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How COVID-19 pandemic has put strain on marriages | Nandishi Bekah

Friday, May 29, 2020 @ 2:27 PM | By Nandishi Bekah

Last Updated: Wednesday, June 03, 2020 @ 12:52 PM

Nandishi Bekah %>
Nandishi Bekah
They say that people come together in times of crisis. That does not seem to be the case for married and cohabiting couples. The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented global crisis that has put the best of our human virtues to the test.

Why has this pandemic had such a rippling and crippling effect on couples?

The lockdown enforced by this pandemic has essentially jailed couples in their homes, stripping them of their normal, daily routines and more importantly, taking away their ability to seek freedom from their partner whenever they feel the need for a “break.” The simple acts of going to work, going to the gym or seeing friends is enough to satisfy most people and alleviate home tensions, so that their relationship stresses become a thing of naught. Without these escapes, small problems amplify into big problems and couples simply cannot cope with the high-stress environment.

The reality is, proximity is a relationship stressor. The closer you are to someone for an extended period of time without any way to distance yourself from them, the more likely you are to become irritated and annoyed at the simplest things that the other person may say or do. At a time when emotions are running high, anxiety and restlessness is at the forefront of every person facing a breakdown in their relationship.

For newlyweds, this lockdown may have started off as a blessing, an extended honeymoon perhaps, but over the past few weeks, I have seen an increase in the number of young couples looking to separate and divorce amidst this pandemic. When asked why they wanted to separate now, most answered with the same resounding response: “We just aren’t compatible.” This leads to the question, why would couples come to such a conclusion so soon after getting married?

Colloquially labelled as the “quarantine effect,” being stuck in the same place with the same person, day in and day out, with no real end in sight, has brought out the ugly side of the relationships. Without the ability to “escape,” to regain perspective and to unwind, couples are not able to cope with their problems and simply give up. Passion and patience have been replaced with bitterness and intolerance.

I specifically recall a client who came to me recently. When I asked him why he was filing for divorce, he said that his wife has become this annoying mosquito, just always buzzing around and never leaving him alone. As comical as it may sound to the rest of us, he was serious. He really viewed his spouse as a nuisance, someone he just could not stand to be around anymore.

Even more surprising are the couples who have been married for a long time and who are now filing for divorce. I find that long-term married couples are faced with a different set of problems to that of our newlyweds. These couples have lived with an established routine, a fail-proof system of day-to-day living that has made their marriage a success. Strip away that normalcy and you are left with chaos.

These couples had mastered the ability to take small issues and “sweep them under rug” because their daily routines are so busy and filled with other things that it makes worrying about the small things seem insignificant. The differences these couples had pushed aside are now more prevalent and have caused more rifts.

Couples with children are in the same predicament, as now families are stuck together endlessly and the pressure of having to keep the family together is ironically what is tearing families apart. Parents cannot seem to agree on the proper rearing of their children as little disagreements have now escalated to huge problems. Reality sinks in that they are “stuck” with their spouse and that without the outside distractions, they realize that they do just do not like the other person.

This is every divorcing couple’s reality. The need to just break free, and this lockdown has only exacerbated this need. That is the saddest part in my opinion. Loving someone is very different from liking someone. Liking who the other person is means really liking the different sides of them: the good, the bad and the ugly. It is the ability to truly like the other person that will help couples survive this lockdown and overcome this overwhelming sense of dread.

Tips on how to mitigate situation amid lockdown

Recently, I have been advising all my clients who have come to inquire about separating and divorce during this time to really consider whether or not this is what they truly want. As emotions run high, this is not the time to be making life-changing decisions. Barring any urgent reason, as in situations of abuse and violence, where it is necessary to get out and get somewhere safe, I urge my clients to do the following:

  1. Take breaks. If the client is fortunate enough to be somewhere with multiple rooms, I tell them to take some time for themselves. This not only brings some peace of mind but gives them alone time and separation from the other person to regain perspective.
  2. Go for a walk. If the client is healthy and has not been diagnosed with or exposed to COVID-19, they should take a moment to just go outside and get some fresh air and some sunlight.
  3. Try to pick an activity that both partners enjoy and remember why they’re together in the first place. They should go back to those roots. Sometimes, it just takes a moment of reflection to realize that while this situation is not ideal, it does present an opportunity to reconnect. They could watch a movie, binge a new show, cook something together, learn a new hobby together or be silly on social media together.
  4. Laugh. More than anything, laugh.

The COVID-19 pandemic will not last forever. Couples would do well to remember that when considering divorce and separation during this time. The rising rates are alarming and I fear they will continue to rise unless couples can understand that the reason behind their need for separation is fuelled by the negativity surrounding the COVID-19 lockdown rather than their actual relationship woes.

Editor’s note: The headline on this article has been changed in the interests of accuracy.

Nandishi Bekah is the principal lawyer at the Toronto-based law firm Bekah Law. Bekah specializes in family law and discusses family law topics across Canadian media. She is currently penning her first book.

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