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Spring 2023 · Vol. 52 No. 1 · pp. 5–20 

Clergy Care, Couples, and COVID-19: Fostering Resilience

Cheryl Dueck Smith

March 2020. My stomach does an anxious flip when I remember that date. February 2020 was already complicated as I juggled my professional roles of marriage and family therapist, clinical supervisor, adjunct professor, and interim executive pastor. I managed to keep all the balls in the air, helped by my young adult sons being away at school and my husband, on sabbatical. I was finally in a rhythm, six months after stepping into pastoral care and church administration following the departure of our beloved pastor. I heard rumors of a virus spreading in China, but I was naïve enough to believe it wouldn’t cross to our shores. All the balls came crashing down in March. It would take considerable effort to begin juggling once again.

Resilience and hope are vital in sustaining both couples and pastors.

In this paper, I will draw on my clinical expertise as a couples counselor, my personal experience as an interim pastor during the pandemic, and my experience as a professor who teaches seminary students about serving resiliently in crises. The predictable stages found in {6} disaster-response models were complicated by the progression of the pandemic. The combination of external, contextual, and internal stressors exacerbated relational stress. As clergy worked tirelessly to continue ministry during the pandemic, pastoral care became increasingly difficult, leading to greater likelihood of secondary trauma, burnout, and compassion fatigue. Resilience and hope are vital in sustaining both couples and pastors.


Early in the pandemic I read an article in which Andy Crouch and his colleagues argued that we need to understand the coronavirus as “not just a weeks-long ‘blizzard,’ not even just a months-long ‘winter,’ but something closer to the beginning of a 12 to 18 month ‘ice age.’ ” 1 The article helped shift both my perspective and approach to the pandemic. We needed to prepare for a lengthy crisis rather than a short-lived event. When teaching pastors about disaster response, I have found the Emotional Phases of Disaster Response model helpful in delineating how the response to the disaster changes over time. 2 The six phases are Pre-Disaster, Impact, Heroic, Honeymoon, Disillusionment, and Reconstruction. The unique nature of the COVID-19 pandemic deviated somewhat from the predictable stages and yet there are significant areas of overlap. 3

In the Pre-disaster Phase, communities receive alerts about the disaster and instructions on how to prepare for the emergency. Because COVID-19 was a global disaster, some areas of the world provided warnings before the impact became evident elsewhere. However, the limited amount of time given to prepare, and the absence of information made it difficult to understand the severity of the impact. Most communities were unprepared for the drastic changes coming with shelter-in-place mandates and closures. Looking back at church staff meeting minutes, the “coronavirus” didn’t make it onto our agenda until mid-March. We continued discussing our solar project, how to connect with newcomers, and planning our Easter Service, unaware of the disruptions to come. Like many in the pre-disaster phase, our emotions centered on dismissal and confusion, with building anxiety.

The Impact Phase typically marks the time from onset to when the physical damage is complete. It is characterized by shock and hyperarousal. 4 In cases of natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes, this second stage is often clearly defined and tends to last several minutes to a few days. However, the impact of COVID-19 was more cyclical in nature, with waves of impact that were “chronic, staggered and repeated.” 5 The timeline of the disaster was extended, and the infection rate and death toll continued to climb long after the initial impact. Stowe et al. discuss “disaster events” within the pandemic such as the shift to remote work {7} and school, emotional and physical illness, caregiving changes, and “encountering barriers to access supports due to economic, health, racial, or social capital disparities.” 6 All these changes were accompanied by grief, loss, and high levels of uncertainty. The impact was felt around the world.

The Impact Phase of COVID-19 hit hard and fast. We barely knew how to pronounce “coronavirus” and yet in the course of a week, all our ways of doing church were disrupted as we were forced to take cautionary measures. The other areas of my life required adaptation as well. Classes moved online and I began figuring out how to turn a ten-day study abroad trip to Guatemala into a virtual learning experience. Therapists were learning how to offer confidential telehealth sessions for clients and crafting legal documents to communicate the changes to our clients. My clients’ lives were upended, and while they could benefit from the extra support, counseling also became more difficult. Not knowing how long our shelter-in-place mandate would be, some clients easily shifted to online sessions, while others opted to “wait it out” and eventually terminated. Previously, my days had been spent driving between the seminary, counseling agency, and church, but now I moved between leading a church staff meeting, seeing clients, and teaching—all without leaving my office chair. My boys moved home, disappointed and grieving lost opportunities and missing interactions with friends. After a brief empty-nest period, I spent more time preparing meals for two young men whose goal was to bulk up (a goal distinctly at odds with my own). I did grocery runs for my elderly parents, checking in through their screen door to protect and connect with them, but unsure what to tell them about the virus because I knew so little myself. The impact was significant yet paled in comparison to the compounded hardships and devastation faced by many in my community and elsewhere in the world.

