2020 is not what BJ Barone and Frankie Nelson had planned for their family.
The Toronto couple was set to celebrate milestone 50th and 40th birthdays, plus their 10-year anniversary with a family trip to China, Cambodia, Thailand and Taiwan. The vacation was cancelled and the parties downsized significantly.
“Celebrations are all about who is there and not where you are… We’ve been so happy spending time here, with family and touring local, touring our country. It has been awesome,” Nelson said.
“My ideas have changed about what’s important.”
The couple and their six-year-old son, Milo, have spent the last seven months together, almost 24/7. They’ve cooked together, hiked and even raised ducklings. The family says the pandemic has strengthened their relationship.
“Being locked up or cooped up with each other for a long time, I think it made us realize what our strengths are and what our weaknesses are in each other. And we just learned to support one another in that way,” Barone said.
Early on, Barone and Nelson split household chores and talked about the challenges the pandemic would bring.
“We didn’t want to fight all the time, so I think we really worked on ways to be kinder to one another,” Nelson said.
Data out of the University of Calgary suggests COVID-19, for the most part, is bringing couples together.
Researchers are tracking 8,000 pregnant women from every Canadian province and territory to determine how COVID-19 is affecting their mental health. One of the questions participants are being asked is if the pandemic has put a strain on their relationship.
“About 50 per cent of them say there’s actually an improvement in the relationship – in their couple – over the course of the pandemic. But there are a small proportion – about three per cent – that say they are having some deterioration,” said Anna MacKinnon, a researcher with Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute.
It’s not just the relationship between partners improving, the ongoing study also found 55 per cent of parents say the pandemic has brought them closer to their children.
“You see and hear a lot of things on social media about the struggles with homeschooling and working from home with parents and kids jumping in the background,” MacKinnon said.
“I think parents are just trying to make the most of it.”
The study suggests relationships with friends and extended family are taking a hit. The majority of women told researchers there was a decline in those connections.
“If you can’t see each other in person that it makes it more difficult to connect. And if you are doing all your other connections online, online fatigue, screen fatigue sets in,” MacKinnon said.
Barone and Nelson say they know couples whose relationships will not survive COVID-19. They count themselves lucky, knowing the pandemic has given their family the gift of time and togetherness. It’s something they actually miss now that they’ve returned to work.
“It was a special time,” Barone said.