One in Five Married Couples in Japan Say the Pandemic has Brought Them Closer

Lifestyle Family

November 22 in Japan is a day for celebrating marital bliss. Known informally as ii fūfu no hi, the nuptial observance originates from a type of Japanese wordplay called goroawase, with an alternative reading of the date 11/22—ii fūfu—having the same sound as the phrase describing a happily married couple. This year finds husbands and wives spending more time at home amid the pandemic, a development that for many relationships has helped strengthen conjugal bonds.

Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance in its annual survey of married couples found that nearly 20% of partners stated they have grown closer to their spouse during the COVID-19 crisis, more than triple the respondents who said the pandemic has strained their marriage.

The increase in people working from home and cutting back on going out appears to have had a positive impact on many couples. The top reason cited by husbands and wives for improved relations was an increase in spousal communication, followed by more opportunities to share meals together. Some partners also said that teleworking helped deepen bonds by providing a better understanding of their spouse’s job.

While couples are spending more time together, fewer are splurging on their better halves. In 2020, husbands and wives on average have spent ¥14,500 per present when buying a gift for their partner, ¥1,000 less compared to the previous year. Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance pointed to growing uncertainty about the future as the cause for the dip in spending, which was the largest in a decade.

For Better or Worse

Adjusting to the pandemic has affected couples’ relationships in different ways. According to a husband in his thirties who has been married for two years, spending more time together has brought he and his wife closer emotionally. “We’ve been able to share our thoughts more, which has strengthened our relationship.”

An employee at an advertising agency in her forties with eight years of marriage under her belt says working from home opened up new opportunities to spend downtime together. “My husband and I are able to do things like go out for lunch together that we couldn’t do when we were commuting every day.” She insists that there is still room for improvement, though. “Since we’re both at home more, we could do a better job at lending a hand with the chores.”

A newlywed hairstylist in her twenties explains that she was pregnant when the pandemic started and that she was moved by her husband’s concern for her health. “He took a lot of precautions so that I wouldn’t get infected, even staying in a hotel for a time. I felt incredibly lucky to have married him.” She says that with a new baby in the house, she looks forward to enjoying time together as a family.

Not all stories are as heartwarming, however. An IT employee in his fifties says that little has changed in his two-year marriage. “Although my wife and I don’t go out together as much, we still enjoy sharing a drink at home.” He insists that prudence is the best approach for keeping emotions from boiling over when tensions are running high. “I try to keep eye contact to a minimum so that my wife or I won’t blurt out something that might lead to a fight. The safest thing is to hang out in a different room.”

Working from home has also led to rifts between couples. A company employee in his forties says that he and his wife of 12 years have different understandings of telecommuting. “I’ve returned to the office, but while I was teleworking my wife would drop some not-so-subtle hints that she wanted me to do more around the house. I found this frustrating because although I was at home, I was still on the clock.” He insists, though, that he came away from the experience with a better understanding of the household demands on his wife. “It’s important to consider where your partner is coming from. I got to see first-hand how much work she does to look after the house.”

(Originally published in Japanese on FNN’s Prime Online on November 17, 2020. Translated and edited by Nippon.com.)

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