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Family Tips During Circuit Breaker

Metanalysis of Domestic Abuse in Singapore During Circuit Breaker

This metanalysis aims to further understand and educate readers on the possible causes and preventive measures for domestic abuse. This metanalysis does not replace the need for family therapists and counsellors but to further educate couples that these services (like the dentist) should be adopted even when a marriage is healthy. Boiling these problems down to lack of communication is inaccurate and can lead to larger problems.

Current Situation

From 6 April to 20 April, MSF’s adult and child protection services saw a 14% increase in calls and enquiries compared to the two weeks before. This increase was also reported in other family protection services and family service centres (Wong, 2020).

This phenomenon was also observed in other countries experiencing lockdown and was also observed during other pandemics, such as SARS and Ebola. Countries such as China, US and UK have reported a significant increase in numbers of domestic abuse. France and Italy were forced to restructure hotels into shelters for families fleeing the abuse (Usher, Bhullar, Durkin, Gyamfi & Jackson, 2020). Unfortunately, this outbreak has caused an increase in child abuse cases worldwide as well (Bradbury-Jones, & Isham, 2020).

There are also evidences that domestic abuse is rising in Singapore pre-circuit breaker period. Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) reported a 35% increase in inquiries in March 2020 compared to March last year (Wong, 2020).

Financial and Economic Anxiety

There is no doubt that this is a stressful situation for all families, regardless of race or religion. Stress can occur in many ways during this circuit breaker. It can range from economic anxiety stemming from losing employment or source of income, stress due to change in lifestyle, or stress due to loss of control due to government interventions (Usher et al., 2020). We link these abuse cases to poor stress management and allowing the stress to influence their behaviours.

Due to the COVID-19 situation, unemployment is on the rise as a result of the downward spiralling economy. In addition, some are forced to leave employment or work fewer hours, thus affecting their source of income. This financial strain, along with substance abuse and isolation, is known to be a factor in domestic abuse (Usher et al., 2020). This is further supported by research in the US that linked increased domestic abuse cases to economic downturns, such as the recession in 2008 (Stanley, 2020). Even with financial support from the government, people are still anxious about their future income.

Photo by Pedro Figueras from Pexels

Changes in Lifestyle

Lifestyle changes and the perceived loss of control are other factors that increase domestic abuse among developed countries. Lifestyle changes, especially unexpected ones, increase the risk of conflicts between couples. With working-from-home measures and stay-at-home regulations, couples are forced to adapt quickly to how they interact with each other. Some couples struggle to find a balance between time alone and time shared during this period. Interestingly, this phenomenon also observed for senior couples that have newly retired (McCoy, 2020). Feeling claustrophobic is possible, even for healthy couples.

Another example of lifestyle change is disagreements that could occur on child-rearing. Couples with little or no exposure to their children education syllabus may be frustrated with home-schooling and may over- or under-parent their children – some going to the extent of disciplining their children excessively (Fuller, 2020). Disagreements on such matters could also escalate into domestic abuse.

Lifestyle changes as a factor for domestic abuse are consistent with reports of divorce cases in China during the total lockdown in Wuhan. Unfortunately, there is not enough data to pinpoint whether the lockdown affects both healthy couples and couples with existing problems indiscriminately (Usher et al., 2020). There is an argument that the sudden change in lifestyle acts as a magnifying glass or a catalyst – making good relationships great, and bad relationships worse (Bradbury-Jones & Isham, 2020).

Perception of Control

This perceived loss of control can be a result of the restricted movements enforced by the government. Couples, unable to express their displeasure to the authority, would displace their frustrations at each other or their children or elderly parents. With the closure of leisure, sports and recreation facilities in the community, it removes an outlet for couples to blow off steam and manage their stress. Research has also linked the loss of perceived control due to unemployment to be a threat to the masculine identity of a man, increasing the probability of domestic abuse (Stanley, 2020).

