Quite often, domestic violence is framed either in the sterile context of criminology and statistics or in the raw context of our own emotions. The reality lies somewhere between these extremes. If we look past the crime itself, past the numbers, and past our own offense, we can see that domestic violence occurs in real families with actual people and complex emotions—people who often don’t even understand what triggers their behavior. For many households, the quarantines and lockdowns prompted by COVID-19 are making these triggers even more sensitive, prompting an increase in the rate of domestic violence across the globe.
We’ve already talked about some of the numbers and factors behind this increase in DV during the pandemic. Now, let’s talk about the human factor—the increased pressures caused by this situation which may serve as triggers, and how families can respond to reduce the risk and perhaps prevent outbreaks of domestic violence in the home.
Common Triggers of Domestic Violence During Lockdown
The increase of domestic violence across the U.S. over the past few weeks has been well-documented—but what are some of the actual underlying factors behind it? Let’s discuss some of the more common pressures people may be facing, many of which have been amplified by the pandemic threat.
Couples and families disagree at times, some more intensely than others. In many households, the first line of defense in a family conflict is for couples is a “cooling off” period—giving each other space so emotions can cool. If you live in a large house, creating space may be easier than if you live in a small, cramped apartment. If there is no way to create space, it can create a “pressure cooker” scenario. If your temper makes you prone to violence, this situation may be unsafe both for you and your partner.
During a recent news briefing, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo quipped that “cabin fever” may become an official diagnosis by the time the pandemic subsides. Cabin fever is often characterized by irritability and restlessness after feeling isolated and “cooped up” for a long period of time. While living in close quarters can create irritability, cabin fever has more to do with the fact that you’re not supposed to leave home—or that you have no place to go if you do. This claustrophobic feeling can also be a breeding ground for negative emotions, including violent ones for some people.
The “Fear Factor”
Let’s face it—we’re living through a scary time. Many people have ongoing anxiety and fear of what might happen to them if they become infected with COVID-19—not to mention the fear of what will happen in the future economically and otherwise. For some, fear expresses itself in anger as a secondary emotion. If someone hasn’t learned how to channel their anger properly, the result may be violence in extreme situations.
America has experienced a massive wave of unemployment at rates not seen since the Great Depression. (More than 5 million filed for unemployment benefits just last week, bringing the tally to 22 million.) Many of those who remain employed are seeing reduced income, especially those in the gig industries. The financial pressures at this time are very real and very visceral. Even in good times, finances are the number-one source of conflict among couples. Consider that now, for many people, those financial pressures are two and three times what they were before the lockdowns. Stress can be a trigger for those with anger issues, and right now money problems may be a huge trigger.
Not only are many of us staying home from our jobs—our kids aren’t going to school right now. That puts pressure on the parents to assume the role of teacher—something most parents have never attempted before. Whether homeschooling or engaging in some form of online learning, having responsibility for the kids in tight quarters for an indefinite amount of time can also be a huge trigger for conflict.
As an old proverb states, “An idle mind is the devil’s playground.” The simple fact that many families are at home with nothing to do can become a breeding ground for irritability, strife, and conflict—and in some cases, unfortunately, domestic violence.
Avoiding the Triggers
Before we go any further, let’s get clear on one thing: None of the triggers listed above should ever be used as an excuse for resorting to violence. By the same token, domestic violence doesn’t “just happen” because of bad circumstances like these. However, the above issues do add additional pressure to already difficult family situations, and if you have unresolved issues going into the situation, the pressure can make you more vulnerable to say and do things you regret—or worse, possibly get you arrested. So what can you do to diffuse the pressure? The following may help:
- Set aside “alone time.” Even in close quarters, it’s usually possible to separate. Don’t wait for an argument to happen before creating space. Try to agree with your partner and/or children ahead of time for each of you to have 30-60 minutes a day to yourselves so you can reflect, think, journal, or just unwind.
- Take advantage of the outdoors when possible. If you have safe access to an outside space, use it—especially on sunny days. Sunlight helps improve mood, lower blood pressure, improve sleep patterns, and more—including helping your body produce much-needed Vitamin D.
- Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness practices like meditation and prayer can help reduce anxiety, lower stress levels, and help you keep things in perspective. The Headspace app is a good place to start if you don’t have something else in place. Even a few minutes a day can help.
- Take advantage of therapy when possible. Many therapists are available these days via video chat, so you can have sessions from the convenience of your home. If you feel emotionally out of control, talk to someone before the pressure escalates.
In the midst of quarantine, we need to work harder than ever to accommodate each other and to exercise patience. If a conflict does arise in your home resulting in domestic violence charges, we can provide compassionate legal representation while you work through the crisis. Call our offices for a free initial consultation.