Make or break: the effect Covid-19 had on marriages

Being stuck at home for hours on end with your significant other could be a recipe for disaster - or just what the therapist ordered to save a marriage

When Covid-19 broke out this year, millions of people had to work from home full-time.

This meant more time spent with partners, families and children.

While the increased contact time led to some marital bonds emerging stronger, for others it magnified existing tensions and fault lines.

Marriage counsellors and therapists said they had been working overtime since the pandemic began, as more people sought professional help to get through tough times.

“While some have become closer, others struggled and developed deeper feelings of loneliness and isolation,” said Tanya Dharamshi, clinical director at the Priory Wellbeing Centre in Dubai.

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We laugh about it now but I would seriously question any couple that says it's been easy

She said financial difficulties brought on by the pandemic led many people to work longer hours, with no clear boundaries between work and home life.

“The most common issue we’ve seen is a feeling of claustrophobia and frustration for many couples who have spent considerably more time together, often trying to balance working from home with home schooling, housework and chores,” said Ms Dharamshi.

“Married couples may find their partners are often working long hours," she said.

"The quality time they once had to air concerns and effectively problem solve also becomes drained, leaving them feeling burdened and isolated.”

She said many suffered from a lack of personal space and dedicated “me time”.

“As a result, the pressure on many couples has been immense and this has naturally led to conflict and feelings of resentment,” Ms Dharamshi said.

Oliver and Maggie Baxter live in Dubai and have been married for two-and-a-half years.

The couple had a six-week-old baby when the UAE closed its borders, schools and offices in March.

They said the pandemic brought them closer together, made them reassess their priorities and gave them valuable time with their now 10-month-old son.

“We got closer during that time due to our evolving new roles as parents and how much we relied on each other,” said Ms Baxter, an education consultant.

“Oliver and I co-ordinated who got to sleep when, and working from home saved commuting time for us as well.”

She said they were surprised at how well they did as a couple during the stay-home orders considering their usual social calendar pre-pandemic.

“We are known to brunch almost weekly but this situation really did allow us to slow down, focus on what’s important, and relish in the time with our new son,” Ms Baxter said.

But the stress of the pandemic and increased home time has not been easy for everyone.

Some couples admitted they struggled with being cooped up with each other at home for long periods of time.

“As husband and wife, your goal is always to grow closer to one another,” said Abbas Fazal, a pilot in Dubai married to wife Nastasija for nine years.

“But it’s a whole different ball game and mindset needed when it comes to spending all day together inside a confined space.”

He said the pandemic has been a “trying time” for them partly because, as an airline pilot, they were used to him being away for a couple of days every week.

“This was something that both of us agreed on and the time apart allowed us to grow and miss each other,” said Mr Fazal.

However, that quickly changed when planes were grounded and flights ceased.

“All of a sudden, I was home for longer periods of time with the occasional quick flight followed by a mandatory quarantine period at home,” said Mr Fazal.

“This started to drastically change the dynamics of our relationship.”

He said small, agreeable faults that were normally tolerated between him and his wife began to spiral into bigger issues.

“Each room became a territorial space and sometimes a ceasefire was nowhere in sight,” said Mr Fazal.

“I also started to realise the quirks about my wife that drove me into the dreaded silent mode.”

Eventually though, he said, the pandemic and all those hours at home strengthened their bond.

“It took a while and it took lots of effort from both of us to make it through,” Mr Fazal said. “But knowing that we survived a pandemic while staying at home, I honestly believe no further crisis can break us going forward.

"We laugh about it now but I would seriously question any couple that says it’s been easy.”