More couples seeking relationship help after COVID-19 lockdownsJanuary 17, 2021
More couples are seeking advice on separation after months of pressure and isolation brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
National information and mediation group The Separation Guide has reported an 87 per cent increase in couples who are ready to settle their separation in December 2020, compared to the previous year's holiday period.
Relationship services experienced more couples seeking help in lockdown.Credit:iStockphoto.com/e.j.white.
There were also more people using the service researching separations in April and August, which coincided with Victoria's two lockdowns.
People using The Separation Guide's website are taken through a set of questions that asks what stage they're at: researching, separating or at settlement.
In April and August, people researching separation was up by about five per cent.
"If you're already feeling strain in a relationship … being forced together 24/7 along with financial pressures or whatever might be happening at the time, there's no doubt that would have an impact on relationships," chief executive and co-founder Angela Harbinson said.
Anastasia Panayiotidis, Relationships Australia's general manager of clinical services in Victoria, said though some of their clients said the lockdowns helped them to reconnect with their partners, for others it led to relationship breakdown.
"For some people, spending a lot of time together actually brought out the vulnerabilities in the relationship, leading to tension and increased conflict because of just being together and not having other stimulation from contact with other people or other activities," Ms Panayiotidis, who is also a psychologist, said.
"Even in the best relationship … spending 23 hours a day with someone in a confined space would have had an impact."
Home schooling for parents who were also trying to work from home created more pressure.
"This would create for those families additional conflict or magnify issues of blame, challenges of sharing responsibilities and gender inequalities," Ms Panayiotidis said.
For the 174 Victorians who underwent mediation and responded to Relationship Australia's surveys during July and September, most wanted help with parenting arrangements.
Nine per cent of the service's counselling clients reported family or relationship tensions and nine per cent said they had financial problems.
Others, Ms Panayiotidis said, were in "very awkward and straining situations" of wanting to separate from their partners but couldn't because they were stuck in lockdown.
Overall, people reported struggling to juggle work with children and were worried about finances, in addition to constant fear and anxiety of the virus itself.
"There's so many layers of complexity here that we need to understand," Ms Panayiotidis said.
"It's a cascading effect, beginning with the impact on people's psychological state due to a high stress response, which directly affects the physiological state, which impacts on people's attitudes, behaviours and communication style, which naturally affects their intimate and family relationships as well."
A third of the service's mediation clients also reported safety concerns, which Ms Panayiotidis said put their workers on high alert for family violence.
She said the pandemic has also been particularly difficult for single people.
"People can have awesome lives and be single and not necessarily in a partnership – a person isn't incomplete because they're single – but to be single and to be in lockdown is very hard, and for single elders who were not able to have contact with grandchildren, especially isolating," Ms Panayiotidis said.
The anecdotal evidence was yet to translate in the courts, with married couples having to separate for at least a year before they can file for divorce in the Federal Circuit Court.
Figures from the Federal Circuit Court show just over 27,000 divorces have been filed from July 1 last year to January 13 this year.
Almost 46,000 divorce applications were filed in the court for 2020-21.
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