Young couple wearing a protective face mask
Young couple wearing a protective face mask

Split, suffer or stay? Three lockdown impacts on couples

What a change to our lives the past six weeks has been as we hunkered down in our homes to wait out an invisible threat.

Things that we once took for granted - time with friends, weekends away or a quiet dinner out with that special other - now live in our memory, as we sit and wait for life to return to some sense of normality.

Zoom, something many associated with a fast-moving car in the past, is now how we connect with our loved ones and friends online, with online chats and parties the new norm for connecting outside of our immediate family.

These restrictions on our social life are not the only thing that has changed, with accessing essential support services, such as counselling, something that is no longer as easy as it once was.

This is a significant issue, with research on the impact of the coronavirus lockdown suggesting that more than half of Australians are experiencing stress and increases in anxiety as the fight against the virus rolls on.

Coronavirus lockdown has had significant impact on many relationships. Picture: Getty
Coronavirus lockdown has had significant impact on many relationships. Picture: Getty

In my practice, I am seeing not only this stress and anxiety grow in those I am working with, but also how lockdown is changing how we interact with each other as couples.

There are three distinct situations emerging from couples in a COVID-19 world.

 

Learning to live apart together

There have been predictions of a surge in divorces and break ups as soon as we emerge in a post-virus world and this will be true for many couples who faced issues prior to being forced into lockdown.

After a few weeks of forced time together, they have quickly come to the decision that as soon as there is daylight in the doorway, they are off.

Without the stress and pressure of lockdown, these couples would have had the opportunity to work through their issues with external support and therapy, potentially saving their relationship.

This extended time together, coupled with the issues that have caused harm to their relationship in the past, such as poor listening, infidelity, lack of intimacy and repeated arguments, has seen them come to the mutual decision to end their relationship as soon as possible.

A spike in divorce post-lockdown is expected. Picture: iStock.
A spike in divorce post-lockdown is expected. Picture: iStock.

The key from a counselling perspective for these couples is now focused on what the end looks like and how they can best work together to continue to coexist under the same roof, as peacefully and respectfully as possible, being particularly mindful of how they communicate if there are children in the home.

This is what I call 'learning to live apart together.'

From 'superheroes' to 'super cranky'

We love our kids, those delightful little creatures that seek all our focus and attention during that golden age when they see their parents as superhuman beings before our darlings hit the age of the 'teenage grunter.'

As fabulous as this time is in our child's life, it can become tiresome and draining as we attempt to entertain our children without the distraction of kinder, school, social outings and parties.

This has seen a shift in the type of counselling that I have traditionally provided, as couples who have had little issues with each other in the past, are now finding themselves in troubled waters when it comes to coping with the kids at home.

Juggling kids, work and chores while stuck at home has taken its toll on many. Picture: istock
Juggling kids, work and chores while stuck at home has taken its toll on many. Picture: istock

One thing is clear, entertaining the kids in lockdown is a tough gig. This is in turn placing pressure and stress on relationships and creating an upsurge in those seeking outside support to help them through.

This has seen me throw on my 'how to cope with the kids' parenting hat as I work with couples on not only their communication with each other, but as importantly the structure of their day.

The real key here is supporting each other and working together to a clear plan you both are on board with, making sure that not too much of the 'entertain the kids' falls to one person, while implementing the structure that kids thrive on.

The 'bright spark' in this coronavirus nightmare

There has been very little brightness to this virus that has caused so much devastation across the globe.

One small spark I have seen is in couples who through the busyness of everyday life, such as work, endless commitments, running around for the kids, had become distant from each other, now starting to communicate again.

The lockdown has also helped couples reinforce their love. Picture: istock
The lockdown has also helped couples reinforce their love. Picture: istock

This is the positive side to lockdown as through spending more time with each other, they have reconnected with the passion they felt when they first met, realising that they are still very much in love.

It has been wonderful to see this reconnection bloom in the couples I have been working with and if you are experiencing these growing feelings of love, now is the time to double down, to find that special time for a date night and get the kids to bed early for some intimate time.

For these lucky couples, COVID-19 may well have arrived at the right time!

Melissa Ferrari is a psychotherapist and one of Australia's leading relationship counsellors.

Originally published as Split, suffer or stay? Three lockdown impacts on couples



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