Has the “pandemic era” and its corresponding negative impact on some marital relationships loudly echoed Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs at the personal level? It’s possible (and likely) that what many are experiencing in the new world of Covid is their basic human needs not being met in the manner they require.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed in 1943 his famous “hierarchy of needs” that became a cornerstone in the study of human behavior. In the simplest form, he defined basic human needs as a pyramid in which at the very foundation was the need for physiological well-being, satisfying our necessity for food, water, and shelter. If we use this pyramid approach to the events that have taken place since the start of the pandemic, many families’ main concern began at that basic foundation level—determining where their next meal will come from after losing their jobs as a result of the shutdowns, layoffs, and business closings.
The next level on Maslow’s pyramid above well-being is safety. During the last two-plus years the obvious fear on the part of the world’s citizens was that they or their loved ones would contract the virus and get sick, possibly losing their life in the process. The need to isolate from family, friends, and the activities they’re used to, provided a constant reminder of this threat. As were the necessary mask and social distancing requirements, the closing of different venues, and the genuine overnight change to their social norms. This threat to the safety of their health created another level of despair that negatively impacted daily family life.
Sitting above the safety level of the pyramid is the need for belonging and love. Both the intimate and social structures of peoples’ lives during this pandemic have been turned upside-down. From the intimate perspective, the constant 24/7 presence and interaction with their partners is like sailing into unknown waters. Some are able to handle the inevitable rough terrain and together they sail right through it, while others fight frantically just to keep the boat steady, uncertain if they can hang on until the high seas subside. Socially, interactions came to an abrupt halt. Special friendships and connections were severed unintentionally as a result of the extended gap in time between communications. A sense of deprivation in their closest relationships combined with the loss, or excessive reduction of the interactions with their social network (including extended family, friends, and more) have led to further discouragement for the individual and the couple.
Maslow’s defined level just below the top of the pyramid represents self-esteem. Certainly, for anyone that has lost a job, career, business, or other income as a result of the pandemic, his or her sense of self-worth has been reduced through no fault of their own. This uncontrollable change to their very sense of identity has created further mental health concerns that can either bring on PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) or catapult them into taking on new risks and a new direction in their lives. For those in the former category, the pressure on the relationship only gets more intense.
The pinnacle of Maslow’s pyramid is self-actualization. This is only reached if all the other levels are satisfied. It’s considered the highest form of living from a holistic perspective. For those couples that are not faring well during this historic time, this level is not within their grasp unless they can find a way to navigate through the lower levels successfully. Those that have, whether by their own means, or simply by being fortunate to have what they needed during this time and being unaffected in the same way, may potentially reach this level and thrive.
I always find it interesting when we as individuals think we’re experiencing something unique, only to find out later that it is a social phenomenon that is merely a result of natural human behavior reacting to external conditions beyond our control. This has happened throughout history. When it occurs, the individuals feel alone in their feelings of stress, hopelessness, and despair, despite potential signs to the contrary on display all around them. This feeling they’re alone “on an island” can cause them to take actions that are not in their overall best interest.
That’s where awareness comes in. For instance, knowing that Maslow’s principles have displayed how human behavior works under certain conditions, those “unfortunate couples” can be confident they are NOT alone in their feelings and thoughts. This sense of “not being on an island” can help individuals and couples realize there is indeed a lighthouse directing them towards a new shoreline. So long as they don’t get lost in their emotions, they can make valuable adjustments and adapt to a way of life that may lead them out of the storm. Working together is the solution, and the destination is certainly worth the effort.
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