SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, WESTFIELD, NJ -- Family times and togetherness have been two of the benefits of the extended COVID-19 social distancing requirements, that is except for couples whose relationships were on the rocks.

For couples who haven't been getting along, all this togetherness is far from ideal.

"Some couples were in the midst of separation. Now they are in the same house together all of the time," says relationship expert Maria Sikoutris Di Iorio, founder of Hellenic Therapy Center. "So in addition to trying to work and be home with the kids, there's the added stress of having to spend all day with a partner you're not getting along with."

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Overwhelming for couples

"Their marriages were falling apart, and now this! The quarantine has made things worse, and the prolonged uncertainty causes stress," she said. "A partner may have mentally had a plan of how things were going to go, and that plan becomes totally disrupted."

What the therapist hears most often from wives is that they are frustrated.

"Things that didn't bother them before, bother them now. When you are busy and occupied, you become distracted and maybe don't spend as much time thinking about how terrible your marriage is," Sikoutris Di Iorio said. "Keeping busy can be a diversion."

For a husband who frequently travels and is home all the time, the togetherness can be too much.

"It is an opportunity for couples to re-examine and explore their differences and spend time together discussing the pros and cons of separation. Many couples stay together for the sake of the children. This is also a good time to speak with a marriage and family therapist and receive professional guidance," Sikoutris Di Iorio added. "I tell them that this extended time together this could be a gift. They have time to explore their relationship. Maybe this is a way that can work on it in a way that they haven't tried before. Sometimes one person outgrows the other. Now is the time to see what can the two can create for one another."

The therapist says that most of the people she is counseling now want to get back to work, to get back to the normalcy of the past. 

"It's completely unknown territory. Some couples are in a healthy place. They get up and take walks and do things together that they didn't have time to do in the past," she said. "It's learning to recreate your life."

Grieving the Loss of Rites of Passage

High school students, particularly seniors, may be having difficulty right now. This is usually a special time with friends, spending the last cherished moments together, looking forward to the prom and graduation. Now, suddenly, they have to accept the fact that we don't have normalcy.

"That is the underlying factor is that these teenagers are dealing with a loss and a grief that they can't identify with. They may have lost pets or grandparents, but now they have lost the opportunity to be together, to hang out on Friday night, to go to parties," Sikoutris Di Iorio said. "Having these things, these life events, taken away is a huge loss for them."

"Let them know that they are not alone. The coronavirus has disrupted lives everywhere, not just in Scotch Plains, Fanwood or Westfield. It's important to let them know that," she added. "Let them know it's okay to complain. It's a way of venting. Complaining is the way that teenagers can process their feelings."

On Tuesday, May 5, at 4:30, Sikoutris Di Iorio will host a Zoom session during which she will answer questions about:

  • Getting along in these trying times,
  • Learning to grieve,
  • Working on relationships
  • Dealing with illness, death or loss of income, and
  • Other topics.

To register for the Zoom session, email maria@hellenictherapy.com or call to reserve a spot at 908-322-0112.

Maria Sikoutris Di Iorio, MA, Ed.S., MTF, LPC, is, graduate of Seton Hall University with a Post Master's as an Educational Specialist and Master's in Marriage and Family Therapy. She has counseled individuals, families, children and couples for over three decades. Maria is a member of the National Council of Self Esteem, New Jersey Counseling Association, Marriage & Family Association and AASECT ( American Association of Sexuality, Education, Counseling and Therapists).