Abstract: Revisiting the Power of Couple Relationships As a Protective Factor during Covid-19 (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Revisiting the Power of Couple Relationships As a Protective Factor during Covid-19

Friday, January 14, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 14, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Ateret Gewirtz-Meydan, PhD, Faculty Member, University of Haifa, Israel
Yaniv Shlomo, Senior Research Fellow, Washington University in Saint Louis, St. Louis, MO
Michal Grinstein-Weiss, PhD, Shanti K Khinduka Distinguished Professor, Social Policy Institute, Washington University in St Louis, Saint Louis, MO
Background: Economic hardship has long been documented as a predictive factor of psychological distress and a determinant of psychological well-being. Most resilience theoretical models see couple relationships as a protective factor in exposure to adversity and life crisis. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many individuals, couples and families have faced increased stress due to loss of job or income, the fear from the virus and the decrease in social contract cause by the reinforcement of social distancing and quarantines. For couples with or without children, relationship is expected to mitigate the negative effects mentioned above. According to most recent resilience theories, couples relationship satisfaction is expected to increase psychological well-being, despite experiencing financial related stress and anxiety. This study puts into question the notion of couple relationship as a protective factor in times of continual large-scale crisis.

Methods: A nation-wide representative sample of 1547 Israelis participated in the study, 55.5% were women, all participants were married or cohabiting and 71.17% were parents/had at least one child. The mean age was 43 (SD=16.5). The instruments tapped participants' socio-demographic characteristics, psychological well-being, loss in pre-tax income due to COVID-19, generalized anxiety, and couple relationship satisfaction. A two-step analytic plan was employed. First, we examined potential associations between the main study variables and background characteristics. Second, we conducted a stepwise linear regression to examine associations between risk and protective factors to psychological well-being.

Results: The variables explained 29% of the variance in psychological well-being. Stepwise linear regression showed that the risk factor of loss in income due to COVID-19 had a significant negative effect on psychological well-being (β = -.16***). When examined together, both risk factors, loss in income due to COVID-19 (β = -.11***) and generalized anxiety (β = -.50***) had a significant negative effect on psychological well-being. Surprisingly, when risk factors were examined with relationship satisfaction as a protective factor (b = .15***), both risk factors, loss in income due to COVID-19 (β = -.10 **) and generalized anxiety (β = - .44***) maintained their significant negative effect on psychological wellbeing.

Conclusions and implications: Current initial results contradict one of the most fundamental notions of resilience theories. The findings indicate that during the COVID-19 crisis, couple relationship did not serve as a protective factor and did not decreased the harmful effects of financial hardship and anxiety related to the COVID-19 outbreak, and question the idea that close relationships buffer against the negative effects in times of personal and a national crisis. Theoretically, this finding calls to revisit the relevance of traditional resilience models in explaining resiliency during ongoing stressful events. Policymakers should seek sufficient programs to make couple and family therapy accessible for couples who are dealing COVID-19 related distress and economic hardship.