As people across the world have to live under lockdown to stem the coronavirus pandemic, prolonged isolation could cause many relationships to falter, according to experts on mental health and legal issues.
"A divorce pandemic may be around the corner,” Yudum Soylemez, a lecturer of psychology at Istanbul’s Bilgi University, told Anadolu Agency.
"Stressful situations" like living under quarantine can "highlight whatever is under the surface," explained Soylemez, who is also a family and couples therapist.
"If the couple is deeply connected, they become even closer," she said.
"However, if they have distanced from each other, lost their love and attraction towards each other, or they have unresolved issues from the past that create conflict, they may grow even more frustrated with each other."
According to Soylemez, there are many couples who are staying together just because they do not want to face the challenges of the change, and they just "keep themselves busy with children, work, alcohol, and social life" but will eventually "need to confront the real issues" amid the outbreak lockdown.
When the virus emerged in China and forced millions to stay indoors for months at a time, and then they gained freedom, divorce cases skyrocketed, said media reports from China.
Lawyer Ilknur Atis Koyluoglu fears an increase in divorce filings not just after the end of the quarantine process but in the long run.
"Although Wuhan was under complete lockdown, we don’t have a complete quarantine in Turkey," Koyluoglu, said referring to the country's weekend curfews in 31 high-population provinces.
Highlighting the possible economic woes in the virus’ wake, Koyluoglu said: "Divorce demand may rise due to economic difficulties as small business owners having to shutter their businesses and people being laid off or having to take unpaid leave."
Koyluoglu also said that domestic violence seems to be on the rise.
According to a women’s rights group, in March 2020 alone, a total of 29 women were killed in Turkey.
The Istanbul-based We Will Stop Murder of Women Platform called for the better protection of women as people are being urged to self-quarantine to stem the virus’ spread.
- Rise in violence
For psychology lecturer Soylemez, some reasons behind the increase in domestic violence are stress and anxiety, which "reduce our ability to manage our emotions such as anger and frustration."
"Also, being isolated cuts people off from accessing their usual ways of letting off steam and relaxing such as exercise, socializing, hobbies, etc.," she added.
"This increases the chance of people acting out their anger and becoming violent."
Soylemez suggested that couples find a way to discharge their negative emotions by expressing themselves verbally to each other.
"They can have speaker-listener exercises where each partner expresses him- or herself for five minutes without being interrupted. The other needs to be the listener and when finished, repeat what was said in his or her own words. Then, they switch roles," she said.
"However, if the violence has already started and one partner is intimated, they need to open up to a trusted person and call the emergency numbers," she added.
Without revealing names, Soylemez gave the example of a couple who are on the verge of divorce but had to be stuck together at home with their two children.
"The wife had already called her lawyer to initiate legal procedures. But now they can’t proceed and need to be together 24/7," she said.
- Stuck with soon-to-be-ex
Among one of those unexpectedly stuck with their partner due to COVID-19 is "Mehmet", whose name has been changed to protect his privacy.
In March the 43-year-old and his wife decided to get a divorce and filed papers, but they ended up together for the time being as the coronavirus outbreak hit Turkey around the same time.
Now he is living together with his soon-to-be-ex-wife and two children in Istanbul.
"We’re like some distant friends living in the same house," he told Anadolu Agency.
"Most of the time we don’t eat together but we don’t argue either, as communication between us is at a minimum," he added.
The unemployed computer programmer was planning to move out just before the virus outbreak but had to stay because the start of his new job was postponed to May due to the pandemic.
For such cases, Soylemez’s suggestion for couples is to "put an effort into making the quarantine period as peaceful as possible and pretending that they are teammates."
"The partners also can take this time to reflect on their priorities in life and relationships, what they have learned in this marriage about themselves, where they want to see themselves in the future," she added.
"They can write journals about how this relationship has come to this point but try to be objective and not focus on the wrongdoings of their partner.
"When the quarantine days are over, they can reevaluate their decisions," she added.
- Finding balance during hard times
Soylemez also detailed what kinds of problems may lie ahead of isolated couples during the coronavirus times.
They "may expect too much from their partners," she said.
"Now they need to fulfill all the roles of a friend, family, parents, lovers. This creates tension in the relationship. Sometimes the couples get bored with each other’s company. Partners need to accept that many couples go through similar processes.
"They need to find a balance for the times they spend alone, with their friends, as a family, and as a couple," she added.
Soylemez's suggestions for couples who are struggling under quarantine is "learning new things together, creating new rituals, trying different ways of connecting such as asking intimate questions to each other, and keeping their interest and curiosity towards each other."
"If the couples have been ignoring their issues for a long time, these issues may surface during the quarantine," she added.
Isolated couples spending more time together should "face their disappointments and early relational wounds," Soylemez said.
"Couples need to acknowledge that they have issues that they need to address but also accept that this is not the best time to be objective and solve all their problems.
"This forced physical closeness may also lead the couples to know each other better and create better bonding for the future."