Oct 27, 2021 - News

How a natural disaster can bring couples closer together

A couple walks through an inundated community in Houston after it was hit by Hurricane Harvey.

A couple walks through a neighborhood in Houston hit hard by Hurricane Harvey in August 2017. Photo: Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post via Getty Images

As stressful and destructive as they are, natural disasters can bring married couples closer together, per new research out of the University of Texas.

How it works: UT researchers had surveyed 231 newly-wed couples about their relationship satisfaction when Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas coast in August 2017.

  • The storm submerged at least a quarter of Harris County, inflicting at least $125 billion of total damage in Texas and Louisiana.

After Harvey struck, researchers saw an opportunity to track relationship dynamics in the aftermath of a natural disaster.

What they said: "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," said Hannah Williamson, assistant professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas at Austin and lead study author.

  • "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," she added.

What they found: Immediately after the storm, couples experienced a significant boost in relationship satisfaction — with the biggest jumps among couples who were the most unsatisfied before the storm.

Yes, but: The improvement in relationship satisfaction was not permanent, and couples returned to pre-hurricane levels of contentment within a year.

The bottom line: "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.


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