Six Strategies for Surviving Divorce and Separation During Coronavirus
As the US focuses on containing the virus, recent restrictions proposed by the CDC means the times we are living in have long surpassed “interesting.” Many organizations have already instituted work from home protocols and as schools close and universities suspend spring breaks and classes beginning the transition to online learning, we find our daily routines upended in ways no one could have predicted just a few weeks ago.
For many families, remote work or social distancing will result in a special opportunity to spend more time in deeper connection with our children, aging parents and most importantly - our spouses and partners - than we have had in a long time and our relationships may be strengthened and thrive as a result. However, if you are in the midst of a separation or divorce and due to economic or legal issues have to live together in close quarters, or have a custody arrangement with an adversarial or abusive spouse, the stress of a home quarantine may have more adverse consequences. Below are six coping strategies if you find yourself in this situation.
Coping Plan for Your Children
Create a Communication Plan - If you are working from home and living with your spouse while your relationship is in transition, it is crucial that you both discuss and agree to a communication plan regarding how you will speak to your children regarding their home life during quarantine. The cycles of sleep, morning routines, and work and school time activities may have allowed you both to hide a lot of your distress from your children. If you are now sleeping in separate bedrooms or have made the decision to separate/divorce and have been keeping this from your children or teens, the virus may provide a convenient excuse. However, once everyone is in close quarters for days on end it may become more challenging to hide the dysfunction in your relationship dynamic. If you can communicate with each other in advance and jointly decide what you will say to them if they approach you with awkward questions, your children will benefit from your efforts to reduce their anxiety.
Create a Schedule or Calendar – Working remotely from home has its unique challenges and if your workplace has been your sanctuary from the turmoil of your home life it is important to set a routine not only for yourself but for your children, teens and young adults who have returned to your home due to school closures or transitions to remote learning. If you have been the primary handler of household responsibilities, such as helping with homework, laundry, cooking, and shopping, create a calendar with your spouse and older children so that they can share some of the load.
Check Your Ego - While the two of you may not be on the best of terms, if you must live in the same household try to agree to support your children who are also dealing with their own level of distress from the social isolation and disruption of their daily routines. If you are sharing custody and live in separate homes and one home has lower risk of contamination but it is your custody time – do what is best for your children. We are choosing life, so work with your spouse to create an infection residence plan. If one of you is sick and has to go to the hospital or self-isolate, there needs to be a clear plan for what the children will do and where they will live so that their health is not compromised. If you live in separate homes, make sure that Facetime, Skype or similar apps are available so that younger children can speak with the other parent so they can remain connected.
Coping Plan for You
Redraw Your Line of Demarcation – If you have to live with your spouse or partner while you are contemplating separation or divorce, and you have tolerated any kind of abusive behavior in the past you may have to readjust your line of demarcation and ask yourself - what is the line that your spouse cannot cross before you seek intervention or leave the home? If your spouse or partner has anger management issues or unaddressed depression, anxiety, or other mental health challenges, this decision will be even more critical. If you are living together in close quarters under stress, abusive or aggressive behaviors can escalate very quickly. Given their current focus on containing the spread of the virus, you need to consider that you will experience a change in response times from protective institutions such as 911 police emergency lines or your hospital’s emergency room.
Develop Flexible Coping Strategies – If you have been in therapy or coaching you may need to ask your therapist to offer a telemedicine phone or video option as patient visits will most likely be restricted. You may have to go for a walk or drive in your car to make your calls but do not stop taking care of your mental health during this time. As stress release options such as working out in the gym begin to decrease, it is important to create and stick to a home routine to avoid overeating and excessive alcohol intake. Try as best you can to keep your coping mechanisms as healthy as possible. Workouts on YouTube or engaging in supportive group chats may be helpful.
Create a Crisis Safety Plan - If you are living with a spouse or partner who is abusive, you may need to put extra precautions in place if you are struggling with the de-escalation of conflicts or are experiencing serious threats to your safety. Keep the number of your doctors or mental health professional, your local hospital or crisis center, and these important numbers readily available.
Police - 911
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Be sure a family member, friend or your divorce attorney knows of your situation if you have been threatened and are concerned for your physical safety. It is important to keep in mind as communities approach curfew options, divorce procedures may be delayed due to work from home restrictions with your divorce team or court closings.
Giving some thought your self-care will benefit not only you but your children as you seek to stay safe and healthy. It is important to remain calm and keep things in perspective and know that you will make it through these tough times. Sending you strength and light as you navigate your transition!
If you are contemplating divorce, struggling with a high-conflict divorce procedure, or need help during life transitions let Tamara Harris, CEO of Tamara Harris LLC, be your partner as you navigate through each stage of your journey. As an impartial, experienced professional, Tamara will work directly with you to give you the best tools and strategies to manage the specific challenges and uncertainties. Serving as your advocate, she will help you see clearly during this time where emotions can often impede and derail your divorce procedure.