While few people need extra reasons to look forward to seeing 2020 in the rear-view mirror, it has been a remarkably difficult year for relationships.

Even in what we could look back upon and consider a “normal” year (read: not 2020) maintaining a relationship is hard work and staying married can be even more of a challenge.

Yet these Coronatimes have been a long, slow burn on many relationships, keeping couples who may have already been experiencing difficulties in more frequent contact, sharing closer quarters than ever. This increased close contact on an already tenuous relationship often drives it to the breaking point. 

The Danes might have the answers..

A highly compelling study published earlier this year in Denmark surveyed 2,371 recently divorced people, asking them to select more than one reason for their split. 

The number one response, answered by very close to half of the participants, was an absence of love or intimacy because one or both people in the relationship fell out of love.

Reason number two? Communication problems, chosen by 44% of the people in the study.

This was followed by lack of respect/trust/sympathy, chosen by 34% of participants.

Growing apart ranked fourth, which was chosen by one-third of participants.

What about here in the US?.

The findings of the Danish study are as resonant here in the United States

AllynMarie Smedley, founder of Smedley Law Group in New Jersey, feels that issues around love and intimacy are just as important in the United States as in Denmark. 

“Love and intimacy is a really big problem. People grow apart and find that they are living as roommates. They ask themselves how many more years they want to invest in a relationship that simply is no longer moving forward. They never actually say ‘we fell out of love,’ but they realize they no longer have the same views or synergies in their lives. They just decide it’s no longer worth it.”

Smedley also sees communication problems as being at least as important in the United States as it was in the Danish study.

“It’s about being true partners and a huge part of that is the quality and quantity of communication. How couples choose and choose not to communicate can be the difference between keeping a relationship alive and it ending in divorce.”

Is this truly a global trend?

Yes. In China, marriage registration offices saw an unprecedented number of divorce requests when they re-opened in March. Italian lawyers report a 30 per cent increase in the number of couples embarking on divorce proceedings.

Even in friendly Canada, CoVorce has become a thing.

Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg has been an active voice in pointing out that at least part of what has caused this new strain on relationships during COVID is the fact that women are burned out at work and at home, as they have been forced to shoulder a significant amount of extra work (some studies has shown an extra 20 hours a week, balancing their work lives and family obligations). 

Sandberg’s foundation, Lean In, did a study that showed that with a disproportionate amount of extra work falling on women, massive strain on their relationships ensued. The statistics were chilling:

Women are more than twice as likely as men to be experiencing physical symptoms of severe anxiety, such as a racing heartbeat (25% vs. 11%). More than half (52%) of women are having sleep issues, compared to about a third (32%) of men. And women who work full-time and have partners and children are more than twice as likely as men in the same situation to feel that they have more to do than they can possibly handle (31% vs. 13%).

Has COVID-19 made breaking up less practical?

It often has. For many people, being in any kind of relationship is far more complex today that it was at the start of 2020. Choosing to end a relationship today involves weighing far more factors and money is certainly among them.

Smedley points out that “Two people can always live more cheaply together than apart. Since the virus, one person in the relationship might have lost their job and not living together just isn’t realistic.”

But while she admits that money is tighter for many families, if a couple was set upon breaking up before the virus hit, the virus itself has more than likely not changed their plans. 

Will things get better soon?

The signs aren’t great at the moment. 

The first real challenge came right at the beginning of the virus in March and April. The onset of the virus amplified relationship problems and even couples who had set firm intentions to break up found themselves at a loss for what to do.

“Especially at the beginning of the lockdown, people just didn’t know how to get in touch with a lawyer. Now this is something they’ve figured out, but for a while it was a real issue,” Smedley notes.

Smedley also noted that she has been seeing additional motion practice and litigation for people already separated or divorced around a range of issues. These have included parents having issues with their children going to parties and visiting friends from homes that have had COVID-19 as well as far more serious parenting and relationship issues. 

Ultimately, while a vaccine or multiple vaccines have the potential to create a new normal where we can begin to resume our lives in ways that more closely resemble the past, the impact of this year will be felt for years to come. As families struggle to dig themselves out of financial and emotional holes caused by the events of 2020, they may find these easier to fill than the emotional holes that may never be repaired.

About Aron Solomon

Aron Solomon is the Senior Digital Strategist for NextLevel.com and an Adjunct Professor at the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University.