The Heroic Phase, usually short-lived, mobilizes a community to respond to emergency needs. We saw evidence of this phase in medical personnel working tirelessly to treat those who became ill. Fundraisers helped to lessen the financial burden on those hardest hit. However, given the nature of the pandemic, we quickly moved into the Honeymoon Phase, which usually lasts from one week to six months and is characterized by community bonding. I saw our church and local community rising to the challenge. The quilting ladies in our church began sewing masks which were distributed by our youth. We developed a network of people to check in on our elderly congregants, bringing them groceries and teaching them how to access Zoom and our online services. Extra rolls of toilet paper were shared with those in need. People volunteered, were generous with their finances, and showed support to medical staff and essential workers. People were creative in connecting while still taking precautions to “flatten {8} the curve.” We focused on ensuring basic needs were being met for those in our community, becoming the best versions of ourselves. This level of altruism is easier to sustain short-term, in a blizzard mentality, but more difficult to continue beyond the initial weeks of a crisis.

Along with generosity, clients and church members expressed gratitude for unexpected gifts during unprecedented change and hardship. Having both our boys back under our roof, amid uncertainty, was a gift. We enjoyed eating meals together and playing games in the evening. Life was simpler in some ways, with fewer outside obligations. Granted, our privilege is what made the time bearable with access to mostly reliable internet, space for us to each do our work with minimal interruptions, continued paychecks, and work that could be moved online. My experience may not have been normative, yet it was common for me to hear people express gratitude even in hardships.

The rapid shift into the Disillusionment Phase may have been fueled by frustration with government mandates, as well as fears regarding the economic repercussions of health and safety measures. The disruptions to daily life, combined with political divides and conflicting information, seemed to shift people away from the communal orientation of the honeymoon phase. Disparities in the areas of health, economics, and race may also have propelled us into disillusionment. 7 In this phase, discouragement, exhaustion, irritation, and blame are common. Anger and resentment rise to the surface and the chronic stress of living with fear and restrictions takes a toll on relationships. All the closeness we cherished as a family quickly felt confining. Our sons longed for the freedom they had just begun to taste as young adults living away from home. We lamented how much time we were spending on our computers and how much we hated Zoom. Church members began to grumble about our online services and complained about the lack of connection and the cessation of vital ministries. They wanted to worship in person again, sing in the choir, and enjoy donuts and coffee during fellowship hour. On a larger scale, expectations regarding how to best navigate the pandemic exposed massive divides within the nation, communities, families, and churches. While the Disillusionment Phase often lasts from two months to two years, the unpredictability of the virus continues to make an endpoint difficult to identify. The shift to a long-term mindset was not easy for many once the expectations of a “blizzard” pandemic went unmet.

The final emotional phase of a disaster is the Reconstruction Phase. Based on historical situations, communities pull together, process their grief, and make the necessary adjustments to their new reality. There may be signs of reconstruction, and yet the cyclical nature of the pandemic makes it more difficult to fully enter this stage as one that brings closure. {9} Enduring the pandemic as a “little ice age” requires constant adaptation even as we celebrate advances in science to mitigate the negative effects of the virus.


The unique nature of COVID-19 meant that people needed to adapt at both a macro and micro level. Even as the global community progressed through these many emotional responses together, the impact reverberated in intimate relationships. While the external stressors caused by the pandemic were widespread, not all couples entered the pandemic with similar situations; this led to different outcomes. Contextual factors and individual vulnerabilities would highlight differences in the experiences of couples. 8 Without a recognition of societal, internal, and relational dynamics, it would be easy to understand relational stress in ways that pathologize individuals rather than taking additional factors into account. What I heard from the couples on my caseload reflects the issues I found in my research relating to external stressors, contextual factors, and individual vulnerabilities.

