Can Quarantine Make Or Break A Marriage?

by Kristen Mae
Originally Published: 
Malte Mueller/Getty

If absence makes the heart grow fonder, what does being locked together with your partner under one roof during a prolonged shelter-in-place do?

Recent news out of China has revealed an interesting (but maybe not all that surprising) development to arise after lifting their two-month-long mandatory shelter-in-place — a massive surge in divorce applications. One woman Bloomberg interviewed said that, after being trapped for weeks on end with her husband, whom she called a “troublemaker,” she didn’t want to “endure anymore.”

Bloomberg noted that a partial cause of the sudden spike could have been simply that for two months, no one was able to file for divorce, so when restrictions were lifted, all the filings came in at once. But even accounting for that, the number of applications is still unprecedented. Staff at one government office reported being so overwhelmed with work, they “didn’t even have time to drink water.”

One can’t help but wonder if we’ll see a similar trend here in the United States. I conducted an informal poll on my Facebook page to get a feel for what couples in quarantine are going through. As you might expect, the folks for whom quarantine has only brought them closer were happy to comment directly in the public thread. The ones for whom quarantine has magnified existing problems were more likely to send me a private message.

To be clear, most of the respondents — about 90% — reported that quarantine has confirmed they made the right choice in marrying their partner. Many even said quarantine has brought them even closer.

Leah, from Texas, said, “In the past three weeks it’s been more togetherness than three years. I even get him coffee and sit on his desk. I’m in love again.”

Leah wasn’t the only one not hating the extra togetherness with their spouse. A woman named Jesse said staying home with her husband has given her “a whole new appreciation for him and what he does daily.”

Another commenter had the reverse happen: “He sees how much our daughter doesn’t do. He sees how much I do do. He’s finally sticking up for me more, backing me up, and that makes me like him a whole lot more!”

And, for some, chilling at home has just kind of always been their jam. Bonnie said, “We’ve been married almost 30 years and enjoy being homebodies together.”

Sadly, there are also the more difficult situations where being shoved together in close quarters only serves to highlight how much two people are not meant for each other.

One woman who wished to remain anonymous told me via private message, “We had been having some marital problems for about a year and a half that ‘we’ (I) were trying to work through. I was going to counseling on my own and things seemed to be improving. I realize now that it just felt like things were better because I had lowered my expectations drastically. The self-centeredness, lack of appreciation, and lack of support (both mental and with the house/ kids, etc) has been magnified tenfold.”

A woman named Heather said of her husband, “He’s always been a pain in the ass, but we’ve always sent him off to work and had a break. Now it’s non-stop 24/7 and divorce is looking great!!”

Another commenter said quarantine “has very much driven us apart even more than we were before. We both have our good and bad days, but him more so than anything. He is one of those conspiracy theorists and doesn’t focus on any of the good at all. It’s constant negativity with him.”

For some unhappy couples, the shelter-in-place interfered with their plans to split up — only to confirm they were making the right choice. One woman messaged privately, “I’m living with my ex since we broke up in February and didn’t get the housing situation figured out before all this happened. I have learned that breaking up was the right decision.”

Alanna said, “I was literally getting ready to move out and boom! Quarantine. Needless to say, it’s been a little stressful.” Being forced to live with a person you’ve already broken up with? During a national pandemic? Ugh, these poor people.

And, of course, plenty of people use humor to get through the ordinary annoyances that come with being married no matter how much you love your partner, like Mandy, who said, “I’d be fine if he didn’t breath so loudly.”

Another woman said of her husband, who keeps interrupting her work to show her Food Network videos, “I am two seconds away from throwing a kong full of peanut butter at his head to keep him busy.”

The thing is, we are in the middle of a global pandemic. Even without the additional stressor of being cooped up together, just the fact of being in a pandemic, by its very nature, is stressful. Added stress can affect even the best partnerships, but it’s especially harmful to couples who are already dealing with unresolved conflict in their relationship.

Psychology Today notes, “When people are stressed, they become more withdrawn and distracted, and less affectionate.” It can also bring out people’s less desirable traits, like short tempers or a refusal to admit wrongdoing or apologize.

Stress also puts us on high alert — it makes you notice little, tiny things you normally wouldn’t. This makes sense when you’re in the jungle trying to determine if that twig you just heard snap is a tiger about to pounce on you. It’s not so helpful when you’re trapped in the house all day every day with a loud-chewing mouth breather who leaves their dirty underwear on the floor next to the hamper.

Still, the bottom line seems to be, quarantine will not make or break your marriage. If anything, it will offer blinding clarity: Whatever your relationship was like before the pandemic hit, being quarantined with your partner will put it under a microscope and force you to look at it.

If your marriage was happy before, it will likely continue to be happy — maybe even happier as you confirm your love for each other and get to spend more time together. But if your relationship was already heading toward an inevitable end, quarantine could bring that into stark relief too. Which sounds terrible at first glance, but there’s something to be said for knowing exactly where you stand.

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