Psych Study Shows How Couples Can Bond Over a Natural Disaster
Researchers from the University of Texas Austin say that a natural disaster can bring couples closer together. While they cause devastation to homes, businesses, and lives, storms also have a silver lining. In the aftermath of hurricanes, tornadoes, and other acts of nature, we turn to each other for support. This feeling of camaraderie may not last, but it helps improve morale following an emergency.
The study involved analyzing couples in the Houston metro area before and after Hurricane Harvey. It marked the first of its kind to look at how couples bond during a significant storm.
Hurricane Harvey caused about $125 billion in damage, making it the second-costliest hurricane since 1900. It’s surpassed only by Hurricane Katrina, which hit the New Orleans area in 2005 and cost $160 billion.
Meteorologists consider Harvey the worst flood in history since it dumped over sixty inches of rain in a matter of days. While it made landfall in south Texas, it crept along the coast, stalling out near Houston. Harvey led to over 100 direct and indirect deaths, most due to flooding.
Other interesting facts about Hurricane Harvey
- The hurricane dumped over 27 trillion gallons of rain in Texas, making it the wettest tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Atlantic.
- The National Weather Service had to create two new colors on its weather charts to account for the catastrophic rainfall. Some areas of Houston received 50-60 inches of rain.
- According to a California geophysicist, the sheer weight of the water caused Houston to sink one inch.
- Harvey made three landfalls in Texas – one in San Jose Island, another near Rockport, and final landfall near Port Arthur.
- It first made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane on Aug. 25, 2017, packing winds of 130mph.
- It marked the first major hurricane to strike southern Texas in nearly 50 years.
- A study found that climate change increased Harvey’s rainfall totals by nearly 38%.
Psych Study Shows How Couples Can Bond Over a Natural Disaster
So, you can see how living through this monstrous storm could bring couples closer together. The study by UT Austin researchers may help advise families as they navigate stressors like natural disasters. The findings have been published in the journal Psychological Science.
The research team surveyed 231 newlyweds about their relationship satisfaction shortly before Harvey made landfall in August 2017. With the storm approaching, researchers wanted to take the opportunity to analyze how it would affect relationships. A relationship study on relationship dynamics before and after a major storm had never been done before.
What the experts say:
Hannah Williamson, an assistant professor of human development and family sciences at The University of Texas at Austin and lead author of the study:
“We originally set out to study the effects of everyday stressors, such as financial problems and the transition to parenthood, on couples in the early years of their marriage,”
“When the hurricane hit in the middle of the study, it allowed us to look at the effects of a major acute stressor. Unfortunately, more and more people are going through disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires.”
The study revealed that immediately following the hurricane, couples felt significantly more satisfied in their relationship. This came as a surprise to the team since previous studies yielded opposite results. Everyday stressors like finances and bills typically put a considerable strain on relationships and lower satisfaction levels.
However, daily problems pale in comparison to a life-threatening hurricane. When you’re faced with a life-or-death situation, it makes you realize what’s truly important. You put aside petty differences and arguments in favor of cooperation and good communication.
With survival at stake, you focus on what’s directly in front of you instead of worrying about trivial matters. Making it through something so traumatic together may explain couples’ renewed happiness with each other.
A Natural Disaster Helps People Overcome Differences
“Based on previous studies, we expected to see people who were happy with their relationships before the hurricane would be even happier afterward, and people who were unhappy would be more unhappy,” said Williamson. “We actually saw the biggest jumps in relationship satisfaction among the couples who were the most unhappy before the hurricane.”
Researchers also took note of how badly the hurricane-impacted couples. For instance, they asked them about damage to their homes, financial losses, and more. Surprisingly, the couples’ varying experiences didn’t affect their relationship satisfaction after the storm.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that couples going through a rough patch should hope a hurricane comes their way. Researchers found that the couples experienced better relationship satisfaction only temporarily. Within a year, they eventually returned to their baseline happiness levels. However, couples should try to remember their importance to one another every day, regardless of circumstances.
“A natural disaster can really put things in perspective. People realize how important their partner is to them when they are jolted out of the day-to-day stress of life,” Williamson said. “There may be therapeutic applications to this if couples can shift their perspective in a similar way without having to go through a natural disaster.”
Thomas N. Bradbury and Benjamin R. Karney of the University of California, Los Angeles, also contributed to the research. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development helped fund the study.
Final Thoughts on How Surviving a Natural Disaster Can Help Couples Bond
Every couple goes through difficult times where you aggravate one another. The stresses of modern life can take a toll on everyone eventually. However, a new study found that unhappy couples who survived a major hurricane found renewed joy in their relationship. That’s not to say couples should actively seek out dangerous situations, of course.
It does show that going through a survival situation together can put things in perspective for couples. When you face stress like a monster hurricane, it reminds you of the essential things in life. In the aftermath of a storm, couples realize the fragility of life and feel more thankful to have a loyal partner by their side.