Across the world, the Covid-19 pandemic is altering our love and family relations, for better or for worse. Japan is no exception – and the sign of the times is unfolding on social media as couples #stayhome together.
When a pandemic gives you extra time at home, you make war, or you make love. This is the message that many couples in Japan have been increasingly expressing on social media ever since the country’s fiercely expanding coronavirus outbreak pushed the nation into an unprecedented state of self-isolation. The crisis — which changed the yearly plans of probably every single person in Japan — has altered every aspect of people’s lives, pushing millions in Japan into a day-to-day survival limited to a few walls, delivery meals and a nearly complete lack of freedom in making life choices. But while we all stand united in our battle against the invisible enemy, our approaches, attitudes and daily habits amid the crisis may differ. And when this happens — as Japan’s social media seems to suggest — we either love each other more, or we call it quits. Forever.
“I want a #CoronaDivorce. His income has decreased and we have to use the government’s [¥100,000] stimulus payment to cover our living expenses. He doesn’t help at home and he doesn’t take care of our child. What’s even worse, he screams at our 2-year-old. He doesn’t play with our kid and he’s constantly pissed off. DON’T ADD MORE TO MY ALREADY PILED UP STRESS!!!!!!!!!! Pull yourself together!!!!!!!!!” says Twitter user @Saran_tori_ in one of the most popular posts tagged with the hashtag #CoronaRikon (Corona Divorce).
“We have zero income because we had to close our business [due to the coronavirus outbreak]. And yet, my husband continues to drink expensive beer while I’m refraining from buying my favorite drinks,” says another.
The thread continues.
“My wife has been in a terrible mood all morning. She told me to stay inside my room and not leave the whole day. #CoronaDivorce”
— 気狂いピエロ (@YRLynyGjkGp61r7) April 16, 2020
In another tweet, the same user shared a photo of a spaghetti plate on a kitchen floor with a caption revealing that his wife is “so ‘allergic’ to [him] that she gets the rashes” — which is why he had resolved to eat alone, on the kitchen floor mat.
— 気狂いピエロ (@YRLynyGjkGp61r7) April 11, 2020
While these social media posts may appear as angry slurs of years of piled frustration, they also project a reality that many people are experiencing under the critical circumstances. Combined with other trends, such as #CoronaTsukare (Corona Exhaustion), these SOS calls from the web are suggesting that many people are on the verge.
“My wife has been in a terrible mood all morning. She told me to stay inside my room and not leave the whole day.”
“It’s a protest for connection or safety when we are literally living in an uncertain or unsafe world,” says Billy Cleary, clinical director at TELL Japan, Tokyo’s leading counseling organization for the foreign community. “In times of stress, regardless of culture, one of the primary ways we attempt to self-regulate is by turning toward the safest person in our life, which is typically our spouse. But this reach for connection in this pandemic can easily be infused with impatience, anxious panic or anger.”
We’ve seen this trend before as well. A few months after the Great East Japan Earthquake hit the Tohoku area destroying entire cities, the significant increase in divorce consultations became a news topic. Women took the lead in most cases: many were “shocked to see their husbands not trying to save or care for them after the quake,” news reported at the time. The word shinsairikon (disaster divorce) became a trending buzzword. And now, amid a virus spreading furiously across the globe, we are fighting over the increased time we get to spend together or our coronavirus-affected income.
“With every disaster, all of us will experience an increase in our stress levels, which in turn puts pressure on our relationships. Couples whose relationship was already under stress or pressure, such as finances, having struggles typical for a young family, lack of support, poor coping and communication skills, will be more vulnerable,” says Vickie Skorji, TELL’s lifeline director.
“The key to taking a step back before making any drastic decisions is to remind each other that we are not the only ones going through a challenging time.”
However, regardless of the struggles people are facing under the current situations, “couples (should) resist putting everything on the line, especially the condition of our marriage or relationship,” Cleary argues.
The key to taking a step back and rethinking before making any drastic decisions is to remind each other that we are not the only ones going through a challenging time. And while some people’s reactions to the crisis may differ from that of their partners, it doesn’t mean that they are completely disregarding the crisis.
“We have to recognize that our spouse is dealing with the same degree of need and limitations,” Cleary suggests. “And we have to gauge our expectations and resist the urge to enforce a standard which is really difficult to meet while we are desperate.”
Luckily, however, amid this growing despair, there is still hope.
As you scroll down the #CoronaRikon posts, occasionally, you will also find the other extremes: the people who are rediscovering the importance of family and those who have fallen in love with their partners all over again.
— ぴーちゃんパパ (@P_chan_papa) April 3, 2020
“Watching my wife speak with confidence during [telework] business meetings, nicely giving orders to other staff members – and typing surprisingly fast – I think that this [isolation] is such a ‘bonus time’ for me! She’s straightforward with her boss but kind to her subordinates, and I’m just thinking … I really love that!”
“Our son was born last summer during a hectic period at work. As much as I wanted to stay home with him, it wasn’t possible. Now that I work from home, I can watch him grow day by day. It made me realize that work goes on, but this precious time will never come back if you lose it. As much as the corona situation is damaging on so many levels, I am grateful for the extra time I can spend with my family,” another SNS user says.
As Cleary concludes, “In a safe space to process these hurts and pains, relationships can recover and couples can move forward. And they actually report coming out stronger than before.”
The key, it seems, is finding this safe space and the so longed-for peace of mind to gather our thoughts and emotions. Perhaps – although it may seem difficult when we’re yet to see a light at the end of the very long pandemic tunnel – one way to do this is by continuing to believe that miracles still occur.
And just by chance we found one:
View this post on Instagram
“We don’t know what will happen due to the coronavirus, so we decided to get married. We haven’t had the chance to inform our friends, and we just got our parents’ blessings over a video call,” says Instagram user @y_komatsu in a photo post of him and his wife – both wearing masks.
Need To Talk?
If you’re going through a relationship crisis that has been intensified due to the Covid-19 pandemic, please consider talking to professionals.
TELL Japan provides professional and licensed teletherapy for couples. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 03-4550-1146 for assistance.