At the beginning of the pandemic, a baby boom was predicted. Nearly a year later, a baby bust has proved that prediction indisputably wrong. Then there was another prediction: the isolation and confinement and stress of the pandemic would lead to breakups and divorces. While certainly some couples have called it quits during the pandemic (so long, Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas), a new Yahoo/YouGov survey paints a far rosier picture. Most couples are doing just fine.
The survey — which sought answers from people ages 18 to over 65, of different races, income levels and political ideologies — found that 34 percent of participants said their relationship with their spouse or partner was no different during the COVID-19 pandemic than it had been before. Relatedly, 21 percent said their relationship was closer than it was before the pandemic, and a mere 7 percent said they’d grown apart. These numbers are backed up by data from the Census Bureau, which revealed the U.S. divorce rate is the lowest it’s been in 50 years.
“I think we hear about those who are struggling more because it makes the most sense to us cognitively, and it’s a bit juicier,” says Dr. Jessi Gold, a psychiatrist at Washington University in St. Louis, noting why the popular opinion seems to be that COVID-19 is bad for relationships. “We aren’t as interested in people who are stable and doing well as we are in people who are struggling. That is sad, but it is true. It’s why people like things like reality TV. We like to watch things and go, ‘Well, I am doing better than that.’”
For many who feel closer to their partners than before, the pandemic has likely underscored a system of aligned beliefs. “Couples who share like views on politics, sociocultural issues and safety protocols for COVID-19 are faring better. Those who differ fare worse,” says Erica Curtis, licensed marriage and family therapist and author of The Innovative Parent: Raising Connected, Happy Successful Kids Through Art. Because divisions within society have been highlighted over the past few months, this could "increase the feeling of a greater bond with those we already shared similar beliefs,” Curtis notes.
While the survey didn’t inquire if the participants held the same political beliefs as their partner, it also didn’t reveal huge changes in closeness depending on party affiliation. Twenty percent of Democrats reported feeling closer to their partners, as did 25 percent of Republicans and 22 percent of independents.
Curtis notes that another reason why couples might feel closer is if there is a perception of a fair distribution of responsibilities between them. “With more people working from home, they may feel closer to their partner and kids simply as a result of spending more time with them,” Curtis tells Yahoo Life. “Navigating the work/kid juggle, if done collaboratively and with respect for each partner's needs, can even bring couples closer together, since they are approaching this challenge as a team.”
Another element that can bring increased closeness is a lack of external demands like social obligations, commutes or really anything outside the home. “While some couples may be suffering from too much time together, plenty are finding the extra downtime beneficial to enjoying shared time whether by binge-watching Netflix or taking bike rides together,” Curtis says.
The poll also indicated age as a big factor in relationships remaining the same, with 17 percent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 saying their COVID-19 relationship was no different, and 43 percent of respondents ages 45 to 64 saying the same. We can hypothesize that perhaps the younger respondents are in newer relationships, and those who are older had known their partners for longer when this whole thing started.
As for reasons that relationships could be growing more distant, which is what 7 percent of respondents reported, Curtis notes financial instability as a potential culprit. “Even in ‘normal’ times, financial instability is one of the greatest sources of stress and conflict in relationships,” she says. “For some, this past year has caused immense shifts (for the better or worse) in income. For others, there has been little to no change. For couples who have had financial gains, we could expect a decrease in stress and conflict, thus resulting in feeling more stable as a couple.”
The income discrepancies in the survey seem to underscore her point, with those making over $100,000 annually showing feelings of growing closer, or closeness remaining the same, while those making under $50,000 have higher rates of growing apart.
Generally speaking, the survey results indicate that people are faring better in their relationships than perhaps was previously thought. But as Gold reminds us, nothing is perfect. “There are many different reasons that the pandemic has overall been complicated for relationships,” she says. “It has been no walk in the park for anyone.”
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