A good friend phoned today with two pieces of news. She was distraught because her husband had called her a “shit head” during a fight over whether she should visit a friend (in a COVID careful way) for a milestone birthday. The other news was better: Her 17-year-old daughter had just been accepted to a college in Boston.
“Let’s rent an AirBnb and spend a couple weeks there next fall,” she said. “I may be single then anyhow.”
“Maybe we’ll all be,” I answered.
We laughed, but it was a weak, nervous laugh. For the past few months we’ve regularly been having some version of this conversation. Each of us venting because we are spending more time with our partners but connecting less. Each of us worrying our marriage is about to implode and wondering how long we could hold on.
She usually ends our bitch session by quoting another friend: “Just hang on till this is past. If you do nothing, you win.” Some days that makes sense. Some days it seems completely Pollyannaish.
The COVID Divorce Rate
Last spring, much was made of the soaring divorce rate in China following the country’s lockdown. “The trend may be an ominous warning for couples in the U.S. and elsewhere who are in the early stages of isolating at home: If absence makes the heart grow fonder, the opposite might be true of too much time spent together in close quarters,” wrote Sheridan Prasso in Bloomberg News.
My marriage had pre-existing conditions, and COVID killed it.
Indeed, statistics from the early months of lockdown showed the U.S. following in China’s path. The number of people looking for information on divorces was 34 percent higher from March through June compared to 2019, according to new data collected by Legal Templates, a company that provides legal documents.
But this fall, another picture began emerging. A major new survey of U.S. families, the American Family Survey found that 34 percent of married men and women ages 18 to 55 report the pandemic has increased stress in their marriage. However, the study also found that 58 percent of married men and women 18 to 55 said the pandemic has made them appreciate their spouse more, while 51 percent said their commitment to marriage had deepened. Only eight percent said that the pandemic had weakened their commitment to one another.
The Final Straw
I’m glad that the survey found so many couples feel strong through this, but it doesn’t quite jive with my own experience or what I’m hearing from my circle of friends. Significantly, the study didn’t interview married couples over 55, and it’s well known that we’re in a midst of a Gray Divorce epidemic.
It seems to me that the pandemic is exposing fault lines that we have all worked hard to plaster over or work around. “My marriage had pre-existing conditions, and COVID killed it,” a husband told the Washington Post. That’s the best–but most chilling–line I’ve heard about the precariousness of coupledom right now.
I worry how everything will shake out after we get the pandemic under control; what will, conversely, spin OUT of control?
In my own case, this self-isolating has turned my husband increasingly inward. He’s always been more introverted and routine-oriented than me, and we’ve just rolled with it.
Now, that difference seems to inform every argument we have. He thinks I’m spending too much time goofing off on the computer screen; I think he has become one of those people who is happiest spending time with his dogs. He doesn’t want to go anywhere, while I’m always itching for a getaway—a safe one, like camping.
It’s as if COVID is giving him permission to become the hermit he’s always wanted to be. Or maybe I should say, the monk. Not long after the pandemic got serious with this country, our sex life took a dive, and it’s never recovered.
I keep thinking we should separate after COVID—not necessarily as a preamble to divorce. But to give ourselves a break after all this togetherness so we can figure out who we are again and whether we can still bring out the best in each other.
Giving Each Other a Pass?
I’m not mad at him. I was for a while, probably late summer through much of the fall. Mostly, my feelings were hurt because I feel rejected by him sexually. It’s hard enough to cope with loss of beauty and firm skin and tight lady parts, but when your husband isn’t interested in you any longer it’s crushing.
But lately, I’ve decided to give him a pass. Actually, I believe everyone deserves a pass this year. I’ve simply vowed to get over my hurt feelings.
So I’m waiting and worrying—worrying about how everything will shake out after we get the pandemic under control; what will, conversely, spin out of control? Maybe that’s when we’ll see the real uptick in divorce. Or maybe a lot of us will have matured in our romantic expectations; maybe we’ll come to some sort of equilibrium and, after an unforgiving year, learn to be more forgiving of each other.