Social distancing in the times of coronavirus comes with a sense of obligation. With neighbors, friends, and families relying on each other for support and help, a Michigan State University study focused on the effect of obligation on relationships. Published in Sage Journals, the study found that while some obligations were seen as ‘massive’ and harmful for relationships, others were seen as simple and held relationships together.
The team used 18-year longitudinal data to evaluate if the sense of obligation is linked with changes in individual well-being and relationships over time. “We found that some obligations were linked with greater depressive symptoms and slower increases in support from friends over time,” said Jeewon Oh, one of the authors of the study. “However, other obligations were linked with both greater support and less strain from family and friends initially.”The study focused on finding the point where obligations were seen as a burden and likely to harm the relationship.
The team found that there was a spectrum of obligations, ranging from light to substantive. Staying in touch with a friend is an example of light obligation while lending money comes under substantive obligation. Light obligation resulted in improved relationships and individual well-being. Substantive obligation, on the other hand, may lower the levels of well-being. It could also slow down support from friends. This association was uniform across different ages. Interestingly, the burden of obligation also depended on the type of relationship. Substantive obligations did not have the same impact when between spouses or parents and children.