A new survey released last month shows the Covid-19 pandemic has, as predicted, increased the demand for divorce.
About 45% said the main reason for the divorce was the “enforced isolation” with the spouse. Tension in the home, they added, was intensified by people’s lives becoming radically different, such as a job loss.
What especially struck me about the report was that the attorneys said their divorcing clients were impatient and immovable. Often, they refused to take legal advice or compromise in negotiations.
These couples, who are clearly in distress, may also be dealing with a mixed agenda: one partner wants to save the relationship while the other is ready to call it quits.
A mixed agenda places partners at polar opposite sides. They begin to
think in terms of “We are against each other and I will do whatever it takes to win.”
Can couples counseling work for them? Probably not. At least not yet. The partner who is “leaning out” will likely give a half-hearted attempt at best. Understandably, someone who is unsure whether they even want to be in the marriage is not in a place to give a whole hearted effort. Entering marriage therapy prematurely can feel like pressure to be in a different position than what is true for them. Couples counseling requires hard work from both partners to work well.
For a mixed-agenda couple, I recommend Discernment Counseling, also known as Couples On The Brink Counseling. It offers the couple a model to pause and look at their options.
The goals of Couples on the Brink Discernment is for each person to gain clarity and confidence in their decision to:
1) stay in “status quo” or “as is” for now; 2) divorce or separate; or 3) give an all in effort for a 6 month period, working towards reconciliation to see if enough change can occur.
A recent study of Discernment Counselors found that most clients — 48%– chose reconciliation and entered couples therapy. About 42% divorced and the remaining 12% kept the status quo, neither seeking therapy nor divorcing.
Couples On The Brink Counseling also involves both partners becoming aware of their own contributions to the problems in the relationship, the work they each need to do individually, as well as understanding what changes would be needed to rebuild a healthy relationship.
It’s too easy to blame Covid-19 for tearing marriages apart. The Truth is that the pandemic has magnified both the strengths and weaknesses of relationships. Covid was a stress that placed strain on all aspects of life.
If a partnership had the slightest crack, Covid 19 was enough of a stressor to split it wide open. On the other hand, Covid provided an opportunity for couples to become reacquainted with one another.
Those couples with the foundational knowledge and skills to manage conflict, communicate, and and the determination to foster friendship and intimacy were able to deal with the emotional stress of the pandemic.
The key difference for couples that successfully mastered the lockdown and couples that did not? Successful couples turn toward each other daily. They attune to each others’ needs and respond.
The good news is these habits can be learned. I am proud of the couples who bravely stepped into my office over the past year and have done the work to save their marriages.