It is being reported this week that lockdown has led to a huge surge in enquiries about divorce in the UK. One company, Co-op Legal Services said it had seen a 42% increase in divorce inquiries between 23 March and mid-May, compared with the same period in 2019.
This phenomenon is an extreme example of what happens at the beginning of each year when couples decide to get divorced after having spent time together over Christmas.
During lockdown many couples have reached breaking point after spending much more time together; their differences are exposed, along with the strains of uncertainty about the future, financial concerns, and the need to share childcare and home education. For some these problems are exacerbated by alcohol abuse and, for a significant number, domestic violence. (During lockdown, calls to a national domestic abuse helpline have risen by 49%).
As Christians, we uphold marriage as a lifelong covenant between a man and woman. But we also acknowledge that living together as a married couple can be challenging at times, and this can be amplified during times of enforced confinement. The current lockdown has only intensified these pressures with the added concerns of uncertainty about the future.
Perhaps for some of us, this has revealed that over the years we have not invested in our marriage relationship as much as we should. We have allowed the distractions of work, leisure and family commitments to stop us from doing the important work of growing and showing love to our spouse.
Our culture encourages the pursuit of individual happiness above everything else, which puts further pressure on a marriage. We are told that each of us has a right to be fulfilled and satisfied in our activities and relationships. So if we marry in order to be happy, and a time comes when the marriage no longer provides that end, divorce is seen as an obvious and natural way out.
The attitude of society to faithfulness in marriage does not help. Two recent high-profile cases are notable: Neil Ferguson met up with a romantic partner who was apparently in an “open (i.e. an unfaithful) marriage” and Labour MP Rosie Duffield saw her new partner while they were living separately. Yet the outrage provoked by their behaviour related to their breach of the lockdown rather than their breaking of the marriage covenant.
But we should not assume this is a problem just for “other people”. Christians in our churches are facing the same strains and have the same battles to fight with their own selfish, sinful tendencies. We dare not assume that marriage problems, whether major or otherwise, never happen in Christian families. Marriage is not a casual commitment that can be broken without consequences, so as churches we should be offering support wherever we can to help and counsel any who are struggling at this time. Online open sessions as well as confidential discussions can be used during this time to help our marriages survive and flourish.
We are also thankful to God for the blessing of happy marriages and that the lockdown will have actually helped some of us to refocus on our relationships and work harder at dealing with sins that have been exposed by this crisis. This is no easy task, but we have the Bible to guide us, the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ as our model, and the indwelling Holy Spirit to empower us.