With the global pandemic only seemingly getting worse, families are learning to have to live more closely with each other, sharing their domestic space for a lot longer than they’ve previously had to. And if you think that living in such close quarters and sharing household duties can lead to tension, that’s not an exaggeration. While one family member is perhaps buried in some mobile casinos to pass the time, others might be visibly irritated by pet peeves they’ve previously only had to deal with for short periods at a time.

A group of doctors at Boston University looked at data from nearly 50,000 families in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts and New Hampshire over a five-year period, and found that spouses who were locked into traditional marriage patterns were more likely to have an unhappy relationship than those who negotiated a bigger share of household duties.

And this isn’t new: even people who split up did just as well, if not better, than people who stayed married. That’s based on decades of research in which researchers looked at what happens when divorce happens during marriages, and found that couples who split up were just as happy and positive as people who stayed married.

So, like it or not, just saying “let’s give each other a chance” isn’t going to help those couples: it’s going to make things worse. If couples think they’re putting each other off, or there’s a lack of understanding of what each other does for work, or how each of them chooses to spend their time, their marriage is going to suffer, with divorce possibly looming.

The solution? More intimate marriages. In fact, even some couples who do split up are more likely to stay in close contact after their divorce than people who stay together, at least according to the couples involved.

Unmarried adults who were forced to endure what is often a harsh, unhappy marriage were not just less likely to remarry, but were much more likely to stay in close touch with their ex-spouses. They weren’t able to remain close to their exes for much longer than a few years, but they were able to stay in contact with them for longer than in similar marriages where the spouses don’t have to worry about living with each other.

“The lesson that we have learned, it seems to me, is that marriage might have a better chance if people were more serious about it in the first place,” says Professor Michael McDermott of Boston University, co-author of the study. “Because there’s a lot of misunderstanding, things can easily get out of hand, if you’re a constant effort to find some kind of agreement that’s real.”

The US has one of the lowest divorce rates in the world, with approximately 38 per cent of marriages ending in divorce, but those who split up still manage to remain in touch with each other. Some research suggests that there is a correlation between staying in close contact with ex-spouses, and having more romantic relationships. Even splitting up and trying to find love on your own might be good for your relationship, but only if you can really help the people you’re closest to.

A final thought, if you’re struggling with the latest round of the pandemic, and your children are healthy: if you get sick, you won’t be able to see your ex-husband for a long, long time. At least you’ll have each other.

Zoe Kickhefer
zoe@everydaylifes.com