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Family lockdown tensions: some optimism from the front-line

As the Coronavirus lockdown continues raising family tensions across the country, Jane Robey, CEO of National Family Mediation – a non-profit organisation of family dispute experts – outlines some of the experiences from the front line, and offers some hope for the future.

It’s little consolation to be told these are ‘unprecedented’ times. Not when travel restrictions mean you’re effectively stranded at home with a partner you increasingly find it hard to get on with.

You might feel you’re the only person in the world questioning the foundation of your relationship. You aren’t.

But it may be worse than that. The forced close contact of recent weeks may have led you to definitely realise once and for all that, actually, you don’t want to be with this person. Meanwhile, the middle-of-the-night-can’t-sleep questions persist:

  • Is this just a hiccup in our relationship? Everyone gets those, yeah?
  • Is there actually a way to get out of this nightmare relationship?
  • Will it just get better once we get back to ‘normal’?#
  • Has this lockdown simply confirmed what in my heart I knew all along, that I don’t want to be with this person any more?
  • Is this happening just because the schools are closed so the kids are around all the time, making life harder?

People who call National Family Mediation are experiencing all the above … and more.

It’s a characteristic of these odd, odd times that we veer from one mood to another, apparently without explanation.

The uncertainty of, well, just about everything, is driving us all to distraction. And when this uncertainty bleeds into your happy-ever-after relationship, who knows where your head ends up.

One moment you’ve decided that your relationship is definitely over. But then you start to think about the practicalities. It could be a lot of hassle to end it.

We’ll never agree where the kids will live.

What about the home?

What about the debts we have?

Oh, and the dog?

It might turn out okay. The relationship might emerge from these rocky days all the stronger for the shared experience. In a strange way the arguments you’re currently having might actually lock in your love for each other so you’ll look back on 2020 as the weirdest positive turning point.

But what if the turning point ends up being a big negative? If, as time goes on, you realise the lockdown has in fact been the final straw of realisation that your relationship is at the end of the road.

It sounds glib to say “it will be okay in the end”. There will be choppy seas, a huge storm in fact, not least in your emotions as you try to navigate these uncharted waters.

The calls we have been taking at National Family Mediation have been increasingly coming from people who suspect – or definitely know – they are now in the early stages of separation or divorce.

The context is, yes, ‘unprecedented’, but the way through the break-up is pretty much the same as it has been for decades. Accredited family mediators are here, they’re available to help you make arrangements if you decide to call it all a day. As experts in resolving family disputes they will help you agree vital arrangements about parenting, property and money. And the dog!

It won’t cost the earth, which is one reason many people choose mediation rather than heading off to a lawyer to tool up for a courtroom battle over these things.

Family dispute experts are adapting their methods – moving the discussions they have with their clients online, with video consultations the order of the day.

Many, many people aren’t at the stage yet where they want to commit to mediation. It can feel like once that commitment has been made, the oil tanker cannot be turned. We understand that. And it’s why we have made available a whole range of Frequently Asked Questions for you to read as you reflect.

And we’ve also developed a brand new service for those who may be struggling with existing co-parenting arrangements with the ongoing travel restrictions. These video consultations with an expert mediator are designed to help parents manage their unique situation and work their way through these extraordinary times.

Family mediation can be free if you qualify for legal aid – and reduced incomes mean more and more people now do qualify.

Take time. Be kind to yourself. And stay safe.

Jane Robey, CEO, National Family Mediation