One of the foremost commentators on the state of marriage in the country, W. Bradford Wilcox, addressed the subject of marriage in a time of pandemic over the weekend.
Wilcox is Director of the National Marriage Project and a sociology professor at the University of Virginia. He is also a Visiting Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
The media has been filled with much speculation on the effect of the togetherness imposed by the coronavirus will have on marriages. From the gossip sheet Page Six to one of the U.K.s most prominent divorce lawyers, the consensus seems to be that there will be an upswing in divorce.
Wilcox has an interesting take and he also has ideas about what kinds of marriages are most likely to survive pandemic-induced closeness. He writes:
For those who are already married, the stresses and strains of marriage and family life in the time of Covid-19 will send thousands of couples to divorce court. Marital failure will be especially common for husbands and wives under the sway of what I call the “soul mate model” of marriage.
The soul mate model—trumpeted in books like Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love,” not to mention countless songs and rom-coms—is the idea that marriage is primarily about an intense emotional and romantic connection between two people and should last only so long as that connection remains happy and fulfilling for both parties. This self-centered model gained in popularity for many Americans starting in the 1970s, the “Me Decade.”
But feelings are a fragile foundation for marriage. A recent YouGov survey indicates that married people in California who hold this view of marriage are about 60% more likely to think their marriage might end in divorce, compared with those who have a more family-first model of marriage, believing that “Marriage is about romance but also the kids, money, raising a family together.”
No doubt the disappearance of date nights and so much more in today’s trying times will undo many marriages founded on the idea that marriage is supposed to make you feel good all the time.
But most marriages, writes Wilcox, will survive the pandemic. Many marriages will become stronger. Wilcox noticed an encouraging phenomenon in the aftermath of the Great Recession a decade or so ago: divorce rates fell immediately afterwards and declined by about 20 during the decade.
That’s because in times of trial and tribulation, most people—and most spouses—don’t become more self-centered, they become more other-centered, more cognizant of how much they need their family members to navigate difficult and dark times.
In post-Covid-19 America, I’m confident that the family-first model of marriage will gain ground against the soul mate model.
Read the entire column.