Will lockdown spell the end in an ailing marriage, or a new beginning?

The time together could re-ignite a flame that has all but died.
The time together could re-ignite a flame that has all but died.

Traditionally January is known as 'divorce month', but as South Africa endures several weeks of an unprecedented lockdown, imposed to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus, it may become apparent that March or April 2020 become the top months for divorce.

Also see: Divorce rates spike in Chinese lockdown, could this be South Africa's fate too?

Reasons for the January spike include the family pressures that emerge during the festive season, combined with the enforced proximity to each other, turn a marriage from ailing to failing.

Periods of extended time together and disruption to normal routine can bring into sharp contrast small cracks and imperfections in a marriage that the spouses were able to ignore the rest of the year.

What effect, then, will an extended period of isolation, in lockdown, have on marriages already under strain?

Simon Dippenaar, a local family lawyer, provided us with some insight:

As divorce lawyers, you might expect us to root for a break-up, after all, our business is built on divorce cases. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Divorce lawyers are also known as family lawyers, and our priority is always ensuring the best possible outcome for the family.

Sometimes divorce is the best possible outcome. Children are better off in two separate calm, loving homes than under one roof with both parents constantly at war with each other.

Time for reflection 

The enforced time together caused by Covid-19 may very well cause couples to reflect on their lives together.

They will have a chance, rare in our busy lives these days, to talk about values, priorities, challenges. There may be more fights than usual, as the tedium of confinement exaggerates small irritations.

The very presence of the other person 24/7 may become unbearable.

Positive outcomes 

But something positive may happen too.

The enormity of the global pandemic and the threat to our health and very way of life may cause couples to reassess their past differences.

They may realize they had a habit of bickering over petty matters, which only now are revealed in their true insignificance.

They may bond over a shared concern for friends and neighbors, and for each other.

The time together could re-ignite a flame that has all but died, and they could find themselves watching Netflix together, playing games, and doing the things they did in the early days of their relationship.

Happy marriages

Parent24 conducted a lockdown poll which revealed that many local couples are in fact enjoying the extra time together.

How are you handling being locked in with each oth

Half of respondents said they were happy,  and 33% admitted it was tough but that they were coping. Only 17% revealed that they were unhappy and couldn't wait for the end - of the lockdown and their marriage. 

Forced togetherness

In either case, self-isolation is likely to exacerbate or accelerate a process that was partially latent and not yet obvious to either spouse.

If the marriage really has broken down irretrievably, forced togetherness may be the final straw.

It may convince both parties that they truly no longer wish to be married, and as soon as the restrictions are lifted their first port of call will be the divorce attorney. 

Space and time

For those who retain a shred of love and commitment for each other, but have experienced some difficulties in the marriage, the isolation may just give them space and time to unravel the tangled threads of their relationship and find solutions to their problems.

It may remind them of why they married in the first place.

It may mean the call to the divorce lawyer doesn’t happen, or a case already underway may be withdrawn. 

Change of heart

For some, conflict resolution may mean a redefinition of the marriage.

They may review their matrimonial regime and, in light of changes in their lives since getting married, decide to alter it via post-nuptial contract.

They may change their wills.

Change is inevitable

At this stage, we don’t know what will happen in the next few months. We don’t know if the current measures the President has put in place will be sufficient to contain the spread of the virus.

We don’t know how long we might have to live with restrictions – possibly until a vaccine is available, and we don’t know how long that will be.

Some say 12-18 months. The world is full of unknowns. Living with constant stress and uncertainty affects different people in different ways.

Some harness it to inform the creative process. Some find it very difficult to cope with.

Resilience is the key to a lasting marriage 

Couples who react differently to stress often find their relationship takes a beating, as they are unable to give each other what they need because they can’t empathize with the other’s reactions. 

When we finally come out the other side, we will all be changed. Many marriages will survive.

Some will be strengthened; some will go to the wall. The current crisis will probably not change the inevitable; it will only accelerate it.

If a couple is destined to divorce, confinement may make that apparent sooner than it otherwise would have been.

If they are resilient enough to weather the storms of marriage, they will weather the storm of Covid-19. 

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