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Love in a pandemic: COVID-19's impact on relationships

Posted at 5:27 PM, Aug 03, 2021

Through richer, poorer, and global pandemics?   

“Ultimately, love conquers all,” Claire Bokal told Newsy.  

In 2019, Claire Bokal and her high school sweetheart of nearly a decade were ready to tie the knot. They set a date, May 2020.   

“I just remember no one was flying. No one was leaving their house. That was when we decided we had to move, you know, postpone this huge wedding that we had invited 300 people to,” said Bokal.  

The couple decided to have two weddings, something small immediately and a bigger bash later. 

"I wore a fun white dress. My mom picked flowers from her garden. And it was only our immediate family. We ate outside six feet away. We had a cake that our neighbors bought for us,” recalled Bokal.  

Bokal’s story coincides with early reports suggesting a rise in new marriages during the pandemic. At the same time, early 2020 data, mostly from divorce attorneys and legal sites, reported an uptick not just in marriages but also in divorce. Fast forward to 2021, and researchers say maybe, maybe not. 

“So in the nine states that we had available, there were over 48,000 fewer marriages than we would have expected to see,” said Dr. Krista Payne, a data analyst with the National Center for Family and Marriage Research.

Payne and the team at the National Center for Family and Marriage Research have been tracking marriage and divorce trends for years and say among the states with available data, so far, monthly divorce filings were also down in 2020.  

“The five states we had for divorce were New Hampshire, Oregon, Florida, Missouri, and Arizona. And for them, we saw a reduction of nearly 16,000 divorces,” explained Payne.  

A social psychology professor with UCLA, Ben Karney, says there could be a few explanations for the initial decline -- like people postponing their weddings.

When it comes to divorce...  

“If you can't leave the house, you can't break up. You have nowhere to go,” Karney explained.  

Plus -- divorces take time and can be really expensive, so any increases caused by the weight of the pandemic may not be readily available for at least a year.

However, Karney says throughout history, and crises force couples to reevaluate their relationships, good or bad. Financial well-being can also have an impact on stress levels. And COVID-19 added the extra dynamic of being home together 24/7 or apart much more.  

“The people who were in good relationships, say, wow, I better hold on to this good relationship. And you see cohabiting couples getting married. You see married couples having kids. So during crises, good relationships get closer. And relationships that are not such a good break up. The same forces that lead people to reevaluate their relationships sometimes say, I've just decided life is short. I don't want to be in this relationship,” said Karney.  

Karney compares the pent-up demand for marriage and divorce like putting a kink in a water hose, so once things return to normal and you let go of the hose, expect an explosion of marriages and divorces, at least for a little while. 

When it comes to Bokal, she says the time was now, and she doesn't regret it.  

“The beginning of our marriage was in quarantine together where we really got to, you know, solidify what our marriage was going to be about. And really focus on us and our family and what's important,” said Bokal. 

Amber Strong at Newsy first reported this story.