Julia Hartley-Brewer

How to avoid a lockdown divorce

How to avoid a lockdown divorce
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They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. Well, the coronavirus pandemic now provides us with the ideal conditions to test whether the opposite is equally true: does being cooped up together in a small space for a long period of time also do the same?

I think we all know the answer to that one.

It will come as no surprise to any married couple – happy or otherwise – that the Chinese city of Wuhan, epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, has seen a large spike in divorce cases after couples escaped from a month’s quarantine.

So, as millions of families across Britain embark on weeks, and possibly even months, of lockdown in their homes, here are my tips for helping you and your increasingly irritating other half to survive with your marriage intact.

The first thing to understand is that you’re in lockdown together for the long run. This is going to feel like being Richard and Judy on steroids, spending every waking and sleeping hour together.

Without work and socialising to distract you, it’s vital that you keep as much physical space between you as you can. Whatever good intentions you may have, this is an endurance test, not a bonding exercise.

That’s why it’s also crucial to establish house rules and agree on a daily routine.

If you’ve got the space in your home, establish which room belongs to which person and then stick to those boundaries like it’s Berlin during the Cold War. Only the hallway, bathroom and kitchen are demilitarised zones where anyone is free to roam without having their papers checked.

Leave each other alone. Because, let’s face it, there are going to be times when the prospect of a lingering death from pneumonia will seem more bearable than having to spend even one more hour stuck in each other’s company surrounded by sulking children and a waning supply of tinned food.

It’s ridiculously tempting to lie in every day if you have no work to go to but that’s a superfast highway to the divorce courts. Get up at a set time, get showered and – hey, go crazy – maybe change your clothes every now and then too.

It is though important to meet up for meals and to play board games and cards together in the evening.

Or, if you’re not a family in a Boden catalogue, make sure you’ve got decent broadband and wifi, sign up for multi-room Sky and a multi-device Netflix account. Do it now, people, this is NOT a drill. Just remember there is nothing more likely to end an otherwise perfectly good marriage than a brutal game of Monopoly.

You could always try to save your marriage by making small romantic gestures and initiating more sex to make your other half feel valued and desired.

I mean, you could try that but actually the two best things you can do to save your marriage during lockdown involve a little less effort: clear up after yourself and try to be forgiving when your worse half inevitably commits a raft of heinous household crimes.

Of course no jury in their right mind would convict you if you did decide to batter your spouse to death with the last remaining bag of loo rolls after they leave their dirty plate on the kitchen worktop instead of putting it in the dishwasher for the fifty millionth time this week.

But still, what might seem like a good idea now may seem less attractive when you’re trying to dispose of the body but can’t get your hands on any black bin bags for love or money thanks to all the panic buying. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Never fear, though, because when it comes to your marriage surviving through the tough times ahead, there are two upsides to the coronavirus lockdown that could be your saving grace.

First, there aren’t many opportunities for your other half to play away from home if they can’t actually physically leave home.

And, secondly, in a few months’ time when we all finally emerge, blinking, into the outside world once again, the economy will have collapsed, millions of us will have lost our jobs, and very few couples will be able to afford to get divorced.

Every cloud, as they say…