How's your relationship holding up during the pandemic?

The pandemic has been a pressure cooker for relationships and right now, some in Windsor-Essex seem to be at the boiling point. 

'Cracks may be beginning to show,' says one family lawyer

A couple hold hands while waiting to cross a street in Vancouver, British Columbia on Tuesday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The pandemic has been a pressure cooker for relationships and right now, some in Windsor-Essex seem to be at the boiling point. 

People may not be legally calling it quits, but local family lawyers and one counsellor say that's because the cracks in romantic relationships are probably just beginning to show. 

It's led to more people reaching out for therapy, according to Family Services Windsor-Essex.

The organization says it saw a 15 per cent increase in calls for couples, separation and divorce counselling between January and mid-March this year compared to the same time period in 2020. 

"People are feeling the strain and they're indicating that they're not getting their needs met," said clinical supervisor Beth Ternovan for Family Service's counselling program. 

"Over the course of this particular year they have been faced with elements in their life domain that they've not been faced with before." 

They're waiting for the pandemic to be over, if you will, before ... they're going to make a significant decision about their relationship.- Beth Ternovan, Family Services Windsor-Essex

She said the pandemic is placing unique strains on relationships, with many experiencing financial issues where one or both partners have lost employment, kids being in and out of school and people not having their usual support networks to lean on. 

The fear of getting sick and missing out on large family milestones have also created anxiety and sadness that are also weighing on relationships, Ternovan added. 

Beth Ternovan, clinical supervisor with Family Services Windsor-Essex, says she is helping couples navigate the stresses of the pandemic in their relationships. According to Ternovan, there's been a 15 per cent increase in people seeking family counselling between January to mid-March this year compared to last. In 2020, there was 107 requests, and this year, 123 requests. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

"[They're] feeling underappreciated and not having enough of the typical supports in their life and also the outside activities to act as mitigators to this stress that's been happening in the home," she said. 

These stressors can lead to a breakdown in communication, driving people further into their own heads and away from their partner, she said. 

But rather than end the relationship, Ternovan said people are in a "holding pattern" and will likely stay in one until COVID-19 ends. 

"They're waiting for the pandemic to be over, if you will, before ... they're going to make a significant decision about their relationship," she said, adding that external factors, like the hot housing market, are also playing a role in whether people can leave their partners right now. 

"If people want to separate and go separate ways they have to consider where to live and right now new housing isn't really affordable for a lot of people." 

Ternovan says couples are likely in a "holding pattern," and won't make any significant changes to their relationships until the pandemic comes to an end. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Family violence way up in 2020: Windsor police data 

Family lawyer Lisa Labute, who has also been practicing law for the last 30 years, said she has seen a slight uptick in divorces, specifically emergency cases, which she says are usually classified as ones that involve domestic abuse. 

"A lot of people are married for many years and all of a sudden it's developed to the point of a serious incident of assault and ... I can't say specifically it is because of COVID, but people are home together and under a lot of stress and it seems to contribute to what happens in families," Labute said. 

And based on data from Windsor police, the number of domestic violence incidents in 2020 were the highest they've been in nearly two decades. 

There were 681 incidents of family violence reported in 2020, which was about 20 per cent higher than the year before. 

"The level of emotion and behaviours of people toward each other is escalated, which of course escalates the level of conflict and the level of problems that arise when they separate," Labute said. 

Next year or two will be telling

Jason Howie, who has been a family lawyer in Windsor for 31 years, says while he's been busy throughout the pandemic it's not because there's been an increase in divorces — at least not yet. 

"I think we're still going to see the impact of the pandemic over the next few years," Howie said.

"The pandemic has created huge stressors for people ... and I think in the beginning a lot of people were dealing with the real sort of instant things that they have to deal with and then once that is done and over with and we all sort of find our new rhythm and way of doing things, the increased amount of strain in the relationship is going to be something that's not good." 

Howie said when the courts closed down at the beginning of the pandemic, it created a backlog, so right now he's still dealing with cases that got pushed.

Family lawyer Jason Howie says the full impact of the pandemic on relationships and families likely won't be seen, at least in the legal system, for a few years. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

Labute agrees that the full extent of what COVID-19 has done to the average family won't be laid bare for at least the next couple of years. 

"For some people the breakdown occurs right during this time, when everything is so volatile," Labute said.

"But it's also where cracks may be beginning to show in a marriage that wasn't ideal in the first place and I expect that probably for the next year or two I would think we would continue to see an increase in those sorts of problems." 

She also said it's common that times like these wear down on relationships, noting that recessions and even 9/11 have taken hits at people's love lives. 

"There are world events that impact what's going on in families for sure, but this is certainly the biggest impact since I started practicing and for such a prolonged period," she said. 

"I don't think that any of us expected that when this started it was going to be impacting our lives for over a year."