Some of the external stressors created by COVID-19 include health, financial, and parenting challenges. Suddenly relationships were forced to reckon with health fears due to increased infections, rising hospitalizations, and abnormal death rates. 9 The precautions taken to mitigate the impact of this unknown virus meant sheltering at home, causing disruptions to employment. Financial stressors such as job loss and changes in employment, along with economic fears were prevalent. Historically, economic strain has been negatively correlated with marital happiness and longevity. 10 Specifically, money stress, rather than the loss of income, has been connected to marital dissatisfaction. 11 However, when couples work together to respond to the economic pressures, financial stress may have fewer negative consequences for the relationship. Additionally, with schools shuttered and children remaining at home, the demands on parenting increased. During the initial shutdown phase of the pandemic, 70 percent of parents expressed increased stress as they felt the pressure to provide for their family economically as well as emotionally. 12 While there is the usual decline in marital satisfaction during the transition to parenthood, the pandemic increased parental responsibilities; relational satisfaction suffered as a result. 13 The variety and severity of these and other external stressors not named here likely affected couples differently.

The pandemic did not affect all people in the same manner because of differing contextual factors. It became increasingly evident that health care disparities existed between people from marginalized groups, who experienced higher infection rates and death, and people from the middle {10} and upper classes. 14 Socioeconomic status and race/ethnicity were two main factors that amplified the impact of COVID-19. 15 Stress increases with lower socioeconomic status, and the need to continue employment in risky environments may impact health. 16 Along with ongoing discrimination and racism, those of minority status may also lack adequate health insurance and suffer from chronic health conditions leading to increased risk of contracting COVID-19. The emotional energy and time consumed by these stressors can add to relational conflict and decrease intimacy between marriage partners.

The health of the marital relationship is also impacted by individual vulnerabilities, such as mental health and attachment security. Rates of anxiety and depression rose during COVID-19, due to the uncertainty of the virus, financial worries, frustration over the government’s response, and the isolation from lockdowns, which in turn impacts relationship satisfaction. 17 In the first few months of the pandemic, the percentage of people reporting significant changes in their mental health due to stress and worry jumped from 32 percent in March 2020 to 53 percent in July 2020. The same study reported, “In January 2021, 41% of adults reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder, a share that has been largely stable since spring 2020.” 18 Populations that experienced higher levels of depression and anxiety included young adults (56 percent), those who lost jobs (53 percent), women with children (49 percent), and essential workers (42 percent). People of color also reported higher rates of depression and anxiety, with non-Hispanic Black adults (48 percent) and Hispanic or Latino adults (46 percent) reporting more symptoms than non-Hispanic White adults (41 percent). 19 Individual mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, are important to note, since “couples including a depressed spouse are at greater risk for maladaptive marital processes and marital distress, which are likely to be exacerbated by pandemic-related stress.” 20

How one responds to stress and crisis often depends on how secure one feels in a marital relationship. Higher rates of depression are connected to insecure attachment. 21 Partners with secure attachment tend to be responsive to and engaged with the needs of the other, in contrast to those with an insecure attachment style who are often anxious or avoidant. Anxiously attached individuals tend to over-rely on their partners to regulate their distress, even while they criticize and blame. Those with avoidant attachment styles may isolate and withdraw, reacting defensively to perceived attacks. 22 Pietromonaco and Overall speculated that the stress of the pandemic would tax the coping strategies of insecure individuals, leading to additional relational distress. 23 Securely attached individuals {11} would be more likely to interact with responsiveness, effective conflict resolution, and healthy communication.


External stressors, combined with contextual factors and individual vulnerabilities, can create relational distress. Researchers found an increase in conflict and arguing, an increase specifically related to COVID-19. 24 In addition to normal family stress, couples with differing scientific, political, and religious worldviews argued over how to best navigate the pandemic. These altercations increased the potential for attachment injuries and decreased the emotional bond between partners. 25 Researchers also noted higher than usual incidences of intimate partner violence. 26 A study by Overall and her research partners found increased aggression toward partners by men who “strongly endorsed hostile sexism” and felt powerless. 27 With families locked down at home, the usual distance afforded by work and school no longer provided a protective factor. 28 Increased aggression and high levels of stress tends to negatively affect sexual intimacy, and the degree to which sex may be experienced as fulfilling may also decrease. 29 The unequal distribution of labor can lead to more conflict as couples struggle to negotiate how power and responsibility are managed within the relationship. 30 Fleming and Franzese argue that mothers already felt the division of labor was unequal prior to the pandemic; the imbalance only increased with pandemic restrictions. 31 All of these relational dynamics are interconnected and increase the likelihood of marital dissolution.

