ACCORD is the Catholic Marriage care service run by the Irish Bishops Conference. In these difficult days, they have opened a helpline to support couples and families who are struggling.
Over 100 callers report relationship problems on Accord’s support phone lines
· Main problems exacerbated by the COVID-19 restrictions: effects on children, family tensions, domestic finances, mental health, difficulty living in a confined space, inability to grieve properly when a loved one dies, pressure on work and study at home
Accord’s new and confidential ‘Relationships Support Phone Line’ is a free counselling service for people experiencing pressure in their marriage and relationships due to social restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. To date over one hundred callers have made contact using the three Accord numbers which serve the island of Ireland:
- Accord CLG – 01 531 3331
- Accord Dublin – 01 905 9555
- Accord NI – 028 9568 0151 or 00353 1 531 3331
Calls to Accord counsellors typically last 45 to 60 minutes in duration and are charged at a local rate. The following problems have been highlighted by callers to Accord counsellors:
Causes of conflict: pressure and stress caused by uncertainty around security of employment; the effect on domestic finances; mental health; living in a confined environment; clashes with other family members due to poor communication; regret at being unable to grieve properly following the death of a loved one; pressure on students arising from changes in exam timetables; challenges associated with having home life converted to an office and a school; emotional impact of constant negative news reporting; and, frustration at the inability to socialise outside.
‘Pressure cooker’ environment: Accord counsellors have noted that people under stress at home can feel that they are living in a ‘pressure cooker’ environment. This situation can induce a regression in their behaviour and human interaction suffers. They can overreact to situations which in turn can cause the domestic atmosphere to deteriorate. This type of behaviour can present as either uncomfortable silences and/or very loud, explosive and noisy verbal exchanges.
Effects on children: Young people and children exposed to aggressive behaviour - whether once off or on an ongoing basis - experience fear and distress which in turn affects their personal behaviour and relationships with others. Physical isolation at home can compound trauma.
Vulnerable relationships: couples whose relationships had been under pressure prior to imposition of the COVID-19 restrictions are particularly at risk as their confinement exacerbates existing unresolved relationship issues. Being compelled to remain at home all the time, together, save for essential journeys, is magnifying existing tensions and problems.
KEY ADVICE TIPS
Accord counsellors offer the following key tips to people at home at this time:
- For individuals living in fear at home, Accord counsellors are trained in identify and handling domestic abuse. In such situations the priority is the safety of the fearful person and their children. Accord can support an individual to develop a safety plan and can advise them of specialist crisis support contact numbers.
- In general, try and keep the lines of communication open with your spouse/partner
- Be conscious of how you raise issues with your partner. There are productive ways and unproductive ways of raising issues.
- Talk from your own feelings first and express what is difficult for you and what you feel you need rather than blaming and being critical of your partner. Criticism usually begets defensive, stonewalling or disproportionate responses.
- Be willing to look at yourself and your behaviour in addition to your partner’s shortcomings. ‘What is it like to be in relationship and to live with me?’ is a good question to ask ourselves.
- Self-management is a very good skill to hone in these pressurised and worrying times. It might be better to raise an issue at another time so that your partner can hear the cause of concern in a calmer context and to avoid an experience of perceived criticism or attack.
Advice on bereavement/serious illness
Insofar as issues such as bereavement or serious illness impact the couple relationship, callers can discuss these issues with a counsellor on the Support Line. If the issue is about a specific personal bereavement and/or health issue, then referral to a specialist may be required.
Guidance on financial difficulty
If the issue relates to how the household finances are being managed or mismanaged that may be discussed by the caller. However, Accord does not offer financial advice so counsellors offer relevant details of national support services which address personal finance problems.
Accord provides resources on its website www.accord.ie, on its Facebook page and on its Twitter account based on feedback from counsellors who have dealt with relationship and family difficulties experienced during these confined times.
Notes for Editors
· Accord is committed to providing professional support for the pastoral needs of couples preparing for the sacrament of marriage; and, to couples and individuals seeking marriage and relationship counselling. Accord’s ‘Relationship Support Phone Lines’ are open from 9.00am – 8.00pm Monday to Friday.
· The three Accord companies – Accord Northern Ireland Catholic Marriage Care Service CLG (Accord NI); Accord Dublin Catholic Marriage Care Service CLG (Accord Dublin); and Accord Catholic Marriage Care Service CLG (Accord CLG), which represents 34 Centres in the State outside of Dublin – operate in 54 centres across the island.
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