Families across Japan are experiencing some difficult times. Schools are out of session recently, forcing children to stay at home. Likewise, working adults find themselves making living room offices official as teleworking becomes the norm. With no end in sight to the pandemic, relationships are beginning to suffer.
In all likelihood, the problem will get worse before it gets better. Only recently, columnists were reporting about the peculiar absence of infections in Japan. Less than a month ago, for example, The Japan Times wrote that perhaps cultural habits—bowing as opposed to shaking hands, wearing masks, cleanliness, etc.—had bequeathed an advantage to the island nation. At the time of the report, only 900 cases had been confirmed.
Yet, in a matter of weeks, that dialogue has changed. Daily infections are growing in metropolitan areas such as Tokyo, while clusters of infected individuals are occurring across the nation. A state of emergency has been declared for the capital, as pedestrians and commuters increasingly stay home.
Part-time workers are cutting back hours. As we reported, restaurants, supermarkets, and others are changing store hours as well as business models to accommodate working parents. While this flexibility is necessary, a reduction in work is turning household budgets upside-down. Indeed, those with nonregular employment (e.g., part-time working mothers) are feeling uncertain about their safety net and their financial future.
Married couples are struggling to cope as a multitude of household stressors converge. Sadly, corona divorce is a growing trend throughout the country.
A Message from a Marriage Counselor
While the health impact of COVID-19 is devastating, an overlooked social impact is making itself known. As couples spend more time together, many are finding fractures in their relationship they had not previously understood.
According to Atsuko Okano, a researcher of marital problems, clinicians are seeing an increase in strained marriages. She explains that "when widespread societal issues occur, a formerly stable relationship can develop in unexpected ways."
Okano continues to explain that a similar phenomenon was seen after The Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011. Although most would expect couples to "dig deep," many touched by the tragedy were instead driven to reexamine their lives and relationships.
Eiko, a 37-year-old housewife who has a remote IT job, is living this reality. Her husband was commissioned by his company to work from home as the pandemic became widespread. According to Eiko, her husband effectively took over her living room working space. As the couple often bicker, Eiko is struggling to adapt to the situation.
“He always acts like his job is so important," she explains. Initially, Eiko tried to divide household chores, but she quickly found the effort futile. Her husband attempted to make lunch and was overwhelmed. "He asked so many questions like 'Where's the frying pan?' 'How big do I cut the vegetables?' and so on. I couldn't get any work done." Finally, says Eiko, he refused to do any more cooking claiming that it's a woman's job.
“If things go on like this, I don’t think I can continue,” she admits.
Divorce in Japan
Unfortunately, there are many like Eiko. While divorce in Japan is significantly less common than in some Western nations such as America, it is a growing trend. Approximately one-third of marriages end in separation, with the number being higher for couples who wed younger.
As divorce becomes more accepted, the stigma is decreasing. Many divorcees date and remarry. Yet, there are hurdles in the workplace. Divorce often weakens future employment prospects. Also, while child custody goes solely to the mother in most cases, fewer women have stable careers than men. This situation creates further financial uncertainty as the number of men who avoid child support is relatively high in Japan.
Unexpectedly, however, there is a significant number of Japanese couples who divorce upon retiring. Between 1990 and 2000, for example, the divorce rate in this demographic increased by 300 percent—the reason why is similar to Eiko's. Couples who rarely saw one another during their working years are suddenly forced to spend large amounts of time together. Men often treat their wives like servants, and, not surprisingly, women are unwilling to accept this change to their quality of life.
#CoronaDivorce on Twitter
Indeed, it seems there is nothing worse than spending time with loved ones. As corona continues to wreak havoc on home lives, frustrated couples are reaching out on social media. In particular, #Coronadivorce is trending on Twitter. While some posts are seriously considering divorce, it seems others are simply venting over a temporary, albeit frustrating, situation.
"About this corona divorce trend, my husband is currently teleworking. If I have to also, we will have no personal time. It’ll be really hard being together 24/7 for an entire month."
“I keep seeing guys who have been told to telework writing 'my wife gets mad at me even though I didn't do anything.' Don't you understand anything! It's because you DON'T do anything that she's angry."
Or, in a post now unavailable since the owner made her account private, one Twitter user writes:
“If this continues and we can’t leave the house until Golden Week, I’m positive our relationship will hit a new low. If my POS husband keeps being a jerk while lying around the house, I imagine this will become a desperate situation. I want to go home, but Osaka and Hyogo are in bad shape. I give up! It's going to be the worst Golden Week vacation ever."
It seems like COVID-19 has gotten everybody down.
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