Because of the plethora of issues faced by couples during the pandemic, many experts predicted higher divorce rates. Theoretical research along with early studies present various perspectives. Stanley and Markman predicted higher rates of marital dissolution, especially for couples who entered the pandemic already expecting their partners to fulfill all their needs. This resulted in shrinking social resources. Although couples may initially have relished the additional time together during lockdown, some found it difficult to tolerate the closeness for an extended period. 32 The novelty of the honeymoon phase, or hunkering down during a blizzard, gave way to disillusionment when the crisis was prolonged. The chronic nature of the pandemic can wear down relational satisfaction with the passage of time. 33 The additional time spent together when sheltering at home increases the likelihood of negative communication for couples with a history of unhealthy communication. 34 Couples who considered separation and divorce tended to be younger, and their relationships were beset by verbal aggression and high levels of conflict. 35 {12}

Yet, it shouldn’t be assumed that disasters lead inevitably to dissolved marriages. 36 Based on data prior to the pandemic, and projections for the number of divorces in 2020 based on these patterns, there were 12 percent fewer divorces than expected. 37 While the complexity of couples’ problems during the pandemic is significant, disasters can potentially lead to greater connection as partners turn to each other for support in the midst of fear and uncertainty. A study conducted early in the pandemic found that couples maintained elevated levels of satisfaction despite increased rates of anxiety and depression experienced individually. 38 It is unclear if the study, conducted during the Honeymoon Phase, would yield the same results in the Disillusionment Phase. Increased connection despite stressors is especially evident in marriages that entered the pandemic with high levels of satisfaction. 39 Partner responsiveness (measured by understanding, care and support) had the capacity to mitigate pandemic stressors. 40

Research on Latine couples early in the pandemic found that stress was elevated due to the external factors and contextual issues like discrimination. 41 Yet the results of the study showed that relationship satisfaction was also high, including areas of closeness, support, and time spent together. The authors speculate that the strong value placed on family (familismo) may contribute to resilience. Additionally, the Latine couples in their study were able to recognize the pandemic stress as external to their relationship, allowing them to share the experience of stress instead of internalizing it. 42 It should be noted that the couples in their study also had access to health care, employment, and relational support, which could also have contributed to higher levels of satisfaction beyond cultural values.

While communities of color faced extensive pandemic-related challenges, Weber found improvement in life satisfaction and post-traumatic growth in Black communities as compared to other groups, including White participants. 43 The authors point to “some evidence of resilience to the pandemic, which is consistent with research showing that Black communities are highly resilient despite ongoing adversity.” 44 The role of religious faith was seen as another contributor to the resilience of this population.

The combination of external stressors, contextual factors, and individual vulnerabilities create a complicated picture of relational satisfaction in marital relationships. Whether a pandemic will make couples grow stronger or more distant from each other is difficult to predict; long-term outcomes remain to be seen. Couples with ample resources to weather the financial impact of COVID-19, who are emotionally healthy and attached securely, may experience growth and connection through the pandemic, 45 whereas {13} couples who lack these internal and external resources may struggle more. How couples perceive relational satisfaction when viewing COVID-19 as a “blizzard” may change as time elapses and relationship resources may become depleted in “ice age” conditions. 46

Due to increased availability for therapy with the move to telehealth, more couples could be seen during the shutdown phase of the pandemic. However, mental health resources may not have been affordable or perceived as safely accessible due to privacy concerns. My colleagues and I have noticed an increase in the severity of the pathology we see in couples. This increase makes the work of relational repair more difficult. Couples who have waited longer to get help will require more time to heal than those who have come sooner because attachment injuries and relational wounds have accumulated. Couples may have assumed a “blizzard” mentality and paced themselves for a short haul. However, as the pandemic continued longer than expected, a couple’s capacity to cope individually and relationally decreased, leading to more relational issues.


Many of the same external stressors impacting couples were experienced by clergy. While they may have struggled within their intimate relationships, their pastoral duties also dramatically shifted. My experience mirrored the research on the challenges of pastoral work connected to additional role responsibilities, reimagining pastoral care, and the use of technology.

