Covid-19 lockdown doesn't have to end in divorce

Don't let the 21-days of lockdown affect your marriage. Picture: Supplied
Don't let the 21-days of lockdown affect your marriage. Picture: Supplied

The widely reported spike in the divorce rate in China – up to 25% in some cities – due to the national Covid-19 coronavirus lockdown has added to the anxiety of many couples in South Africa as they worry about the future of their marriages.

As per the commonly practised precautionary measure the world over, we are required to stay at home as government is doing its best to slow down the spread of the deadly virus.

As this happens, couples are trying to find better conflict resolution mechanisms and ways not to step on each other’s toes while in isolation.

With nowhere to go, as the lockdown dictates, couples have little space to breathe from unresolved issues that may have long plagued their relationships. This period will also bring up new issues couples may have been unaware of as they got lost in the rhythm of being apart by day and together after work.

In practice, a marriage that would have ended in two years’ time might end in three months instead, if there is no change in your approach.
Mo and Phindi

Being in each other’s face day and night, couples are most likely left without any of the back doors through which they usually escape from unpleasant situations. The back doors could be serious commitments to work, studies and church activities, and visiting friends and family.

Unable to avoid the conflicts any more, couples typically run headlong into them and the results are pretty much what you would expect.

The threat posed by Covid-19 is particularly unnerving because it represents so much more than just one danger. As much as the country is in a 21-day lockdown, signs are that our isolation might be extended beyond April 16.

Our physical health, financial security, employment situations, children’s education and childcare coverage are all changing and/or are all at risk.

Read: Reconnect with your partner in lockdown

Add to that stress the volatility, anxiety and uncertainty brought about by the recent Moody’s Investors Service downgrade of the country’s economy to “junk” status. Such stress, while you’re locked down with a spouse who usually serves irritation on a platter, is a recipe for disaster.

Looking at the situation, it’s not rocket science that a post-coronavirus world will see a spike in pregnancies and higher divorce rates. But your post-Covid-19 world doesn’t have to end in divorce if you consider the following recommendations.

Share the household chores

For many couples, the lockdown is a period that will reveal the “true side” of their spouses. While some appreciate spending time with their spouses and children, many, especially women, are weighed down by the pressures of childcare without support and the imbalances in household responsibilities.

Negotiating your way around the issue of household chores alone can save your marriage.

Establish Covid-19 deal-breakers

For basic relationship health, each partner must list four critical points that are important to their personal comfort during this period. Your spouse must respect and adhere to these and engage around the issues as a couple. These could be behaviours that the other may see as frivolous but that irritate the other under normal circumstances, but really grate your nerves when you are together 24/7.

Here’s an example of partner one’s list:

. Please put your dirty dishes in the dishwasher or sink after meals; don’t just leave them on the kitchen counter.

. Please continue to brush your teeth and take showers in the morning and evening. You simply can’t be in your pyjamas all day, every day.

. Please don’t just come at me when you want to have sex; I prefer connecting with you emotionally first. And the fact that we’re at home 24/7 doesn’t mean we should be at it 24/7.

. Please be open with me and kindly ask for time out if you feel smothered. I won’t be offended.

Example of partner two’s list:

. Please watch your language when speaking to me. I often interpret foul language as disrespect.

. Please be sexually available to me. Unlike before, I no longer have at my disposal the options of replacing your rejection.

. Please use the furthest bathroom from where we’re seated, if you want to do a number two. And please don’t forget to use the air freshener and toilet brush.

. Please manage the time you spend on social media while I’m present.

Everyone needs time to adjust

Covid-19 has changed everyone from a “thriving” to a “surviving” mode overnight. This isn’t easy and requires some time to readjust. This difference in mind-set can create a unique tension, and demands a focus on psychological survival. The skill set that this survival mode demands is different from what is required to thrive and can include greater flexibility, presence of mind, a sense of urgency and functionality over process.

In addition to the above points, we recommend setting ground rules in your marriage for fair fights. Establish that yours shall be a lifestyle of forgiveness and that you’ll continue to pursue your dreams while in isolation, albeit by applying different methods.

Increased time spent together during this lockdown period is not automatically good or bad for a marriage. What it generally does is to accelerate the trajectory your marriage is already on.

In practice, a marriage that would have ended in two years’ time might end in three months instead, if there is no change in your approach.

Unable to avoid the conflicts any more, couples typically run headlong into them and the results are pretty much what you would expect.

Also, the high levels of stress, anxiety and fear during this season of uncertainty typically lead to lower libido. The fact that you’re with each other 24/7 doesn’t automatically translate to a period of sizzling sex.

Instead of allowing your marriage to continue on a downward spiral, use this time as your own unique marriage boot camp. Listen more and learn stuff about your spouse that you never gave yourself time for.

You have a golden opportunity to change the trajectory of your marriage from negative to positive, and from good to great.

Don’t let your marriage die in isolation.

Stay safe. Stay blessed.

Mo and Phindi Grootboom are a husband and wife team working together as relationship coaches.They are also published authors


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