Unfolding the Future


Relationships in the new norm

Has COVID-19 forced human relationships to take a turn for the less ideal?

Of all the negative impact the COVID-19 crisis has had, perhaps the most significant one is on personal relationships. And it all started so well.

Couples who were apart adapted by staying in touch via video calls. And surprised each other with gifts of food, drink and tokens of affection via delivery services.

Couples living together welcomed the extra time both spent at home. But it didn’t take long for things to turn sour.

BBC estimates that domestic abuse rose by as much as 20% during the lockdown. In fact, it is calling it a ‘shadow pandemic’. China has reported an unprecedented number of divorce requests, with appointments to file for divorce now possible to be made via the social media platform, WeChat. So worried about the rise is China that it has imposed a 30-day ‘cooling off’ period for filings made after 1 January 2021.

If absence used to make the heart fonder, lockdown has pretty much made the heart flounder.
Experts blame the unusually high amount of time spent together as the primary reason. This was particularly true where the relationships were already strained. More face time meant more opportunities to notice all the habits and quirks that annoyed each other. It was then only a matter of time before things came to a head.

If that sounds bad, spare a thought for Radhika from Arizona whose predicament was highlighted by the New York Post. She broke up with her live-in boyfriend a couple of weeks before quarantine. But stay-home restrictions mean she is still stuck in the same apartment as her ex. She is trying to cope by drawing, studying and drinking lots of Bushmills whisky and beer!

Even when break-ups are clean, psychologists point out that social distancing rules prevent people from getting the emotional release they usually do. They are not able to cry on a friend’s shoulder or be about town to try and get over the heartbreak.

Yet it is not all doom and gloom. Thankfully.

While many weddings have been cancelled or postponed, many are still being conducted. For instance, the Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, has made it legal for couples to hold online weddings. Previously marriages in the state were only legal if the couple appear in person. So, clerks can now officiate Internet weddings and couples can get a marriage licence remotely. The World Economic Forum reports that couples in Indonesia, Iraq and Israel have conducted their weddings online or with as few as three to five guests.

In Wuhan, where the virus originated, when the 76-day lockdown was lifted, one of the first things people did was file for marriage applications. And it was done using the mobile payment platform Alipay. The app reported a 300% increase in applications with the system even crashing due to the overwhelming number of applicants.

More interestingly, separated couples have hunkered down together to ensure they are not apart from the kids for prolonged a prolonged period during the lockdown. Celebrity ex-couple Khloe Kardashian and Tristan Thompson are among them.
The pandemic has definitely re-ordered some aspects of personal relationships that we took for granted. For some who were apart, the distance (and the overall climate of uncertainty) made their love stronger and helped nudge them towards making a commitment.

For others who were in the same household, it became a time to re-connect, do activities they had not done together for a long time. This was even more starkly apparent among parents who had been working so hard, they hardly had any time for their kids.

While there is evidence that the crisis has impacted many relationships for the worse, the overall sense is people are grateful for the relationships they have. Clichés are clichés for a reason and the pandemic has actually made many realise the value of their relationships.

Ultimately, as a species used to constant physical contact, it would be unthinkable for us to survive alone. As Laura Guerrero, author of Close Encounters: Communication in Relationships, points out, “We feel more connected to someone if they touch us.”

Reference: BBC News / New York Post / World Economic Forum / Business Insider