Social Support

The second factor that could explain the increase in reported domestic abuse cases is due to the unavailability of social support during the circuit breaker. As couples are required to practice social distancing, they also remove themselves from places that would offer temporary relief, such as the workplace or home of extended families. In addition, being isolated with an existing abuser could also limit the opportunities to seek help (Bradbury-Jones & Isham, 2020). Also, both the victims and perpetrator could not readily leverage the social support provided by extended families, childcare, or other community resources.

Other Factors

We must acknowledge that existing mental illnesses can also aggravate domestic violence (Wong, 2020). Family members with personality disorders can be abusive, and there is always a possibility that they stopped receiving treatment since the start of the circuit breaker. Furthermore, excessive alcohol consumption also attributed to the increase in domestic abuse cases worldwide (Stanley, 2020).

Practical Tips for Couples

  1. Choose Your Battles (and seek professional help)

Don’t fight over small matters, address the bigger issues (with and not against your spouse).

If something bothers your significant other, and if it is not much trouble for you, try to meet their immediate needs. Do understand that your spouse’s frustrations may stem from something deeper than the issue at hand. Arrange for a longer-term solution, approach your spouse after they have cooled down and then address the root cause – be it financial stress or pre-existing issues in the marriage. If the problem is beyond your means, approach a family counsellor.

  1. Manage Your Expectations and Forgive Shortcomings

Appreciate little efforts, forgive shortcomings.

In this stressful situation, the charming husband you married may not be at his best state of mind, and your wife may not be the loving person you fell in love with. Expecting your spouse to meet all your needs is unrealistic and will only make you and your spouse frustrated.

  1. Allow changes to be adopted gradually

People adapt to change differently, some well some badly. Empathise not sympathise.

It takes effort in adjusting to work from home while taking care of the children and cooking for the family, but it is a necessary sacrifice to make. Some of these things may not be a norm for your spouse, and they may struggle and get frustrated if forced to take over the tasks. Slowly persuade them and positively reinforce their efforts.

Where to Seek Help?

Photo by NEOSiAM 2020 from Pexels

As a community, we Malay-Muslims must break the stigma associated with visiting family counsellors or therapists. We need to approach family care professionals as a service that we engage in to maintain the happiness of our family.   Do not hesitate to call the agencies below for assistance.   You are not alone.

The National CARE hotline:1800 202 6868
PAVE Integrated Services for Individual and Family Protection:6555 0390
Trans Safe Centre:6449 9088
Project StART:  6476 1482
ComCare hotline:1800 222 0000
AWARE’s Women’s Helpline (Monday to Friday, 10am to 6pm):1800 777 5555

References

Bradbury-Jones, C., & Isham, L. (2020). The pandemic paradox: The consequences of COVID‐19 on          domestic violence. Journal of Clinical Nursing. https://doi.org/10.1111/jocn.15296

Fuller, K. (2020, April 13). Intimate partner violence and child abuse during COVID-19. Psychology          Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/sg/blog/happiness-is-state- mind/202004/intimate-partner-violence-and-child-abuse-during-covid-19.

McCoy, K. (2020, Apr 28). Couples Claustrophobia: How to Balance Time Together and Time Apart.         Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/sg/blog/complicated-l        ove/202004/couples-claustrophobia-how-balance-time-together-and-time-       apart?collection=1144153.

Stanley, M. (2020, May 09). Why the increase in domestic violence during COVID-19?. Psychology          Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/sg/blog/making-sense-       chaos/202005/why-the-increase-in-domestic-violence-during-covid-19

Usher, K., Bhullar, N., Durkin, J., Gyamfi, N., & Jackson, D. (2020). Family violence and COVID‐19:            Increased vulnerability and reduced options for support. International Journal of Mental            Health Nursing. https://doi.org/10.1111/inm.12735

Wong, Y. (2020, April 9). Concern over rise in domestic abuse as stay-home period kicks in. The New       Paper, Retrieved from https://www.tnp.sg/news/singapore/rise-domestic-abuse-cases-          families-forced-stay-home

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