Marriage & divorce amid pandemic: Couples' challenges abound

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Kristen Pritchard Photography

In this Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020 photo provided by Kristen Pritchard Photography, Kayleigh and Cody Cousins pose for wedding photos at Mission Trails Regional Park in San Diego, Calif. They initially planned an April 2020 wedding, postponed it after the pandemic took hold, rescheduled it for December, then had to shift gears again when a new lockdown was imposed. That was devastating, said Kayleigh. We said, Lets just do it on Zoom. (Kristen Pritchard Photography via AP)

For many U.S. couples yearning to be married, the pandemic has wreaked havoc on their wedding plans while bolstering their teamwork and resilience. For couples already married, it has posed a host of new tests, bringing some closer, pulling others apart.

Spending more time together — a common result of lockdowns, furloughs and layoffs — has been a blessing for some couples who gain greater appreciation of one another. For other spouses, deprived of opportunities for individual pursuits, the increased time together “may seem more like a house arrest than a fantasy,” suggested Steve Harris, a professor of marriage and family therapy at the University of Minnesota and associate director of a marriage counseling project, Minnesota Couples on the Brink.

Gregory Popcak, a psychotherapist in Steubenville, Ohio, who specializes in marriage counseling for Catholics, says the pandemic has been particularly troublesome for spouses whose coping strategies have been disrupted.

“For couples who had a tendency to use their business to avoid problems, the pandemic has made things infinitely worse,” he said. “The lockdown has raised the emotional temperature a few notches. ... Things that were provocative before are now catastrophic.”

Overall, people have become more cautious amid the pandemic, said sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.

“This caution is making them less likely to get divorced, less likely to get married, less likely to have a child," he said.

Comprehensive national statistics on marriage and divorce during the pandemic won’t be compiled for many months, but the numbers available thus far from a few states suggest there’s a notable decline in each category.

In Oregon, divorces in the pandemic months of March through December were down about 24% from those months in 2019; marriages were down 16%. In Florida, for the same months, divorces were down 20% and marriages were down 27%. There also were decreases, though smaller, in Arizona.