In response to COVID-19, my time as interim pastor became dedicated to endless phone calls, meetings, and research. Many questions needed to be discussed with leadership and staff and then communicated to the congregation. Normal work hours were extended as time and energy was poured into creating new ways of doing all the ministry tasks that had become part of our regular routine. 47 A new role was added to my job description: understanding, interpreting, and implementing health safety information, made more complicated by lack of information or contradictory advice. 48 Pastors like me carried the weight of responsibility, knowing the stakes were high, especially for our elderly and at-risk congregants. While we were making life or death decisions, we were also trying to maintain a calm and comforting presence. 49 I dubbed myself “Pastor Prozac,” recognizing that one of the gifts I offered was my non-anxious presence amid massive uncertainty. Yet, the lack of a blueprint for how to navigate ministry when sheltering in place left me and countless others disoriented and unsettled. When we finally figured out short-term solutions for what we viewed as a blizzard, it became clear that such practices were not sustainable long-term, and we had to pivot again. {14}

The need for pastoral care escalated and yet discerning how best to implement safe formats was less straightforward. Johnston and co-researchers found pastoral care was more difficult to re-imagine than such areas of ministry as worship services. 50 Routine connection, such as touching base before or after worship services, was replaced with texts, emails, and phone calls. 51 Some churches discovered that their pastoral care systems were inadequate before the pandemic, and those unaddressed issues were exacerbated during the crisis. Congregations that assumed a heavy reliance on pastors to build and maintain community, as well as minister to hurting individuals, may have struggled more. Others realized that pastoral care needed to be shared by leadership, deacons, small group leaders, or other structures within the church. Lay participation in pastoral care was seen as a positive outcome of the pandemic in one study. 52

The use of technology to bridge the gap formed by shelter-in-place mandates seemed to be both a blessing and a curse. Not only were worship services and meetings shifting to online, but pastoral care also needed to make use of digital options. Johnston’s study found that many pastors believed pastoral care “required physical co-presence.” 53 They became focused on what they couldn’t do because of the restrictions, rather than imagining alternatives. The reliance on shared physical space and touch may have blocked their ability to transition to online forms of pastoral care. Mental health professionals found themselves in the same transition and mirrored similar attitudes toward telehealth options. Certainly, there were challenges associated with telehealth sessions, such as technology issues, concerns for privacy, the difficulty of connecting through a screen, and fatigue from intense emotional work through a different medium. There were also gifts, such as greater access to mental health resources for those less mobile or in rural areas, the convenience of continuing care online instead of stopping, and increasing health safety. 54 While therapists were discovering and adapting to this newer form of counseling, their pastors faced similar obstacles but perhaps without the benefit of licensing agencies and professional groups to provide guidance and resources.


Not only were pastors navigating their changing responsibilities, reimagining pastoral care, and utilizing technology, but they may also have noticed greater complexity in the kinds of pastoral care issues couples brought to them. The external stressors, combined with contextual and individual factors, added layers of difficulty, not to mention existential concerns, spiritual struggles, and isolation. Additionally, they may have been surprised that couples who voiced optimism and greater cohesion in the earlier stages of the pandemic deteriorated over time, reaching a {15} higher level of conflict and dissatisfaction than pastors are accustomed to seeing. The impact of providing pastoral care in this climate can be seen in secondary trauma, burnout, compassion fatigue, and moral injury.

Secondary trauma, also known as vicarious trauma, occurs when clergy are hearing stories of pain and suffering and feel the distress of it themselves. 55 Bearing witness to the trauma of others can take a toll on the listener. 56 A lack of internal boundaries means that the pastor now carries the pain of the other. 57 Pastors, feeling the weight of their couples distress, may bring that sense of pain and suffering into their own marital relationships. Because the pastor is also experiencing the same pandemic external stressors and may share similar individual and contextual issues as the couples they are counseling, their ability to remain separate yet present may be further compromised. They may be feeling all the same emotions as those they are trying to help, making it more difficult to cope. 58

Burnout results when someone is asked to do more than their capacity allows, due to excessive needs or lacking the skill set needed to be effective. 59 Lindner says burnout results from unsustainable expectations. 60 Pastors working with couples whose issues exceed their scope of training, expertise, or experience might find themselves overwhelmed. The skills they possess may not be sufficient for the increased level of distress they are seeing. But despite feeling ineffective, they continue to try harder because the distress of their congregants is growing. Their desire to serve keeps them working beyond their capacity. 61 They need to attend to their internal stress. Self-care, however, is not the remedy for burnout. Rather, systemic change is needed to adjust the expectations and workloads of pastors. Maintaining limits and referring people to better-skilled counsellors when necessary can prevent burnout.

