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Pandemic challenges are taking a heavy toll on marriages

Here are some strategies for couples as they try to navigate these difficult times.

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The pandemic has put a strain on so many things and that includes relationships.

Licensed marriage and family therapist with South Shore Family Health Collaborative in Quincy, Massachusetts, Jeremiah Gibson said, "every couples therapist I know is full. That's the first way we know that the pandemic has really been affecting relationships."

Gibson said over the last year and a half he's been busy.

"In the spring between 25-30 hours of clients a week which is considered really high in the private practice," he said.

Gibson said it's not hard to see why relationships are straining.

"So many couples that I work with have been in survival mode as they try to figure out how to navigate school with kids, losses of jobs, losses of employment," he said.

He said the pandemic has blurred boundaries, brought problems to the surface, and even triggered health issues.

"Mental health problems come around transitions. A birth, a death, a new move, a new job. One of the things the pandemic has done is created transitions for all of us. The number of transitions that have been asked of people have absolutely led to anxiety," Gibson said.

For some couples, all of this has just been too much. According to the Massachusetts Trial Court, divorce filings had been on the decline since at least 2017. They're now up 7% statewide and Gibson said he only expects that number to climb, but he also has hope.

"I do think there will be an increase in divorce in 2023 and 2024 as people move out of the pandemic, but I also think there will be an increase of really healthy relationships of new relationships where folks center their relationships around shared values and having to have had real in-depth conversations," he said.

Gibson did have some strategies for couples as they try to navigate these difficult times. He said to set clear boundaries for work and home and try to keep those spaces separate. Also don't avoid issues as they come up, specifically discuss transitions and adjustments the family has made as a result of the pandemic.

He also mentioned having direct conversations about schedules, expectations and needs — and not to be afraid to ask for help if you need it.

Gibson also said he expects counseling services to really jump for first responders like nurses, doctors and even therapists as we ease out of the pandemic.