Couples after Covid-19…Baby Boom or Break Up Boom?
Updated: May 7
There are many memes currently doing the rounds anticipating a post-corona baby boom. The theory behind them stems from The Northeast Blackout of 1965 which led to a significant disruption in the supply of electricity in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Vermont and resulted in one hospital reporting a high jump in birth-rates, nine months following the power outage. While the significance of this report is questionable, other studies have shown increases in birth-rates 9 months after low-severity storms.
The idea of more couples having sex on nights when they can’t access electricity and their options are limited is the premise behind historical baby boom theories. However, contrary to this notion, we are currently hearing reports of a significant post quarantine spike in applications for divorces in the China. Lawyers in Britain and the United States are predicting a similar spike.
The Corona pandemic is different to a night without power or a thunderstorm impeding our weekend plans. This isn’t an inconvenient time where we have nothing much to do, in fact for many of us we are overloaded with tasks and work and adaptions (whether they are paid or unpaid) and the access to electricity and it’s extension ‘the world wide web’ isn’t compromised. Our options are actually expansive and our time to explore them extensive. Further, libidos tend to decrease during high anxiety times and people actually revisit whether they want to bring children into the world when they are in the middle of a global crisis.
While there is considerable, and warranted, concern about an increase in domestic violence during the coronavirus pandemic, there is also an increasing concern about the effect that it may have on nonviolent relationships. In general, the peak times for couples to break up are after Christmas and after summer holidays. This is because couples with relationship fragilities are often spending long periods of time in each other’s company which can amplify and ignite these fragilities. Couples in conflict or with tendencies to disconnect, are essentially ‘locked down’ together for long periods of time and are ‘socially distancing’ away from the usual networks and tasks that may diffuse or distract them from the tensions within the couple. Without these distractions, unresolved conflicts come to the surface where they are either ignited or inflamed to the point that they become unbearable and the relationship dissolves.
However, many couples thrive during the holiday season. Those who exercise emotionally robust relationship dynamics embrace the down time as it allows them more opportunities to enjoy interactions with each other. They may even lament about having to return ‘to the real world’ and all of its pulls which take them away from their together time.
Turning towards each other or turning away
One factor that has been found to be the difference between couples who thrive and those who struggle or fall apart, is the tendency to turn towards each other, rather than away from each other. Couples researchers, John and Julie Gottman, examined newlyweds over a 6-year period and found that those who ended up staying together turned toward each other 86% of the time, whereas those who divorced turned toward each other only 33% of the time.
Turning towards is defined as responding to your partners bid for attention. A bid is a behaviour your partner does that invites you to act with affection or attention. This could be a sigh warranting an expression of interest from you as to what they might be thinking about, it could be a smile and eye contact bidding you to share in a joke, or a verbalised request for help, bidding you to give support. It could even be your partner asking how your day was, which is a bid for you to talk to them.
When a bid is not noticed or it is shut down, we refer to it as a missed bid and an accumulation of missed bids can lead to loneliness, resentment and relationship breakdown. Tending to bids isn’t hard work and doesn’t have to be time consuming, it really just involves being present and responding to your partners gestures of engagement.
During the pandemic there might be a lot of things taking up your head space and your ability to be present. Further, one of you may be adjusting to an altered work life while the other is adjusting to unemployment. One might be worried about a loved one, the other might be distracted with monitoring home-schooling. Financial and vocational insecurity can also amplify anxieties and result in emotional disengagement. However, when couples are experiencing such external stressors, it is the ability to be present and emotionally engaged with each other (tending to the bids) that serves as both respite and an anchor.
The majority of couples will share this journey side-by-side. We know that those who have tendencies to turn away from each other, and disengage, put their relationships at risk. We also know that those who have tendencies to turn in towards each other and engage, protect their relationship. Responding to a your partner with a warm smile and genuine gratitude when they bring you a cup of tea, or relaxing into their hug when they initiate one in-between your Zoom meetings, doesn’t take a lot of effort, but it can be the difference between a journey that brings you closer together and a journey that pulls you apart.
You are currently creating memories for your coronavirus pandemic couples story. Will they be memories you want to turn towards, or away from?