Compassion fatigue forms when the pastor overidentifies with the suffering of the couple or is overwhelmed by the severity of the hurt they describe. 62 Empathy, which is a gift, also makes pastors susceptible to being overwhelmed. Louw suggests that compassion fatigue is more than feeling exhausted; it is a state of “depleted hope.” 63 Despite the desire to make a meaningful contribution, clergy experience a sense of helplessness and hopelessness on a spiritual level because they lack a theological framework that can hold the depth of suffering they are witnessing. 64 Clergy may become hopeless from listening to couples share their profound loss, trauma, and betrayal, especially when these result from violence and are motivated by racism. Pastors may feel disempowered in their professional role as pastors when they expect to provide Christian hope but feel hopeless themselves. 65 Rest alone cannot address their compassion fatigue. They need a spiritual retreat to grapple {16} with the deeper questions of how God meets us in deep pain and to wrestle with their own expectations of participating in the alleviation of suffering.

Moral injury may be experienced by pastors who—due to burnout, secondary trauma, or compassion fatigue—feel unable to provide the needed pastoral care. They may see their commitment to providing support and care as a moral obligation, and thus their failure to fulfill this duty becomes a deep betrayal of oneself and one’s values. 66 It can be difficult under these circumstances to provide support and hope to couples as well as remain hopeful in one’s pastoral calling.


While I carried the anxiety of being in leadership during the pandemic, I also maintained hope. I read and reread the article by Crouch and his colleagues in those first few months of the pandemic. I took to heart their words: “We write in the confidence that Jesus is Lord, that his Spirit is even now working powerfully in all of our lives, and that God is good.” 67 I remember praying for a friend on Zoom and witnessing the work of the Holy Spirit through a miraculous healing. I clung to the reality that the Holy Spirit is not limited by shelter-in-place orders or technology; the possibilities for how God may be at work during the pandemic are endless. I committed myself to seeing how God was active in the church, in my Zoom classroom, and in online counseling in ways I could not yet imagine. Kadel argues that “resiliency is built upon [pastors’] anticipation that there is something more to come.” 68 This gift from God is what sustained me and fostered resiliency in me.

Resilience is also “the conviction that each of us has both the resources and the grit to step into an unknown future.” 69 In the midst of being overwhelmed, I realized I had prior experiences that prepared me for this bizarre moment in history. The blended format of my doctorate familiarized me with Zoom. Having lived overseas, we had learned to live cut off from extended family by relying on the support our immediate family could give each other. From our time in Africa we also knew that our spiritual growth couldn’t be solely the church’s responsibility—we needed to be proactive in soul care. I had done hard things before, and I knew I could face difficulties again.

There is also hope. Kadel writes, “Hope is the fuel for recovery and the energy of resilience.” 70 With the pandemic turning out to be a mini ice age rather than a blizzard, and the unique challenges of pastoral care working with complicated relational issues, we can name the difficulty and still hold onto hope. As we continue to recognize the full impact of the pandemic, there are certainly deep needs that couples must address. They, too, have resources that can help them foster resilience within their {17} relationship. I pray that pastors can hold onto hope in their pastoral work, knowing that Jesus is Lord, the Spirit is at work, and God is good.


