If your relationship is already on shaky ground, the pressures of the Coronavirus are unlikely to create the environment needed to help you work through your differences.
Many couples are buckling under the stress of isolation, ever-changing restrictions, home-schooling and financial uncertainty.
It is no surprise that according to article in the Herald Sun:
“Google searches for the term ‘divorce’ surged to their highest point in 12 months at the end of June, surpassing the usual spike after Christmas and new year.”
This may make you feel less alone in your situation, but it doesn’t make it any easier.
The question is: Can we successfully manage a relationship breakup in a Covid-19 lockdown?
THE REALITY OF BREAKING-UP DURING THE CORONAVIRUS
The end of any relationship is notoriously traumatic. In fact, separation and divorce comes in at Number Two on Thrive Global’s list of the 10 Most Stressful Life Events.
And this is without a global pandemic!
With Covid-19 comes a myriad of challenges which will test even the most loved-up couple, but for those already pondering a parting-of-ways, they are quite simply (and understandably) the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Issues that could aggravate an already tetchy relationship during a lockdown period include, but are not limited to:
TOO MUCH TOGETHERNESS
It used to be that you could listen to your partner talk all day, but now the sound of his voice grates like nails on a blackboard. And is it really possible to be so annoyed by the way he’s eating his yoghurt?
Yep, you need space from each other.
But in lockdown that is the one thing you ain’t gonna get.
Not only can you not leave the house and go to your mates for a good moan about him, but you might even be working from home … together!
The four walls of your once beloved family home are starting to feel more like a prison and are a constant reminder of the sadness and stress of your failing relationship.
Few people are making it through this period without money worries. And if this was a bone of contention in your relationship pre-pandemic, the added pressure is likely to compound it.
Job losses, business closures, investments falling through the floor and general uncertainty about your financial future is scary stuff. It calls for you to work together and find common ground and a way forward …
Instead, while your relationship is so unsteady that you can barely agree on what to have for dinner, you are forced to make financial decisions that will affect the rest of your life. Should you take Coronavirus Early Super Access? Sell your shares? Close the business?
Money disagreements sit at the heart of many relationships. What were once small cracks may become insurmountable crevasses caused by the Coronavirus.
If your relationship was held together by the outside world i.e. mutual friends, regular sports/hobbies or the prospect of an overseas holiday to “reconnect” … you have kissed this all goodbye during lockdown.
And with the loss of these activities which helped you muddle through and generally enjoy life even if your marriage had taken a downturn, comes the blatant truth: Your relationship has run its course.
Daily Zoom calls with friends and family may not be enough to dilute the fact that you simply don’t enjoy each other’s company anymore.
HOW TO SUCCESSFULLY SEPARATE WHILE LIVING TOGETHER
If you and your partner have agreed that your relationship has effectively ended while in lockdown, here are some practical suggestions to make your initial separation work and to set you up as well as possible for the future.
KNOW YOUR RED FLAGS
Moments of conflict might be a regular occurrence in your lockdown togetherness day, but you can control the way you deal with them. Learn to recognise when a conversation is becoming heated and use this a red flag for disengaging, so as to prevent an argument. This might mean calling time-out and removing yourself to the back yard, or another room, to calm down.
When you are both in a better head space, it’s a good idea to revisit the topic and try to find a resolution.
LISTEN TO ONE ANOTHER
A first step for many separating couples towards arranging their separation is mediation. This is a simple process where a neutral third party umpires your discussion, ensuring that both you and your partner are communicating effectively, showing one another respect and ultimately resolving issues. There are online mediation services now available, although it might take a bit of time to get an appointment.
But even without a mediator, it can be useful to try create your own mediation environment when you’re having your discussions. This might include: by having a set agenda of issues to cover (and sticking to it), by taking time to listen to one another without interrupting and even by asking each other to summarise each others’ points of view! This helps people to really listen, to get the two sides of an issue out in the open, and to neutralise emotions. Then you both have some space to consider the other’s view-point, and work together towards a middle-ground solution.
When you are having these discussions, consider your tone of voice, your body language and the words you choose. These choices are extremely powerful and can set the tone of a conversation right from the get-go. Try to put things in terms of your feelings, hopes and wishes rather than make accusations, demands or criticisms.
