Love in a time of lockdown – will your relationship survive?

While the divorce rate has spiked in China where couples have split after spending 24/7 together, it is only the beginning for South Africans.
WRITING'S ON THE WALL While the divorce rate has spiked in China where couples have split after spending 24/7 together, it is only the beginning for South Africans.
Image: Ali Yahya on Unsplash

When a Johannesburg woman promised to love her husband in sickness and health 14 years ago she never expected that being alone with him 24/7 would make her question her vows.

The couple, who work in the banking sector, were instructed to self-isolate when they returned from Germany more than two weeks ago.

He says she nagged, while she discovered that he was “quite annoying”.

Their self-isolation was expected to end on Monday and they were both “grateful” to finally leave each other’s company.

But then President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a lockdown, forcing them back into their home.

Divorce lawyer Shando Theron says the divorce rate obviously hasn’t peaked yet in SA because the lockdown hasn’t started. However, relationships will be tested.

“So far the spike has not reached us as the numbers of self-quarantine have not become evident. There has however been a steady increase in divorce numbers, by and large due to the deteriorating economic climate in our country – when the money goes the love follows suit or at least becomes a much scarcer commodity.

Going to work every day allows couples to put some space between them to reflect, think, breathe and potentially cope with or avoid what is going on at home.
Relationship expert Paula Quinsee

“Financial strain is a huge source of conflict in a relationship. Disease adds yet more stress and strain to a relationship – especially where both parties are sick and needy.

“Being quarantined with your spouse over an extended period, would, even in a functioning relationship, lead to some friction. On their own, none of the above are deal breakers but add this to the mix of many relationships already flirting with marital disaster and it may very well be the ton of bricks that breaks the camel’s back.”

Relationship expert Paula Quinsee said couples being forced to work from home together, the added complexity of childcare as schools, and the disruption of daily routines would cause conflict in relationships.  

“The two biggest stresses that individuals take to work with them are relationship or family and financial stress. Going to work every day allows couples to put some space between them to reflect, think, breathe and potentially cope with or avoid what is going on at home.

“In times of conflict or stress, individuals can turn to negative coping mechanisms such as substance abuse like alcohol, painkillers, medication, drugs, addictions like porn, gambling, social media and more, and in some extreme cases it can even trigger domestic violence.”

She advises couples to:

  • Understand that being in each other’s spaces (and faces) is going to cause disagreements or arguments – expect them and agree on how you will manage them;
  • Try and maintain as normal a daily routine as possible if you are forced to work from home – stick to the same wake-up time, time you get to your desk, leave work, breaks;
  • Explain to your children what is going on and what they need to do. They will pick up on your anxiety and stress;
  • Take turns entertaining the kids if both parents are working at home, giving each other time to focus on work deliverables;
  • Take time out by taking small breaks – if you are able to, go for a walk, sit in the garden, meditate or exercise to avoid feeling cooped up indoors;
  • Put steps in place to help you build your relationship during this period and going forward;
  • Communication is key for couples – draw up a schedule of how you will manage household chores, the kids and work responsibilities over the next few weeks to minimise frustrations and resentment from building up;
  • Set up a specific work area for yourself in home if you don’t have the luxury of a home office or study;
  • Speak up if you are feeling anxious, stressed or frustrated – make use of online coaching and counselling services or your employee wellness services.

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