  1. Andy Crouch, Kurt Keilhacker, and Dave Blanchard, “Leading beyond the Blizzard: Why Every Organization Is Now a Startup,” Redemptive Edge (blog), April 24, 2020, para. 1,
  2. This model has been used by the International Red Cross and other disaster preparation organizations, such as SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). See the latter’s “Phases of Disaster Model” (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2020),
  3. Angela Stowe et al., “Getting to the Sandbar: Understanding the Emotional Phases of COVID-19 among College and University Students,” Psychological Reports 125, no. 6 (December 2022): 2959–67,
  4. Harold G. Koenig, In the Wake of Disaster: Religious Responses to Terrorism and Catastrophe (Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press, 2006), 2.
  5. Stowe et al., “Getting to the Sandbar,” 2962.
  6. Stowe et al., 2963.
  7. Stowe et al., 2977.
  8. Paula R. Pietromonaco and Nickola C. Overall, “Applying Relationship Science to Evaluate How the COVID-19 Pandemic May Impact Couples’ Relationships,” American Psychologist 76, no. 3 (April 2021): 447,
  9. C. J. Eubanks Fleming and Alexis T. Franzese, “Should I Stay or Should I Go? Evaluating Intimate Relationship Outcomes during the 2020 Pandemic Shutdown,” Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice 10, no. 3 (September 2021): 159,; Peter Fraenkel and Wonyoung L. Cho, “Reaching Up, Down, In, and Around: Couple and Family Coping during the Coronavirus Pandemic,” Family Process 59, no. 3 (September 2020): 847,
  10. Fleming and Franzese, “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” 159.
  11. Fleming and Franzese, 159.
  12. Fleming and Franzese, 159.
  13. Fleming and Franzese, 163.
  14. Nirmita Panchal, Rabah Kamal, Cynthia Cox, and Rachel Garfield, “The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use,” KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation) (February 10, 2021),
  15. Robert Allan et al., “Practicing Emotionally Focused Therapy Online: Calling {18} All Relationships,” Journal of Marital and Family Therapy 47, no. 2 (April 2021): 425,; Fleming and Franzese, “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” 159. Fraenkel and Cho, “Reaching Up, Down, In, and Around,” 848; Pietromonaco and Overall, “Applying Relationship Science to Evaluate How the COVID-19 Pandemic May Impact Couples’ Relationships,” 441–42.
  16. Hayley C. Fivecoat et al., “It’s Not Us, It’s COVID: Individual and Relational Stress among Latine Couples Early in the Pandemic,” Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, June 27, 2022, 2,
  17. Fleming and Franzese, “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” 159.
  18. Panchal et al., “The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use.”
  19. Panchal et al.
  20. Pietromonaco and Overall, “Applying Relationship Science,” 444.
  21. Pietromonaco and Overall, 444.
  22. See the following journal articles for greater detail on attachment styles in adult romantic relationships: Cindy Hazan and Phillip Shaver, “Romantic Love Conceptualized as an Attachment Process,” Journal of Personality & Social Psychology 52, no. 3 (March 1987): 511–24; Mario Mikulincer and Phillip R. Shaver, “An Attachment Perspective on Psychopathology,” World Psychiatry 11, no. 1 (February 2012): 11–15,
  23. Pietromonaco and Overall, “Applying Relationship Science,” 441–44.
  24. As cited in Fleming and Franzese, “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” 160.
  25. Allan et al., “Practicing Emotionally Focused Therapy Online,” 425.
  26. As cited in Fleming and Franzese, “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” 160.
  27. Nickola C. Overall et al., “Sexist Attitudes Predict Family-Based Aggression during a COVID-19 Lockdown,” Journal of Family Psychology 35, no. 8 (December 2021): 1043,
  28. Pietromonaco and Overall, “Applying Relationship Science,” 441.
  29. Fleming and Franzese, “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” 164.
  30. Allan et al., “Practicing Emotionally Focused Therapy Online,” 421. Fleming and Franzese, “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” 160.
  31. Fleming and Franzese, “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” 160.
  32. Scott M. Stanley and Howard J. Markman, “Helping Couples in the Shadow of COVID-19,” Family Process 59, no. 3 (September 2020): 944,
  33. Pietromonaco and Overall, “Applying Relationship Science,” 441.
  34. Fraenkel and Cho, “Reaching Up, Down, In, and Around,” 851.
  35. Fleming and Franzese, “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” 164.
