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Belfast Telegraph Coronavirus podcast: Lockdown is creating 'perfect storm' of worries for couples

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Duane Farrell of Relate NI

Duane Farrell of Relate NI

Duane Farrell of Relate NI

Stresses caused by coronavirus lockdown restrictions have created a "perfect storm" for couples, a relationship expert has said.

Duane Farrell, CEO of relationship counselling service Relate NI, has said anxieties around money, childcare and living space are all putting stress on couples and households as lockdown continues.

He said as traditional forms of support for households, such as receiving health visitors, fall away, families are looking for support for their relationships.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph Coronavirus podcast, he said: "Our relationships are an essential part of our health and our wellbeing at this time, and sometimes when there are challenges, that can also affect our health and wellbeing.

"It's a perfect storm that households are experiencing at the moment - increases in worries about finances as people are furloughed or let go from their jobs, really close proximity, people will have a whole host of things that take up their week and they have all disappeared."

It's led to people relying much more on other family members for support - which can sometimes expose cracks in relationships, he said.

"We're relying on our relational needs being met by those people who are in our house.

"Any existing tensions that there are in a relationship are being brought sharply into focus during lockdown in these last two months, even where relationships have previously been really strong.

"There are new challenges being faced because of the pressure people are under. Tensions will be exacerbated but even stronger relationships will face tests."

Mr Farrell said couples and families are advised by Relate NI to keep lines of communication open.

"Communication is so important, whether that's in your family with your kids, with a partner in a couple. Take time to check in with one another on a regular basis, especially when we're feeling stressed or anxious. Taking that time out to communicate clearly and family members listening and responding as much as possible," he said.

Parents are facing additional challenges such as facilitating school work for their children, he said.

"One of the particular stresses we face is on our own mental health, trying to do so many things - becoming a teacher, trying to work from home, becoming a teacher if that's your story.

"The first thing to say is to be kind to yourself and give yourself the space you need to say you're not going to be a perfect teacher."

He recommended setting boundaries around living space, which can be stressful with entire families at home at one time.

"You're trying to take out those opportunities for conflict. Perhaps the dining room table is used by children in the morning for school work and it's used by mum and dad for other things in the afternoon."

The PSNI have reported an increase in incidents of domestic violence in recent weeks. Mr Farrell appealed to those victims to ask for help.

"It's important to say the police, Women's Aid, the Domestic Sexual Violence helpline are there to support people in that situation. being locked down in people's homes, it's not necessarily a safe place for everybody. It's important to reach out and know that there are services out there to support them."

When asked whether there has been an increase in couples contacting Relate NI who are hoping to separate, he said while he hasn't heard of an increase, there is a possibility that will happen post-lockdown.

"It's something we've seen particularly in China where there's been a spike in requests for divorce, there's a risk something similar will happen here," he said.

Victims of domestic abuse can contact police on the non-emergency 101 number or 999 in an emergency. The Silent Solutions Service enables a 999 caller who is too scared to make a noise, or speak, to press 55 when prompted.

The 24-hour Domestic and Sexual Abuse Helpline can be contacted on 0808 802 1414.

Belfast Telegraph