MONTREAL -- The pandemic has been a double-edged sword for relationships. There have been more break-ups, and in some cases abuse, but it’s also brought some couples closer together.

There are plenty of challenges to overcome when confined with the same person for months, sometimes with children, sometimes after losing a job.

“There’s been too much togetherness, if you will, but not the good kind where you’re connecting, but when you’re always in each other’s space,” said marriage and family therapist Isabel Melo. 

“Couples have been really challenged with not having any alone time or couple time because they’re always 24/7 parenting. They are in each other’s space a lot. Nobody chose to work from home but it was thrust upon them so there was no time for adaptations. They’re always in each other’s physical space or emotional space,” Melo said.

The pandemic has been hard on relationships, while deepening others.

Melo adds that for some of her clients who were already in couple’s therapy it has been beneficial for them to have the extra time together.

“The pandemic has simplified life, there’s less running around to do. For couples who already knew what their challenges were… it has helped deepen their connection,” she said.

The move to online therapy sessions has also helped.

“I think the online offering is a big part of what has brought people to therapy. It’s made it more accessible,” added Melo.

For others, the confinement has made a bad situation worse.

At the Shield of Athena Family Services, the pandemic has made providing services to victims of conjugal violence even more challenging.

"People are more scared because they say what if I go and I get infected. The pandemic has added another layer to the difficulties that arise for women victims who normally want to go to services because they're always questioning themselves anyway,” said Melpa Kamateros, executive director at the shelter.

Kamateros adds, “There are also underlying situations that were bad before and they're coming out even more now. For example, the lack of space. Women's groups have always called for more space, more rooms, and more people to work with the clients and with their children. Those underlying factors became even more evident now,” she said

The pandemic and lockdowns have created extreme levels of isolation, sequestering women with their abuser.

"They're spending more time with their abusive partners. We had women, during the first lockdown, who were going into the bathroom to call [the shelter]. If your husband is abusive already, the fact that you are now closed in with this partner makes it even more dangerous for women and their children because she doesn't have that much time to call for help," Kamateros said.

"If you’re not closed in for such a lengthy period, you [victims] will have time to plan something, but if you're closed in and he's already abusive it's a very dangerous situation," she said.