Will Divorce Rates Jump Because of Coronavirus?

A young couple is arguing
© Drobot Dean/Adobe Stock
Divorce rates in China have increased since the coronavirus lockdown was relaxed. Will America see a rise in divorce rates as well? What is the real story?

If you scan the headlines, you’ll likely see several news reports claiming that China is reeling from a record number of divorces caused by long coronavirus quarantines. If you skip the full story, you’re likely to think COVID-19 is out to claim another victim — your marriage. But is that accurate? Are marriages falling apart because of quarantines and stay-at-home orders? Is your marriage doomed? Here’s a look at what’s happening and how you and your spouse can cope with close-quarters confinement.

What is the coronavirus doing to marriages?

The news headlines tell the story: “China’s Divorce Spike Is a Warning to the Rest of Locked-Down World.” “Divorces skyrocket in China Amid Lockdown.” “Will COVID-19 Lead to Increased Divorces?” There is some truth to the reports. Spouses are spending more time together than usual. Stress levels are high. Prolonged stress causes harm. In some cases, the prolonged stress has led to divorce. But there’s more to the story:

  • The story started a month ago. reported on March 6, 2020, that officials in the city of Xi’an, China, were processing a “record-high number of divorce requests.” The Business Insider report is one of many articles published by several news publications since late February when the Chinese government relaxed its quarantine orders in some areas.
  • The numbers are big … for China. The divorce rates vary by city and province. Since February 24, 2020, at one office in Dazhou, Sichuan Province, 300 couples are reported to have registered for a divorce appointment. The city of Xi’an reached 14 divorce appointments a day — it’s “upper limit.” It’s also important to note that the divorce rate in China has been climbing since the country changed its divorce laws in 2003. The United States experienced a similar peak after no-fault divorce laws were enacted in 1969. While every divorce is a tragedy, looking at the context in which the numbers are reported is important.

Is the threat to marriage real?

Our way of life has changed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Couples may work from home, but they’re still juggling a 40-hour workweek, caring for school-aged children and dealing with confinement and uncertainty in the marketplace. Because stores, restaurants and public places are closed, spouses have limited opportunities to get away or find valuable alone time. Even the best marriages struggle under such difficult circumstances. But your marriage does not have to fray because of stress or dire news reports. There are ways to cope with the pressures and come out of the crisis with a strong marriage.

Can your marriage survive?

It takes a lot of work to keep your marriage strong … even when life is going well. It may take a little extra to keep it strong over the next several months. Here’s how to deal with the stress and give your spouse grace:

  • Admit that there will be challenges. Dr. Greg Smalley, vice president of Marriage at Focus on the Family, says, “You will annoy each other, so give loads of grace.”
  • Practice the “fruits of the Spirit.” The first “fruit” mentioned is love. If you live a life of love, the rest of the fruits will follow. Need help to love your spouse through this difficult time? God offers more than enough grace.
  • Keep perspective. The old news reporter’s adage, “If it bleeds, it leads,” sums up much of what you see and hear. Read past the headline and get the real story. And then step away. God’s got this. He’s in control. And you can trust Him.
  • Decide what’s a “big deal” and what’s a “little deal.” Dr. Smalley recommends letting go of little annoyances but addressing big issues before they grow into deal-breakers. The little things often cause the biggest issues — especially in marriage. As one Chinese official in the city of Xi’an explained the rise in local divorce rates, “Trivial matters in life led to the escalation of conflicts, and poor communication has caused everyone to be disappointed in marriage and make the decision to divorce.”

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