More couples seek counselling as circuit breaker, working from home put strain on marriages

SINGAPORE (CNA) – After months of fighting and added stress at home, Jack and Rose considered getting a divorce due to “deep levels of hurt” resulting from tensions during the COVID-19 circuit breaker period.

With everyone at home, there were more chores and cleaning up to do. As schools were closed, they also had to supervise their seven-year-old child doing home-based learning.

Speaking to CNA about the couple’s experience, chief well-being officer of the Singapore Counselling Centre (SCC) John Shepherd Lim said: “The wife, being the main caregiver, was highly stressed out and was frustrated at the fact that her husband was not helping around the house despite his presence at home.”

This is a “very typical situation” for families during the circuit breaker period, Lim noted, adding that the “levels of hurt” and “extent of relational strain” in the case of Jack and Rose were due to the tone and abrasiveness when the couple communicated with each other.

The real names of the couple were not given because of confidentiality issues.

“The wife accused her husband of being useless and nonchalant, causing the husband to feel unvalidated as he worked hard to feed the family; the husband accused his wife of being noisy and irritating, causing the wife to feel all the more upset as her feelings were not understood,” said Lim.

The couple are not the only ones seeing tensions at home escalate after extended periods of staying home and working from home together. Therapists and counsellors CNA spoke to saw an increase in the number of couples and individuals approaching them because of relationship problems.

Alliance Counselling saw about 30 to 40 per cent more couples and individuals over the past six months, said counsellor Martine Hill.

Working from home together puts more strain on couples because their daily routines have been disrupted and they find it challenging to adjust to the changes, said Hill.

“They haven’t learned how to set appropriate boundaries around who is doing what. How are they going to split their time? Who gets the computer? And in some ways there are many factors that can be influencing them, particularly the actual confinement of space,” she added. With the COVID-19 pandemic, life as they knew it has disappeared, and many people were not able to explain what they were experiencing, said Hill.

“They knew that they were so tired. They knew that they were feeling sluggish, but weren’t able to put into words what they were experiencing … Therefore, they’re often more irritable or less patient with people around them, but they weren’t able to communicate,” she added.

“So it was kind of like – why are we getting into these arguments? Why are we getting into big fights? Why am I so irritable? Why is everybody driving me crazy?”

At SCC, Mr Lim saw a 20 per cent increase in the number of couples going for counselling sessions over the past six months compared to earlier this year.