How to divorce-proof your marriage for the winter lockdown

couples relationships lockdown 2.0 Nov 24, 2020

Here is an article that I wrote for The Daily Telegraph

How to divorce-proof your marriage for the winter lockdown

With divorce petitions trending sharply upwards, we ask experts for practical ways to prevent a relationship meltdown over the coming months

It’s becoming clear that until the vaccine rolls out, we’re facing a long winter of lockdowns with our nearest and er…dearest. That dearness may be tested as darkness falls at 4pm and another evening of Netflix and shrill beckons.

New statistics from the ONS show the largest percentage increase in divorce petitions for 50 years in England and Wales during 2019, and further surveys suggest this year’s pandemic is causing growing marital discontent across the nation. Research from King’s College, London, found that over 50 per cent have felt angry over their other half’s take on coronavirus (it seems lockdowners vs liberationists are the new Brexiteers vs Remainers). Add to that financial worry, a lack of social life and a general feeling of housebound claustrophobia, and it’s no wonder the country’s married couples are showing signs of strain.

It may, however, be possible to divorce-proof your wobbling marriage – at least for long enough to make it through lockdown intact.

The usual advice for warring couples is ‘learn to communicate’. But what does that mean when you’re mostly snarling over the remote and herding teenagers?

“If your partner is doing things that irritate or upset you, tell them how that makes you feel,” says therapist Neil Wilkie, creator of online couples therapy platform The Relationship Paradigm. “Do this in the moment rather than burying it and allowing it to fester. Use words like ‘I feel…’ and avoid blaming words like ‘You…’  This helps you dig below the stuff – the messy sink or damp towels on the floor – into the real underlying feelings, which will give you a much clearer idea of the true problem and how to resolve it.”

One clear casualty of the pandemic has been romance. Nobody has time for hearts and flowers when the florist is shut and there’s three teenagers arguing in the kitchen. But while the idea of satin lingerie and moonlit whispers may be hilarious right now (or, let’s be honest, always), appreciation goes a long way to raise your partner’s status from grumpy housemate to beloved spouse.

“Appreciation is hugely powerful but often fades with time,” says Wilkie. “In difficult times it’s particularly important, as we feel more vulnerable. Knowing that your partner appreciates you will cause your relationship to blossom.”


Taking time to thank them, small gifts, a hug, a cup of tea all count – hosting a home ‘date night’ might be going a bit far, but once in a while, you could agree to switch your phones and the TV off and sit at the table and talk, about anything that isn’t pandemic-related. Although, of course, if you have children at home, it’s not as simple to carve out adult time, and different approaches to parenting can cause meltdown.

Most crucially of all, try to lower your expectations. If you can still laugh together sometimes, under the circumstances you’re doing as well as can be expected. Don’t sweat the small stuff, always discuss the big stuff, and you’ll emerge from this period intact – and determined never to take the bins out again.