While divorce lawyers and relationship counsellors might be seeing an increase in the number of couples splitting or needing intervention this year, there’s finally some good news – an NZ study has discovered that for most of us, our relationships may have actually improved.
Yes, we’ve brought you stories about cheating spouses, meltdowns and couples whose relationships were put to the test, but it seems for many, the events of 2020 have actually brought them closer to their partner.
Capsule reader Melissa certainly thinks so. She says she entered Lockdown 1.0 with some trepidation – when she cast her mind back it had been years since she spent more than an hour or so at a time with her husband and she wondered how they’d fare.
“He works hard, and when he comes home I’m normally putting the kids to bed. I also went back to study last year and I do it online and when you have two young kids, you can really only do it when they’re asleep! We’re like ships in the night.”
In her husband’s line of work he couldn’t work from home, so was on the wage subsidy with nothing urgent on his plate. But instead of driving each other insane like Melissa feared they might, it turned out to be some of the happiest times of their relationship.
“I’ve felt guilty talking about it, because there’s lots of people for whom it was the worst experience of their lives, and we were very lucky that we had food in the cupboards and a home big enough to get space from each other, but we loved that time. It’s corny, but I remembered all the reasons why I fell in love with him. He is so calm in any crisis and the kids loved having him around. It actually gave me a break to do all the things I’ve been meaning to do! Once this is all over we’re going to make sure we take regular staycations together. Our family is so much more important than a job.”
And now, a new study backs up exactly what Melissa and her family experienced.
The Southern Cross Healthy Futures Report gathered data from 3,000 Kiwis, both before and during the first round of lockdown across NZ.
It made some interesting discoveries, so we reached out to Dr Kris Fernando from Active+ (a Southern Cross joint venture) to find out a bit more about what is going on in the romantic lives of Kiwis.
She says the study found that for some, their levels of happiness and contentment increased as a result of lockdown, while feelings of loneliness decreased.
“I think what the survey shows is that relationships have not, in general, deteriorated over lockdown and perhaps even improved,” she tells. “For example during lockdown, 61% of those surveyed were happy or content with their connection to the community whereas pre-lockdown, this figure was 58%.”
Dr Fernando says this might be down to the perception that we were “all in this together” – that you could see families on the streets, walking together, or riding their bikes. There was a camaraderie – we’d wave and smile (from a distance!) at people we passed by.
“Pre lock-down, 38% of both men and women voiced themes of loneliness yet during lockdown, this decreased to 28% for men and 32% for woman,” adds Dr Fernando. “It could therefore be hypothesised that, as people had to spend their time at home and were more likely in closer contact with family members and friends, they were less lonely and had more time to nurture these relationships.”
One of the biggest groups of people to experience a big change in feelings of loneliness was university students. The Healthy Futures Report found that a whooping 58% of students reported being lonely before lockdown, compared to 42% during lockdown.
Of course, some of this was likely down to the timing of the first lockdown, which coincided with the start of the university year. Unsurprisingly, it can be a tricky time, as new students are coming out of the bubble of school life into the real world for the first time. Many move to an entirely new city to attend university, leaving their friends and family behind. Regardless, 58% is a huge number, and Dr Fernando says “it does raise an issue as to what universities are doing to reduce feelings of loneliness for students as 58% of students reporting isolation/loneliness is not a healthy statistic.”
The report had more bad news for university students, finding that they were also the most likely to be unhappy in their romantic relationships.
Dr Fernando wasn’t too surprised by this finding, saying students are often young and still experimenting with what type of relationships make them happy.
“We often don’t get relationships right from the beginning and know what we want. Additionally, this sample of students did not appear to be functioning all that well – 40% suffered a lack of sleep due to being on devices or watching television at night, 52% were concerned about being a burden to others and 58% were concerned about being lonely prior to lockdown. Students are faced with a lot of pressures – workload, pressure to achieve well, often living alone for the first time, and financial worries.”
In something of a surprise twist, the happiest couples over all seemed to be busy parents with young children (like Melissa!). And it seems, it was no blip in the statistics, as the results are very similar to the findings of a 2018/19 American study conducted by Harris Interactive.
They reported group of people happiest in their romantic relationships to be those aged between 25-44 years, with an average of two kids and tending to have a higher personal income. They drilled down even further and found the absolute happiest were millennials.
So what makes millennials able to be happier in their relationship? That particular study suggested millennials are more willing to seek relationship therapy and to be more emotionally open with their partners. They also concluded that millennials are more likely to view relationships as important as attending to their own physical, mental and emotional health. This group place a greater emphasis on equality in relationships, and in good communication skills – such as being willing to have challenging conversations rather than walking away.
With those tools and values it’s not so surprising that it’s the age group that fared the happiest throughout lockdown.
Dr Fernando says it’s also those with young children who will have been given the gift of time to invest in their families. “More than half of parents reported wanting to spend more time with their kids (55%),” she says. “Responses to the survey indicate that work (60%), household tasks (49%) and sport commitments (35%) interfere with family time.”
For many families, they certainly got what they asked for.