  36. For a review of differing divorce rates following natural disasters and terrorist attacks, see Pietromonaco and Overall, “Applying Relationship Science,” 441.
  37. Krista K. Westrick-Payne, Wendy D. Manning, and Lisa Carlson, “Pandemic Shortfall in Marriages and Divorces in the United States,” Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World 8 (January 2022): paragraph 5, {19}
  38. Danielle M. Weber, Alexandra K. Wojda, Emily A. Carrino, and Donald H. Baucom, “Love in the Time of COVID-19: A Brief Report on Relationship and Individual Functioning among Committed Couples in the United States while under Shelter-in-place Orders,” Family Process 60, no. 4 (December 2021): 1385,
  39. Fivecoat et al., “It’s Not Us, It’s COVID,” 3.
  40. Rhonda N. Balzarini et al., “Love in the Time of COVID: Perceived Partner Responsiveness Buffers People from Lower Relationship Quality Associated with COVID-Related Stressors,” Social Psychological and Personality Science, June 29, 2022, 1–41,
  41. Fivecoat et al., “It’s Not Us, It’s COVID,” 10–11.
  42. Fivecoat et al., 12.
  43. Weber et al., “Love in the Time of COVID-19,” 1386.
  44. Weber et al., 1386.
  45. Pietromonaco and Overall, “Applying Relationship Science,” 444.
  46. Pietromonaco and Overall, 441.
  47. These experiences mirror the research found by Erin F. Johnston, David E. Eagle, Jennifer Headley, and Anna Holleman, “Pastoral Ministry in Unsettled Times: A Qualitative Study of the Experiences of Clergy during the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Review of Religious Research 64, no. 2 (June 2022): 381,
  48. Johnston et al., “Pastoral Ministry in Unsettled Times,” 387.
  49. Johnston et al., 388.
  50. Johnston et al., 379.
  51. Johnston et al., 386.
  52. Johnston et al., 386.
  53. Johnston et al., 381.
  54. Resources on telehealth therapy with couples: Allan et al., “Practicing Emotionally Focused Therapy Online,” 424–39; Nathan R. Hardy, Candice A. Maier, and Ty J. Gregson, “Couple Teletherapy in the Era of COVID-19: Experiences and Recommendations,” Journal of Marital and Family Therapy 47, no. 2 (April 2021): 225–43,; Katherine M. Hertlein et al., “Toward Proficiency in Telebehavioral Health: Applying Interprofessional Competencies in Couple and Family Therapy,” Journal of Marital and Family Therapy 47, no. 2 (April 2021): 359–74,; Jasara N. Hogan, “Conducting Couple Therapy via Telehealth: Special Considerations for Virtual Success,” Journal of Health Service Psychology 48, no. 2 (May 2022): 89–96,; Elizabeth R. Wrape and Meghan M. McGinn, “Clinical and Ethical Considerations for Delivering Couple and Family Therapy via Telehealth,” Journal of Marital and Family Therapy 45, no. 2 (April 2019): 296–308,
  55. Jill Anne Hendron, Pauline Irving, and Brian Taylor, “The Unseen Cost: A Discussion of the Secondary Traumatization Experience of the Clergy,” Pastoral Psychology 61, no. 2 (April 2012): 223,
  56. Hendron et al., 222. {20}
  57. Daniël Louw, “Compassion Fatigue: Spiritual Exhaustion and the Cost of Caring in the Pastoral Ministry; Towards a ‘Pastoral Diagnosis’ in Caregiving,” HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies 71, no. 2 (February 6, 2015): 5,
  58. Talya Greene, Michael A. P. Bloomfield, and Jo Billings, “Psychological Trauma and Moral Injury in Religious Leaders during COVID-19,” Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy 12, no. S1 (August 2020): S143,
  59. Louw, “Compassion Fatigue,” 4.
  60. Cynthia G. Lindner, Varieties of Gifts: Multiplicity and the Well-Lived Pastoral Life (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), 10.
  61. Louw, “Compassion Fatigue,” 4.
  62. Louw, 5.
  63. Louw, 2.
  64. Louw, 2.
  65. Louw, 4.
  66. Greene et al., “Psychological Trauma and Moral Injury,” 143–44.
  67. Crouch et al., “Leading Beyond the Blizzard,” paragraph 2.
  68. Thomas E. Kadel, Keep the Book Open: Beyond the Basics of Disaster Spiritual Care (Springfield, MO: eLectio Publishing, 2017), 5.
  69. Kadel, 12.
  70. Kadel, 11.
Cheryl Dueck Smith (DArts, Eastern University) serves as an Assistant Professor of Marriage and Family Therapy at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary and also practices as a licensed marriage and family therapist at Link Care in Fresno, California. From 2007 to 2011, she and her family volunteered with Mennonite Central Committee in Zambia. She was the interim executive pastor of a Mennonite Brethren church in Fresno from September 2019 to September 2020.

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