Northern couples therapists explore why pandemic is causing breakups
TIMMINS -- The pandemic is stressing everyone out — so much so, according to a national survey from Finder.com, that it contributed to over 4.6 million Canadians breaking up, separating, or divorcing since the global crisis began.
Timmins-based couple and family therapist, Kaitlin Senkis, suggests the challenges brought on the pandemic have been causing couples to be more irritable and communicate less — as well as forcing them to face unresolved issues.
"Other problems that were already existing in the relationship and (the pandemic) heightened or exacerbated that or brought on new issues," Senkis said.
The survey showed that a quarter of people aged 18 to 24 are splitting up — plus 30 per cent of people aged 25 to 44 called off their relationships.
Respondents were not asked what specifically caused their breakups, but many cited 'cabin fever,' rising COVID-19 cases, and financial issues as their top stressors.
Bottling up pandemic stress
Social worker Jeff Baldock said part of the problem stems from a lack of communication between partners about the pandemic and its challenges, all the while bottling up those emotions.
“Every day, as soon as we go outside — or even from inside — we’re hearing about the (COVID) rules and regulations that we have to appropriately follow ... often, it goes undiscussed," Baldock said.
Men appear to be more irritated by their partner's "quarantine quirks" than women, though women seem to be more stressed about the pandemic overall.
While couples seem to be separating at a higher rate during this crisis, Senkis said the best tool for those who want to stay together — is communication.
“Whether that’s what you need for space, what you need for closeness, doing activities together that are kind of creating that connection," said Senkis.
'We're all under pressure'
Baldock said words of affirmation are especially important right now.
While people can be more irritable during this crisis, he said focusing on positives and acknowledging what one's partner is doing right can help improve the pair's mood and avoid resentment.
Baldock said it's also important to be understanding that everyone is dealing with this unprecedented situation differently.
“We’re all under some pressure here and we’re going to make some mistakes," Baldock said.
"We can forgive them, essentially, and that can really help to ease things over.”
You broke up: what do you do?
But sometimes a breakup is inevitable, he said, and that's OK. Baldock's advice, though, is that newly single people make sure to reach out to others, to avoid piling on even more stress during an already frustrating time.
A breakup also brings financial challenges, according to Finder Canada PR manager, Nicole McKnight.
She said people that were in a two-income household will have to consider what a single life will mean financially, including finding a new place to live — and if it's a divorce, potentially selling your home and dividing assets.
McKnight said it's important to devise a plan for how to move forward.
“Really it’s just figuring out what your life needs to look like, create a budget for it and get excited about new possibilities," McKnight said.
"At the same time, manage your expectations ... maybe it’s OK if you have to downsize, for example.”
A pandemic-proof relationship
Senkis and Baldock's best advice for couples dealing with pandemic stress is to be open about your feelings and deal with them together since they say bottling up your emotions can eventually lead to more heated conversations.
If the goal is to build a relationship that can whether anything, even COVID-19, they say it requires work — even counselling, if needed.
"(You can) communicate, connect with each other, be able to feel heard, appreciated, important, wanted, cared for, all those things that we really need as human beings," said Senkis.