With no end in sight for lockdown, top family lawyer Louise Chipchase, gives her top tips on avoiding a break-up
Within the pressure cooker of the coronavirus pandemic, lockdown is really not an extended relaxing holiday with a chilled-out partner.
It’s more like a groundhog day bootcamp of working-from-home productivity commitments or job loss anxiety, childcare frustrations and homeschooling timetables, sleepless nights caused by money worries, social-distancing shopping and cooking boredom, anxiety about the virus and concerns for friends and family you can only see via video chat. And all this topped off while you’re trying to keep both you and your family safe, healthy and, well, alive.
Is it any wonder we’re all incredibly s-t-r-e-s-s-e-d and the way our partner cuts the cheese incredibly a-n-n-o-y-i-n-g. Let’s face it even the most stable relationships will be tested during this unique time of self-isolation, and couples already struggling before lockdown may face total breakdown.
Baroness Shackleton of Belgravia, a high-profile divorce lawyer who has represented Prince Charles, Sir Paul McCartney, Madonna and Liam Gallagher has warned coronavirus is ‘very likely’ to lead to an increase in UK marriage break-ups. ‘Our peak times are after long exposure during the summer holidays and over Christmas,’ she said. ‘One only has to imagine what it’s going to be like when families are sealed in a property for a long period of time.’
Her remarks came after register offices in China revealed divorce rates have soared compared to pre-coronavirus lockdown. But does divorce have to be the outcome? Top family lawyer Louise Chipchase thinks not. She’s compiled these six special measures to help your relationship thrive and survive during these challenging times.
1. Keep calm and keep on talking
It’s all about heart-felt, honest communication here. Those small quirks your partner has and that really didn’t bother you before lockdown have suddenly become unbearable and incessantly aggravating. Let alone the daily leaving the washing-up in the sink, damp towels on the duvet, not noticing dust, walking passed the ‘stuff ‘ on the bottom stair and not mucking in with their share of the childcare – yes you have a list as long as Game Of Thrones. Don’t leave how you feel unsaid and risk turning to a ball of rage ready to explode. You need to talk about what’s working and, more importantly, what’s not working, what you need from your partner to manage your day and what they need from you. Agree boundaries around work and family time and have a plan to manage that. You might want to agree a time each day to have a short chat, which might need to be less frequent once initial discussions have happened to check in and see if everything is manageable.
2. And while you’re talking, watch your language
Under the pressure of lockdown, it’s easy to react badly to any critical comments. Try and maintain a positive language even when you need to raise something that’s bothering you as it’s less likely to make them defensive. Don’t start comments in an accusatory way, such as ‘you never…’ , but instead, always use constructive language, such as: ‘I feel…’.
3. Timetable in ‘all about me’ slots
While lockdown forces you to be at home, it doesn’t mean you have to spend every waking minute with your partner. Maintaining a sense of self and self-development is important, so you need to make time for yourself to maintain that feeling. Whether that is taking a solo walk, listening to music, booking video chats with friends, doing a hobby or learning a new skill.
4. Carve out quality ‘together’ time
While quantity of time with your partner is currently not an issue, you are much less likely to be focussing on quality of time. Being with someone is not the same as connecting with them, and now is a perfect time to be working on that. While often easier said than done, it is vital for the health of your relationship, so carve out some quality time together and think of creative ways of spending it. This may be a date night on the patio, an indoor picnic or a movie night. These are memories that you’ll remember way beyond lockdown. And this reconnection will improve your patience and tolerance for each other.
5. Be Mr & Mrs Silly
There’s not an awful lot to laugh about at the moment so make your own laughs. Give yourself permission to be silly – have pillow fights, play board games, watch comedy shows together. Laughter releases pressure and tension and is really valuable as a tool for mental health as well as allowing you to feel close to those you’re with.
6. Accept you’re doing the best you can
We can’t control the present situation but we can control how we react to it. Choosing to see this as an opportunity to develop your relationship will take the pressure off. Of course, there can be no getting away from the pressure (financial and otherwise), and the kids will be more testing than usual – lets face it they are struggling too – but breathe! This will all pass. These small investments in a relationship and acceptance that you’re doing your best and can’t control everything will help you remain strong through this time.
* Louise Chipchase is a managing partner at Stowe Family Law