Marital stress is the unexpected COVID side effect

A pandemic-fuelled increase in separations is not inevitable

Parenting columnist Joanne Kates is an expert educator in the areas of conflict mediation, self-esteem and anti-bullying, and she is the director of Camp Arowhon in Algonquin Park

The most wonderful thing in the world is to look at your children, your partner by your side, and bask in loving them together. Knowing that the two of you adore these beings with all your heart, and you’re in it together.

Until you’re not.

It turns out that one of the unexpected side effects of COVID is marital stress and a resulting rising divorce rate. Pre-COVID statistics told us that the relationship between spouses suffers when they have kids, and yet the likelihood of them divorcing declines! They stay together for the kids.

That was pre-COVID.

Add new stresses to the marital mix, and it can turn sour.

Imagine if I had told you a year ago that both parents would be working from home, schools would be mostly closed and your kids would be doing remote learning, and summer camps and extracurriculars would be mostly closed so your kids would really be stuck at home.

Oh, and they can’t hang out with their friends. Or mark major life events in any meaningful way.

And your child care arrangements go to hell in a handbasket. And the grandparents can’t get near them to help take care of them. And nobody can go away on vacation.

It’s no wonder that kids are depressed, lonely and anxious.

What does all this mean for parenting?

It means that COVID has made an already challenging job about 10 times harder. There is so much more for parents to disagree about.

Let’s take remote schooling. We know this is way too challenging for a great many kids, that they’re having trouble doing their schoolwork, struggling to concentrate and focus in online classes, and that many kids are falling behind in school.

This is the perfect parenting minefield because it’s almost impossible for any two people to agree on the strategy for dealing with a kid who is struggling that way. The situation sets the stage for a perfect storm, for parenting World War 3.

Stated baldly, the two extremes are the laissez-faire relaxed parent who wants to let it go. This sounds like: “All the kids are in the same boat, let’s not worry about it. You’re stressing too much and making the kids even more uptight.”

Versus the other parent who says: “These are academic losses that matter to their future. It’s fine for you to say it doesn’t matter — you’re not the one who thinks about that stuff. I’m the one who helps with homework.”

Notice the judgment and hostility thrown in on both sides. This is the stuff of which true marital discord is made.

Add to this the marital conflict over how much screen time COVID kids should be allowed, how much to try to control their (potentially contagious) contact with their friends and then throw in a dash of anger over who’s doing the parental heavy lifting. Here too we’ve got statistics.

Apparently COVID has exaggerated the already unequal time that men and women put into parenting, with women doing even more than they were pre-COVID.

All of which is resulting in increased stress on marriages and thus a pandemic-fuelled increase in marital separation and divorce.

How could it not?

And what is to be done? Is there a fix? This depends on how much credit remains in each person’s “emotional bank.”

If there’s no gas in the tank and spouses have given up on each other and have decided that their partner is not worth fighting for, it’s game over.

If there’s emotional credit in the great ATM of marriage, then there’s hope.

The Zoom marriage counsellors are open for business. Get one.

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