'GOING COVID': Why more Okanagan couples are seeking counsellors, mediation, divorce | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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'GOING COVID': Why more Okanagan couples are seeking counsellors, mediation, divorce

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December 07, 2020 - 7:00 AM

The pandemic may be taking a toll on relationships as some couples counsellors, divorce lawyers, and a family mediation firm all report they've seen an uptick in business since the pandemic.

The swing towards turning to a professional for help to either mend a relationship or end it, picked up in the summer and has gotten steadily busier in the last couple of months.

"Relationships are getting hammered hard," Vernon-based counsellor Chris Bader told iNFOnews.ca. "Working from home, not getting out, not connecting with the general public or their friends or their families, that is a huge part of what keeps us well."

Bader said with those connections gone, the isolation people are experiencing is coming out in negative behaviours in the home.

If an individual loses their job they may become depressed. They're now at home experiencing depression and job loss which leads to anxiety, but they may not be able to connect with their loved one to tell them about what's going on.

"It's across the board, individuals with anxiety, substance use has become big and there's conflict in relationships because of those things, it's all tied together," he said. "It's like a domino effect."

While Bader works with those who want to patch things together, Juris Vinters works with those who want to call it a day – amicably.

Vinters owns Modern Separations, a Vernon-based family mediation company he runs with his wife. He says the firm has also seen an increase in business recently.

So are couples separating because they're now both working from home and forced to socialize with only each other?

Vinters says it's not that simple.

"The pandemic is not causing separations in otherwise healthy relationships," he said. "The more typical story would be (couples) have known for a while that this is not working, and maybe now is the time to take that next step. It's something people think long and hard about... so there has to be something that's fundamentality not working for this to be the final straw."

However, he has noticed something different this year.

"People have confronted dying and death in a way that tends to focus your mind and step back and think, 'Am I making the right decisions? Am I living life the way I want to live life?'" Vinters said. "In crisis times (and) situations people do tend to look back on their lives and wonder whether they're living life like they really want to."

Vinters said if couples have been agonizing over separating for a while, 2020 has likely clarified their feelings and given them the motivation to do something about it.

According to Statistics Canada, the country's average divorce rate is about 38 per cent, but there are no reliable statistics to show what has happened since the beginning of the pandemic. The stats also don't tell the whole story as they don't count common-law couples when they separate.

It's not just getting a divorce that lands couples in court, regardless of whether couples are married or not. Vernon-based family lawyer Brett Kirkpatrick said family lawyers deal with everything from parenting time to child and spousal support.

"I don't keep track, but my sense is there's been an increase in family law disputes following the pandemic," Kirkpatrick said. "All family lawyers are busy."

After three decades working in family law, Kirkpatrick said it's hard to say if his clients are reacting differently now than before the pandemic, but he does point to a term he heard recently to describe what's going on.

"People are 'going COVID,'" he said. "They're more edgy."

And it seems the lawyer's observations are on point.

A study released Dec. 3 by the Canadian Mental Health Association found 69 per cent of British Columbians indicate they’re worried about the second wave of the virus. The study found 55 per cent of people surveyed were worried about a loved one or family member dying, and only 22 per cent felt hopeful.

The Canadian Mental Health Association survey also found that more than 40 per cent of British Columbians said their mental health has deteriorated since March.

But while the pandemic may be causing couples strain and exposing the cracks in their relationships, it has caused some to act.

"There's an increase of conflict in relationships, however, a lot of couples are now faced with... the realization that it's happening so let's do something about it," Bader said. "People are reaching out and saying. 'hey we're just realizing that we've never really learnt how to communicate, so let's work on that."

It's a little silver lining in an otherwise bleak situation.

"I've seen an increase in people struggling, (but) I've also seen an increase of people improving their relationship," Bader said.

— This story was corrected at 9 a.m. Tuesday, December 8, 2020. The original version of the story quoted couples counsellor Jeff Hay, it should have quoted Chris Bader.


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