COVID-19 restrictions strain relationships, counsellors say

The pressure of ongoing isolation to stop COVID-19 infection rates from spiking is putting a strain on couples’ relationships, Victoria counsellors say.

People are dealing with everything from loss of the self-identity that comes from heading to work every day to the pressure of being at home with kids, whose own tempers might be fraying from boredom.

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Jessica Condon, individual and couples counsellor at In Bloom Counselling, said loss of income, bills, kids at home and a new, unexpected constant togetherness can all put huge stress on a relationship.

“There is just an awful lot going on for couples right now,” said Condon in a telephone interview.

In the April 3 issue of Psychology Today, columnist and psychologist Susan Newman predicted an uptick in divorces when the COVID-19 emergency settles, although she said that doesn’t always happen after disastrous events.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, for example, surrounding areas saw a decline in divorce rates.

On the other hand, in the aftermath of major hurricanes, divorces rates have increased, while marriage rates have also seen a slight increase. It’s as though life-threatening events encourage people to make life-altering decisions.

Newman also worries that enforced togetherness could lead to an increase in domestic violence, although police forces in Victoria, Saanich and the West Shore are both reporting a small decline in reports of domestic issues for March compared to 2019.

Condon isn’t convinced that divorces will rise as a result of the pandemic. If couples can maintain good communication, there is every reason to believe the COVID-19 isolation experience might even strengthen a couple’s bond, she said.

She agreed communication can be tougher now because so much of the pandemic experience is unfamiliar, its outcome is impossible to predict and everyone is dealing with resulting anxieties. But if it’s done effectively, communication during difficult times can be profound.

“It’s about learning how to face fears together, so it becomes us against the world instead of the world against you,” said Condon.

Sharon Kobrinsky, a longtime counsellor with Colwood Counselling, also said she doesn’t believe a spike in divorce rates is on the horizon.

“I think people will find ways to work things out,” she said, adding an increase in births nine months after the isolation phase ends is more likely.

Kobrinsky said she believes as people settle in to weather an event like the COVID-19 pandemic, they will let go of petty irritants.

“It’s my sense that when you have a bigger cause to focus on, you just won’t carry around the small stuff,” she said.

“People will be focused on important things to get through the day, like cooking meals, taking care of the kids.

“There won’t be enough energy to fret about all the other things.”

Jayne Weatherbe of Relationship and Sex Therapy Ltd. said being isolated at home can be stressful and everyone should be especially mindful of their own mental health.

But Weatherbe said she is also seeing many clients who are finding intimacy and calm in home isolation.

“They are cocooning and canoodling,” she said. “They are really enjoying a more simple life and using it as a time to reconnect with themselves and each other.

“Some people are not seeing this as a quarantine or a lockdown. It’s a cuddling time and a cosy time.”

rwatts@timescolonist.com

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