown. Dr. Yael Schonbrun, Clinical Psychologist, Author and Couples Therapist said, “I think of this pandemic as a bit of a pressure cooker. If there are cracks in the relationship, the extra pressure can cause a deeper groove to grow, or even a full-on fracture.”
Time Spent on Adult Relationships is Down
Time maintaining adult relationships, is another pandemic casualty. The overwhelming majority (68%) cite spending less. And healthy relationships require upkeep and conversation. But after months of nonstop work, most will choose sleep or Netflix over having a debate about the dishes or soulful check-in.
And Uneven Responsibilities Remain the Third Rail of Marriage
When Moms are partnered with Dads, housework, childcare and the mental load of planning it usually follow traditional gender roles. And navigating an uneven workload, during a high-stakes pandemic, inflames discord.
“(I need) a better partner. He doesn’t really help, even though he’s done with work for the summer. He does NO housework, if he watches kids I still have to take care of meals, clean up, clothing, hair, etc. or it won’t get done. He puts them in front of screens and complains when they don’t want to do anything with him, but ignores them when they ask him to play. If I could count on his help, my stress would be so much less and maybe I could get some time to take care of myself—exercise, etc.”
“(I need) more help from husband because I feel it’s unfair for me to do everything.
“Poor support from my partner (has been hardest.) I’m doing all the homeschooling while my partner does none.”
Many Lack Emotional Support or Counseling
“I need a counselor, to help me get into a better headspace. I’m struggling with being stuck at home and not being understood or heard by my husband.”
“I would love to have a more equal partnership with my husband. He suffers from depression, which has gotten worse recently, and we work opposite shifts, so I manage 95% of all childcare, cleaning, cooking, household duties, etc. He spends his off days sitting on the couch playing video games. His job is very difficult right now (police officer) and we don’t have an outside support system. I would just like to have a small break, and to not be afraid that he’s going to yell at the kids for being kids. It’s very stressful right now. I just need a support system
Face Differences in Covid-risk
“My spouse still works and has the potential to become sick and infect me.”
“….the anxiety that my partner is likely going to be asked to return to work before we feel doing so meets our own personal threshold of risk.”
“My husband is still working and has contact with the public. He is also working very long hours and is stressed about how long he will keep his job, his health, our family’s health, and finances should he lose his job.”
Or Financial and Career Uncertainty
“(I need) a job for my husband to relieve the stress of being the only income.”
“I wish my husband could have a stable job where we don’t have to worry about COVID and him bringing it home to us.”
“Not knowing how COVID-19 will impact trajectory of my and my husband ‘s careers – this isn’t necessarily a financial concern, more so it’s disconcerting to not know where we are headed.”
“Being home with a spouse whose job is highly impacted by this (justice policy) and not being able to take a kid anywhere (has been hardest.)”
There’s Also Cabin Fever
“Living with my partner. The pure exhaustion of stress and being inside.”
“As awful as it sounds, I need a weekend away from the kids and spouse.”
“Having my husband working from home too and having to fight for space.”
“Having no social outlet other than my husband.”
Yet Some Couples Have Formed Tighter Bonds
Cooperation during a crisis promotes mutual trust. And some have experienced greater support from their partner.
“My husband is spending more time with us as a family. He is taking on all the daytime childcare (schools are closed) since he has long worked from home and I still am physically going into the hospital.”
“Husband worked long hours previously so, I get an extra hand now w putting kids to sleep, bath etc. It is also nice to see the bond stronger between both kids and their dad by being home more.”
“I have more now of what I need than I did before the pandemic. I temporarily moved in with my parents. My husband and two kids are all currently living with my parents. My grandma is also staying with us. I have more childcare than I have had in the past five years. My kids are close to family and I have more time now to teach my 5 year old than I would have in any other situation. I am really enjoying my time during the pandemic. I am close to family and I have all I need.”
And Revel in Better Connection
“More time with my child, better arguing with my partner and a deeper sense of connection and partnership as a result.”
“More together time. Feeling more emotional connection with two autistic toddlers. Feeling better understood by my partner about what it’s like to run the household and fulfill parenting obligations.”
“Time with my partner who normally travels 3-4 days per week for work.”
How to Stay Aligned? Embrace the Change
Change is hard for humans. But Covid has forced us to revisit or revise every priority and system we rely on. And as Yael wisely shared, “Viktor Frankl, an eminent psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, wrote, ‘An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.’ We are living through an abnormal situation. To expect work or parenthood to continue as normal simply isn’t realistic.” Exactly. She added, “And as we shift expectations of our productivity and performance, we can also shift our narratives about what those changes mean. The challenges, themselves, offer some small silver linings. For example, many parents and kids are learning to be more flexible and more resilient, to be better problem solvers or to be more efficient.” Amen!
Yael provides several smart strategies to ease the strain on coupled life in lockdown. Enjoy part 2 from our interview, What Couples Do to Strengthen Relationships in Lockdown.
Share your experiences of how life has changed during social distance, it’s quick and the results from this study will be used to advocate better support for parents.
Employers, let us help you transform your workplace into an environment where caregivers thrive. Learn about Allies @ Work.
Many thanks to the talented Dr. Yael Schonbrun!
Yael is a licensed clinical psychologist, assistant professor at Brown University, podcast co-host, and writer about parenting, work, and relationships. Follow her great adventure including news about her upcoming book, Inside-Out on her website, and on Twitter. To listen to her podcast exploring how ideas and strategies from psychology can help you flourish in life, visit the Psychologists off the Clock Podcast webpage. She draws on scientific research, clinical experience, and her real life experiences with three small superheroes who provide her with constant inspiration (at the times when they aren’t providing an ulcer).