LEICESTER, United Kingdom – As Ireland went into lockdown, many families struggled to deal with their problems, both new and long-simmering.

Accord Catholic Marriage Care Service — an agency of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference — saw a surge of calls to their telephone counselling service.

Accord spoke with families dealing with employment uncertainties, strains on family budget, tensions over working from home, and the general frustration of the inability to leave the house.

The agency noted that families under lockdown are often dealing with a pressure cooker environment’ and this affects interpersonal communication, which can lead to uncomfortable silences or loud and explosive verbal exchanges: Both can cause the domestic atmosphere to deteriorate.

This can have a harmful effect on children, who can experience fear and distress as they witness their parents argue or not communicate well.

For couples in already vulnerable relationships, the forced confinement can exacerbate existing issues.

Crux spoke to Mary Johnston, a Specialist in Counselling at Accord about what families are dealing with during the lockdown.

Crux: Why are some families struggling through the lockdown?

Johnston: All families are unique and have their own particular journey. Most families experience struggles at some point and many are struggling to varying degrees in lockdown, depending on their circumstances. Families in lockdown are experiencing the impact of being confined and other pressures such as caring for and home-schooling children, worries and concerns about finances, health, employment, extended family, and illness and what the future holds.

Some families may have been in difficult circumstances prior to lockdown and these difficulties will have been exacerbated by lockdown. The difficulties could be in many differing areas such as relationship difficulties between parents, economic difficulties, struggles with child rearing or childcare or any combination of difficulties. Many families will have been coping reasonably well prior to lockdown but since lockdown may have experienced tensions rising and increasing due to confinement and all the changes and concerns and anxieties involved.

What can couples do to avoid relationship issues during the lockdown?

It’s virtually impossible to avoid relationship issues in any partnership at any time.

Relationship difficulties and issues are not the biggest problem that couples face, it is how they are managed and dealt with that has the potential to cause serious problems in couple and family relationships.

Couples can do a lot to try to keep their relationships in a positive place during the lockdown. Some couples will have entered lockdown with a fairly positive relationship, others with difficulties in their relationship. Many families will not have spent as much time together ever and may be feeling very cooped up, even stifled.

On a positive note families have displayed a lot of resilience and ingenuity during lockdown engaging in many home-based activities such as games, quizzes, musical and physical activities, and creative activities such as baking, cooking, art and craft, all of which will most likely have helped them bond as a family. In healthy relationships it is important to work on communication, to be a good listener, to be curious about your partner, to try to understand your spouse/partner.

Good communication also involves talking and expressing yourself and helping your spouse to get to know and understand you. Criticism is a huge threat to every relationship as it involves personal put downs and an assault on a person’s self. Complaining is the way to go in relationships. We all have a right to complain to our partners if we are not happy about something or need something. Complaining does not involve personal criticism, it can be done respectfully and the person hearing a complaint it is likely to be able to listen and hear their partners issues without feeling humiliated or insulted.

The importance of respect, negotiation, compromise can’t be overstated, in helping couples manage all the trials and tribulations that they encounter in their life journey together. Managing issues well is also an excellent modelling for children who themselves will be adults in relationships with issues and children of their own for the most part.

What should neighbors, clergy, and civil society be on the lookout for?

The role of neighbors, clergy and civil society to varying degrees is one of welcome care, nurture, and protection when needed. They all need to be there for those in their society and community in good times and in the worst of times.

In good times they can share, inspire, learn/teach, celebrate and bond together. In the worst of times they are there to help support, provide, advise, shelter and protect.

Many families will need to look to neighbors, clergy and civil society for support comfort and sustenance as they emerge from lockdown and cope with the new normal which may be much more difficult in many ways from previously.

They can be pillars and strength and arms that can support, hold and comfort people in their embrace when they need to be held tightly and in better times they can be a presence for good and nurture in the lives of families and society.

And what can we hope for as the restrictions ease?

Initially great relief and a great sense of freedom and a return of and to many familiar settings and activities that adults and children will have missed. Opportunities to visit and see in the flesh family and friends missed and yearned for will be welcomed.

There will also be difficulties such as grieving those lost for whom it was not possible to have a ritual of loss and grieving. The consequences of the lockdown will become clearer, the economic costs, the loss of employment and health. All of these losses will have to be borne have and lived with post lockdown.

The “new normal” may be different for quite some time to the normal prior to lockdown and many adults and children may still miss many of the activities and settings they enjoyed prior to lockdown.

Spouses and perhaps some children may have re-evaluated their values during lockdown where they benefited from the opportunity of having more time together more family time, less spending, less time away from one another. The family and community aspects of social media may have come to the fore more than individual game playing, spending, individual viewing and socializing with their own age range only. These families may be more bonded as a family following lockdown.

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome