Has the lockdown changed how you view your relationship?

Padraig O’Morain: People get cranky when their freedoms are restricted

Is the relationship I’ve got the relationship I want? Some couples might be asking themselves that question as we continue our slow emergence from a lockdown in which they were cooped up unexpectedly for a couple of months.

A significant increase in divorce has been reported from lockdown cities in China. Lawyers in Italy have also reported a big rise in inquiries about separation and divorce with the ending of the lockdown there.

What this tells me is that people have been getting on each other’s nerves, but it doesn’t necessarily mean widespread marriage breakdown will follow.

China has had a big and rising divorce rate for some years. The lockdown will have created a backlog of people who would have divorced anyway. The divorce procedures in China are quick and simple – in some regions it takes less than an hour.

You could divorce while in a really bad mood with your partner and then change your mind and marry them again. Reports suggest that “divorce in haste, repent at leisure,” means some couples split, then think better of it, and remarry each other.

Indeed the Chinese government is set to introduce a 30 day cooling-off period before a divorce can be got.

In Italy, family lawyer Valentina Ruggiero told Il Messaggero that she has seen a doubling of inquiries about separation following the lockdown. She asks couples to reflect on whether the issues in their marriage warrant divorce or whether the frustrations built up by the lockdown will pass.

In Ireland I expect that enforced togetherness will have deepened the fault lines in some marriages that won't survive. In others it will have brought people closer. And in some it will have led to conflict which will gradually die down as the couple learn from their experience.

Those at the receiving end of domestic abuse will have been deprived of an outlet to help them work off their stress

The main thing to bear in mind is that people get cranky, to put it mildly, when their psychological and physical freedoms are restricted.

In normal times, a person who is always at the beck and call of others and never gets time or space to themselves can get resentful or even depressed. A walk around the block, an evening with their friends, a coffee in a cafe, can make a big difference to their emotional health. Take that away and frustration builds up - and that’s the way it was for nearly three months.

As we regain our freedoms, these frustrations will lessen and that will be most apparent in those whose need for emotional/mental space is high. Lots of dedicated family people also need freedom in their day. This might mean no more than going into a room on their own or, in my case, wandering aimlessly around the streets.

Some people, unfortunately, won’t be going back to work because of unemployment. They will continue to be at home and it’s important that they meet their psychological needs. These are needs for space or freedom, belonging (staying in touch with family and friends), achievement (pastimes that involve a sense of accomplishment) and play.

In all of this I am not excusing domestic abuse. I would be surprised if domestic abuse started during the lockdown – it’s more likely to have been present already and to have intensified.

Worse, those at the receiving end will have been deprived of an outlet to help them work off their stress. For them, the ending of the lockdown provides an opportunity to consider what to do in the long term. The website of COSC (The National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence) is worth a visit for advice and links to resources. If necessary, a person afraid of their internet history being observed could, when it becomes possible, use a computer in the public library, an internet cafe or a friend's home. Women's Aid has a helpline at 1800 341 900 and Men's Aid Ireland is at 01 554 3811.

Just as the lockdown did, its gradual ending will bring its own challenges. The more aware we are of this, the better we will weather them.

Padraig O’Morain (@PadraigOMorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Daily Calm. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email (pomorain@yahoo.com).