COVID-19 takes toll on relationships

More than 100 divorces filed by August

Relationships by nature are stressful but throw a pandemic into the mix, add a dash of hefty restrictions and the result is a cocktail for heartbreak, as some couples are now discovering.

According to statistics from the family division of the Grand Court, 102 divorce
applications have been filed since January this year. In addition, Family Resource
Centre staff have referred a number of couples for counselling due to COVID-19
conflicts.

While Cayman’s divorce rates in recent years have been high, with a record 316 filed
in 2018 and 297 filed last year, it is difficult to say definitively that the applications in
2020 were a direct result of COVID-19.

However, Family Resource Centre programme facilitator Anne-Marie Gray-Diaz acknowledged that COVID-19 has placed a lot of additional stress on couples.

Anne Gray-Diaz, Family Resource Centre programme facilitator. Photo: Submitted.

At the FRC, she said, challenges for couples varied depending on their circumstances during the pandemic.

“It either helped to strengthen relationships in some cases, but in others where there were already some underlying issues, that stress of COVID [as well as] being together quite a lot [has] exacerbated conflict that was already there, or exacerbated certain issues that already existed,” she said in a recent Zoom interview with the Cayman Compass.

Challenge of love in lockdown
Gray-Diaz explained that in some cases the conflicts couples experienced during lockdown,
and even now with some restrictions still in place, can lead to domestic violence.

The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service has not yet released its domestic violence report
covering the COVID-19 lockdown period, so statistical data is not readily available.

However, Gray-Diaz said the Alliance to End Domestic Violence, of which the FRC is a member, did a “great job” at educating the public, talking about the signs to look for and how to create safety plans.

“There was a lot of good work that was done during that time, just to make sure that people didn’t feel trapped and that they could find solace and they could find safety,” she said.

While there were constraints and challenges for couples, Gray-Diaz noticed that, based on
interactions with her clients and assessments from colleagues, some parents opted to push
aside their conflicts.

Most of the parents focus on supporting their children, she said, thinking about how can they survive life during COVID, and asking, “‘How do I parent my child as well as support them with crisis schooling?’ I think there was so much overwhelm… on being a parent and that was what [they] were really hyper-focussing on.”

It was because of that focus, she said, that parents were trying to figure out their children’s
issues and not dealing with their own relationship problems.

Gray-Diaz pointed to her own relationship, which faced some strain due to COVID-19
conflicts, and noted there were changes due to all the ups and downs.

“The thing that really helped to bring us closer together was that we had a lot of empathy for one another and our individual experiences,” she said.

She was empathetic to her husband’s experience as frontliner who had to go out and
work despite restrictions.

“He was very empathetic to the fact that I was expected to stay home, to suddenly transition to working full time while also taking care of a toddler,” she said.

Gray-Diaz suggested that having that empathy can help resolve some of the conflicts
that couples may be experiencing as the COVID-19 pandemic continues and Cayman’s
borders remain closed.

She hastened to add that if those conflicts escalate to violence, then help must be sought.

Happy medium

For mom Lynda Hicks, finding a happy medium helped her and her husband through
the difficult periods.

“It (surviving the lockdown) 100% strengthened the relationship. It took us to a whole different level of knowing what’s important and what’s not. Best thing ever is not
to be mad at the same time,” she said.

The restrictions turned out to be “awesome” for her family, she added.

“I’ve been married 25 years, but [I’ve] never seen [my husband] have to sit in the house for so long. It was like a vacation, but he hated it,” she said via in an interview on Facebook Messenger.

Hicks said after about a week, her husband returned to work. However, her happy ending
from the lockdown restrictions was her relationship with her 23-year-old daughter, who
moved in with her parents for a while.

“She turned from a snippy teenager into a baker and we were stuck together, and we
learned so much about each other. I hate to say it, but I’m glad it happened,” she said.

Gray-Diaz has urged parents and couples to sign up for the Gottman Institute newsletter
which provides helpful guidelines and tips on relationships.

Related story: Also see Compass story ‘Finding love under the shadow of a pandemic’.

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