Already there have been reports of a spike in applications for divorce in the Chinese city of Xi’an as a result of couples having been quarantined in close quarters.
Meanwhile, domestic abuse experts have warned the crisis will trigger an increase in incidents of violence, with some worried victims may be isolated with perpetrators and have limited access to support.
But counsellors are also concerned about the impacts of coronavirus on non-abusive relationships. The effects of anxiety, financial insecurity and a lack of social connection as a result of unsettling situations like lockdown are almost certain to put significant strain on relationships.
The truth is, we don’t know yet what the impacts on relationships will be. But based on previous smaller scale and potentially more contained events, we know stress levels will be high, and in some cases will actually lead to the end of relationships.
Stressful or traumatic events can bring some couples closer together “against a common threat”, even if just temporarily. But for others, it will drive them apart — perhaps by revealing existing vulnerabilities in the relationship, or different “coping styles”.
For example, one partner might respond to the uncertainty of the situation by constantly scrolling through social media for updates or wanting to talk about the news. But this can create tension and trigger arguments if the other person would rather avoid rolling coverage.
Many couples have also suddenly found themselves having to navigate dramatic changes in routine: many are working from home in shared spaces, juggling childcare and vulnerable elderly parents, while others are facing unemployment and financial insecurity — all of which can cause conflict.
So how can couples keep calm and carry on during the chaos of coronavirus?
I would encourage couples and families to talk openly about how they’re feeling with their partner and listen non-judgmentally to what they’re saying in return
It’s okay to be anxious and fearful — they’re completely healthy reactions. But you also want to know your partner is hearing you, and is holding that vulnerability with you, validating how you’re feeling.
Try to make the most of any extra time you might have together by doing things you wouldn’t normally do because of busy schedules: go for walks, listen to music, look through old photos.
Be careful of constantly monitoring social media, which tends to emphasise negative stories. This is particularly important when you have children — if the children see you constantly glued to the television with a worried expression on your face, they’ll pick up on your anxiety.
There are many positive stories, with examples of communities pulling together, neighbours helping one another, especially the elderly. People are sharing notes under doors and calling to ask whether they can pick up things for each other at the supermarkets etc. Sharing these can help in keeping a more positive, optimistic outlook.