QUESTION YOUR OWN MOTIVATIONS
If you find yourself in an argument, try to step back and ask yourself whether this type of discussion is really worth the trouble. Lockdown may create a negative behaviour pattern in which arguing is the default.
This is especially important if you are arguing about your children. Is the argument really about their best interests or did that get lost along the way? Re-focus on what you really need to achieve and what sort of relations between you are going to get you there. You might ask your partner to do the same.
SET THE SCENE FOR YOUR SEPARATION
It might feel like you are at the end of a journey when your relationship ends, but as a separating couple with children it is the beginning of new journey as an ex-couple and co-parents. Now is the time to set the scene for success in this next phase.
If you can learn to communicate amicably about practical issues now, you will reduce your expenditure, time and stress when it comes time to work through the more complex parenting and property aspects of separation. A mutually respectful, problem-solving approach will ultimately get you the very best outcomes.
It is particularly important to get a head start in learning to function together as successful, amicable co-parents, one of the very best gifts you can give to your children.
FIND WAYS TO DISENGAGE
However hard you try there are going to be moments when you feel completely trapped and desperate to escape.
Not easy in lockdown.
Instead, look for alternative ways to find reverie by putting in your headphones to listen to music or a podcast, play a computer game, read a book or even write a book! Anything to lessen the aggravation. Self-care in lockdown is your saviour.
AGREE ON A WAY FORWARD
If both you and your partner are ready to separate, you can start your work towards finding common ground in a final separation with a “Separation Pact”. This is an informal agreement in which you cover issues, and set boundaries, for this period of limbo. It will give you both a sense of moving forward despite feeling marooned in lockdown.
The issues covered in your Separation Pact could include:
- Your agreed date of separation
- Your living arrangements moving forward i.e. who will move out and when
- Sleeping arrangements
- How you agree to share the space you have
- What to tell the kids
- How to tell friends and extended family
- How you agree to try to work through conflict
- Household tasks – who will do what
- Gathering paperwork for the separation
Now may not be the time to try to put in the hard yards on negotiating your property split or the details of co-parenting, especially when there is still so much uncertainty. If you could get some privacy, it might be useful to get some virtual legal advice of your own about next steps and entitlements. But lockdown may not the best environment for difficult parenting and financial issues that probably need more time and space to resolve.
Being able to discuss and agree a Separation Pact will sort out some important practical issues for now, and will put you a step ahead for formalising the financial and parenting aspects of your separation when the lockdown dust finally clears.
WHAT ARE THE LEGALITIES OF SEPARATION-UNDER-ONE-ROOF?
If you officially breakup with your partner during a lockdown, you will be living together but “separated under one roof”. Separation under one roof is a recognised legal arrangement and it’s important to understand how it works.
Since in separation under lockdown there will not be a date on which you began to physically live apart, there will need to be some way that you can show the date that the relationship came to an end. Ideally, this is a date you can agree on. You can write it down as a one-sentence agreement that you both sign, or include it in your Separation Pact (as described above) or even exchange an email about it.
But a legal separation, even while separated under one roof, doesn’t have to be agreed. If your partner doesn’t agree, or if one of you simply doesn’t want to talk about it, you can just send him an email or a letter, confirming that the relationship is over and naming the date. This will be your date of separation whether he agrees or acknowledges this or not.
However hard for you that this “naming the date” might be, it is really important that you do it for several reasons, including:
- Ensuring that the time you spend separated under one roof is included in the 12-month waiting period before you divorce
- To complete the separation-under-one-roof affidavit, which you may need to file with your divorce documents
- To avoid confusion around the date later on, if you partner disagrees with you
- For calculations about your entitlements for property and financial settlement
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN LOCKDOWN
We expect breakups to become emotionally upsetting, but you must be aware that separation is the time of the highest incidence of domestic violence.
Even if you have never experienced domestic violence in your relationship, a separation could provoke it, especially under the pressure of Covid-19 and a lockdown.
If you are in a situation where you feel your partner could put you or your children at risk after discussion about separation while in lockdown, then it might be best not to attempt a separation-under-one-roof. Instead, you might carefully and privately research places or people you could go to for safety and support now, or decide to sit on an announcement about final separation until you are able to physically leave the family home with the children and have a safe place to go to.