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Study: Natural disasters could bring couples closer together

couples come together
Posted at 9:58 AM, Dec 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-23 11:00:20-05

AUSTIN, TX. — With more and more natural disasters occurring across the United States because of climate change, a new study has found that surviving a catastrophic event like a hurricane, could help improve couples' satisfaction levels.

Hannah Williamson has spent years studying couples and relationships at the University of Texas at Austin.

A few years ago, Williamson and her colleagues started following 231 newly married couples to track their happiness levels over the course of four years.

But then, Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area, prompting Williamson and her colleagues to pivot the focus of their study.

"It was clear this was going to be a pretty big deal, one of the worst we’d experienced in recent years," Williamson said.

In the days after Hurricane Harvey, Williamson's team started to check in with couples that were taking part in the study. And what they found surprised even this research veteran.

"It turned out this enormous upheaval actually made them happier in their relationship. Overall, people increased in the satisfaction of their relationship," she explained.

A life-altering natural disaster did the exact opposite of what Williamson expected. The stress of the experience didn’t tear couples apart, it brought them closer together. It turns out all of those day-to-day stresses couples often dump on one another disappeared.

A hurricane made them appreciate one another more.

"Before you were annoyed about all the little things your partner was doing. Now, you appreciate them more, overlooking the little things. Because you had someone to get through that event with you," she added.

There is a caveat to all of this: that boost in relationship satisfaction wasn’t permanent. Many couples reverted back to their previous satisfaction levels after about a year.

But with climate change increasing the frequency of natural disasters, this study could be a great road map for couples in the future.

"Understanding how people get through these major disasters is becoming more critically important as people are experiencing them more."