One disturbing trend that I have seen in my practice since the advent of the COVID-19 virus is
the explosion of the need for marriage counseling. I have had so many new clients as well as
former clients contact me for help with struggling marriages, and I know from talking to
colleagues that I am not alone. According to the New York Post, divorce rates have been spiking
since April 2020, which is just one month after many states started lockdown protocols. The
data showed that 31 percent of couples admitted that irreparable damage had been done to
their relationship during lockdowns. The combination of spending more time together,
increased anxiety, deaths of loved ones, homeschooling children, working from home,
unemployment, and financial strain along with a myriad of other things has put couples in a
very difficult position.
Though COVID may not be responsible for all the problems couples have faced, it certainly has
exacerbated things. With the added strain marriages are crumbling like never before. Previous
separate routines may have masked existing problems that forced lockdowns brought to light.
COVID may not cause breakups, but it is more of a catalyst for break ups that may have
happened anyway. Even couples who were stronger before the pandemic and did not make
major shifts in their family roles have still been susceptible because coping skills that were used
previously have been taken away such as going out with friends, playing sports, or just spending
It is important to find ways to spend quality time together and not just a large quantity of time.
It is also important to spend time apart and engaging in self-care. You might feel comfortable
going out to restaurants for dates, but if you don’t there are still fun things that you can do at
home or at a safe distance. Here are some ways to combat the stress that the pandemic could
be placing on your marriage:
Remember to give each other grace and try to have empathy for one another.
Join me in imagining for a moment if you will...
Imagine that you (or perhaps a close family member) have a health issue that could present challenges in different areas of your life. Let’s say that the issue is one that is quite common and treatable, but you may need to see a specialist periodically. You are experiencing this health issue by no fault of your own...some people just have it. Maybe it’s asthma, diabetes, or perhaps an autoimmune syndrome or an allergy? Maybe you suffered a traumatic injury of some sort? Would you share this issue with others in your circle? Would you seek treatment to improve your quality of life? I’m guessing that for most of us the answer sounds something like “Well of course I would!”
Now, consider the exact same scenario, but instead of the health concern being any of the things named above, imagine that it’s a mental health issue. Would you still share with those around you? Would you still seek treatment to improve your quality of life?
If you answered that you would not, there are likely a number of reasons. But, I would venture to guess that some part of your hesitancy would be due to the stigma associated with mental health in our culture. The conversation about mental health is becoming more prevalent (as is evidenced by the work that Woodland is doing….Way to go, Woodland!). But overall, as a culture, and as Christians, we still have a lot of work to do. In any given year, 1 in every 5 adults, and 1 in 6 children/adolescents experience a mental health issue. In the time of COVID, these statistics are likely much higher.
Stigma refers to stereotypes, or negative views, that are attributed to a person/group whose experiences, characteristics or behaviors are seen as different from the norm. Stigma is often rooted in misinformation and fear. Over time, stigma is internalized and can lead to feelings of shame, guilt, or inadequacy. Those affected may feel tainted in their identity in some way.
But we must ask ourselves...what does the Bible say about our identity? It tells us that we are created in God’s image and that we are his masterpiece. He saw our unformed body and has ordained all of our days. He knows of our challenges and suffering, and he has plans for us. His word assures us that his plans give us a future and hope! (Genesis 1:27; Ephesians 2:10; Psalm 139:16; Jeremiah 29:11).
So, as Christians, how can we work to destigmatize mental illness? Here are a few thoughts:
We know that God provides comfort to the suffering and meets the needs of the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18; Psalm 145:18), and we must trust him on our journey. However, this trust doesn’t always mean waiting out a situation of suffering. Rather, it may look like taking a faith-filled step to harness resources that God has placed in your path, whether that be a counselor, friend, support group, or medication. Friends, please don’t suffer alone. Reaching out does not indicate weakness or lack of faith. Rather, getting help may provide you with healing and clarity that will allow you to experience God’s presence in your life more fully.
Laura Dempsey is a licensed social worker and therapist with nearly 20 years of experience counseling children and families.