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Survey: Gauging how relationships in Canada have withstood pandemic pressures

For the past couple of years, Research Co. and Glacier Media have looked at many aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pollster Mario Canseco finds Liberal lead over Conservatives has narrowed quickly since election call. | BIV

For the past couple of years, Research Co. and Glacier Media have looked at many aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We studied the perceptions of residents on the performance of their governments, gauged into the contentious matter of “vaccine passports” and examined the effect that months – or years – of working from home could have on offices and workplaces.

Since March 2020, we have also asked Canadians about their state of mind, particularly in regard to their day-to-day activities. In November 2021, 14 per cent of Canadians told us that they were having a bath or shower less often than before the pandemic – a proportion that climbed to 18 per cent in Ontario. More than one in five Canadians (22 per cent) also confided that they were overeating, including 27 per cent of those aged 18 to 34.

Two concepts were discussed at length during the pandemic. One was the “Great Resignation,” or the notion that employees would consider quitting a job unless different conditions allowed them to continue working from home and avoid commuting to an office like they did in 2019. The other was the “Great Break-Up,” or the realization that life with a spouse or partner who is with us every hour may not be what we wanted.

Last month, we asked a few questions to Canadians who are living with their spouse or partner. We wanted to find out what effect the pandemic had on their relationship, as well as which components of co-habitation were more pleasant than others.

As expected, practically all respondents (92 per cent) approve of the performance of their spouse or live-in partner during the COVID-19 pandemic. There is some nuance, with strong approval reaching 70 per cent and moderate approval checking in at 22 per cent.

Men are more likely to strongly approve of the performance of their spouse or live-in partner (72 per cent) than women (67 per cent). Respondents aged 55 and over were also more willing to provide the highest grade available to their spouse or live-in partner (80 per cent) than those aged 35 to 54 (64 per cent) and those aged 18 to 34 (58 per cent).

Regionally, strong approval for a spouse or live-in partner was highest in Atlantic Canada (76 per cent), followed by Quebec (72 per cent), British Columbia (69 per cent), Ontario (68 per cent), Alberta (67 per cent) and Saskatchewan and Manitoba (65 per cent).

These results would suggest that Canadian couples conquered the challenges that COVID-19 bestowed upon them. Still, we wanted to know if there are specific instances in which individuals felt let down by the behaviour of their co-habiting significant other.

On five aspects, a majority of respondents were “very satisfied” with the actions of their spouse or live-in partner during the COVID-19 pandemic: taking care of pets (65 per cent), taking care of children (62 per cent), providing emotional support when needed (59 per cent), making decisions about what to do (55 per cent) and overall attitude and demeanour (also 55 per cent). There are no major differences across genders on any of these components of pandemic life.

The results are more troublesome on three other items. Across Canada, 69 per cent of respondents told us that they are “very satisfied” with the way their spouse or live-in partner handled personal hygiene. There is a significant gender gap, with 73 of men saying this aspect was phenomenal, compared to only 64 per cent of women. Put differently, more than a third of women who live with a husband or partner cannot vouch unreservedly for their ability to wash themselves.

While 62 per cent of respondents are “very satisfied” with how their spouse or live-in partner managed cooking meals, women are less pleased (56 per cent) than men (67 per cent).

The greatest discrepancy arises on the issue of keeping the home clean and tidy. Just over half of respondents (52 per cent) are “very satisfied” with their spouse or live-in partner on this issue. Among men, the rating reaches 63 per cent. Among women, it drops to a paltry 41 per cent.

In spite of these variations, only seven per cent of respondents acknowledge that they grew “more distant” as a couple during the pandemic. While 44 per cent report no change, a slightly higher proportion (47 per cent) told us that they are closer to their spouse or live-in partner than they were before COVID-19, including 54 per cent of those who reside in British Columbia.

In the end, the pandemic did not have an overly destructive effect on couples living together in Canada. Few respondents are extremely disappointed with what they saw when they were compelled to stay at home indefinitely. Taking care of children and pets was not a problem. The way men performed on the kitchen and with cleaning materials – both personal and household – certainly leaves room for improvement.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online survey conducted from August 14 to August 21, 2022, among a representative sample of 1,135 adults in Canada who are living with their spouse or partner. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 2.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.