Covid-19: ‘Pressure cooker’ environment leading to family tensions

Callers to Accord support lines highlight effects on children, inability to grieve as issues

A student follows an online lesson during lockdown. Photograph: Friedmann Vogel/EPA

A student follows an online lesson during lockdown. Photograph: Friedmann Vogel/EPA


The effects of the Covid-19 restrictions on children, domestic finances and difficulties living in a confined space are among the main concerns of callers to Accord counselling support phone lines.

A “pressure cooker” environment is also leading to family tensions and callers also highlight mental health problems, inability to grieve properly when a loved one dies, and the pressure of work and study at home as major issues.

The problems were raised by more than 100 callers to the Catholic agency’s new confidential ‘relationship support phone line’, a free counselling service for people experiencing pressure in their marriage and relationships due to social restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Callers highlighted pressure on students from changes in exam timetables, and the challenges of having a home turned into an office and school as well as the stress around lack of security of employment and clashes with family members because of poor communications.

The Accord phone line services (01) 531 3331, (01) 905 9555 and in Northern Ireland (028) 9568 0151 are open from 9am to 8pm Monday to Friday.

Counsellors noted regret at being unable to grieve properly for a loved one who has died because of the severe restrictions on funerals, and callers spoke of the constant negative news reporting and the frustration of not being able to socialise outside.

Couples whose relationships had been under pressure prior to imposition of the Covid-19 restrictions are particularly at risk, the counselling service says. Their confinement exacerbates existing unresolved relationship issues and being compelled to remain at home all the time together except for essential journeys magnifies existing tensions and problems.

People under stress at home can feel they are living in a pressure cooker environment and this can “induce a regression in their behaviour and human interaction suffers,” Accord counsellors have noted.

“They can overreact to situations which in turn can cause the domestic atmosphere to deteriorate. This type of behaviour can present as either uncomfortable silences and/or very loud, explosive and noisy verbal exchanges.”

Young people and children exposed to aggressive behaviour, experience fear and distress which in turn affects their personal behaviour and relationships with physical isolation at home compounding the trauma.

The agency says its counsellors are trained to identify and handle cases of domestic abuse and can support an individual to develop a safety plan and can advise them of specialist crisis support contact numbers.

Offering tips Accord advises couples to be conscious of how they raise issues with a partner.

“Talk from your own feelings first and express what is difficult for you and what you feel you need rather than blaming and being critical of your partner. Criticism usually begets defensive, stonewalling or disproportionate responses.”

Counsellors also suggest: “Be willing to look at yourself and your behaviour in addition to your partner’s shortcomings. ‘What is it like to be in relationship and to live with me?’ is a good question to ask ourselves.”

They also suggest that “self-management” is a skill to hone. “It might be better to raise an issue at another time so that your partner can hear the cause of concern in a calmer context and to avoid an experience of perceived criticism or attack.”

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