Brexit will strongly influence everything from the economy to migration. Less discussed is the effect it is having on people’s relationships. But for some couples the triggering of article 50 could prove to be momentous for personal reasons too.
A survey by the charity Relate found that one-fifth of their 300 relationship support counsellors have worked with clients arguing over Brexit. This comes after Resolution, the UK’s largest family law organisation, said that the stress of Brexit has added to the pressure on couples already teetering on the brink of divorce.
Brexit has already created uncertainty in relationships involving European citizens living in Britain. Some couples are in limbo as they await news as to what will happen to them in the years after the UK’s divorce from the EU is settled.
We asked people about how the referendum had affected their relationship so far. Here are a selection of their stories.
Katy Marks, 38, from London: There’s no way Brexit would break us up, but it has put a strain on our relationship
I am English, my husband is German. He has been living and working in Britain for 12 years and we have two kids. I voted remain (my husband wasn’t allowed to vote) but since the result we have become worried about our future here. I would like my husband to apply for permanent residency, but he feels betrayed, especially if the rights of European citizens are not protected. Out of principle he doesn’t want to be in Britain any more if he is made to feel unwelcome. He talks about leaving the country and this is difficult because I don’t want to go.
At the same time I understand why he feels the way he does. He made a decision to come here, knowing he had the right to and he has paid his way. That’s a form of contract and now it feels those goalposts might shift.
There’s no way Brexit would break us up, but it has put a strain on us and it would be hard if we had to move. I also worry about staying and the atmosphere being intolerable. Before the referendum we printed T-shirts with the word “immigrant” on them and sold them for charity. But after the vote, a few people started making nasty comments when we wore them. Overnight things changed and if that gets worse then it will be upsetting.
Colin White, 62, from Hartlepool: Brexit played a significant role in our separation
My wife and I separated in December for the third and final time. Our differing views on Brexit encapsulated many of the reasons why we’re no longer together. The morning of the result I woke up early and felt floored. Next to me, and still asleep, was my wife – who had been in favour of Brexit. That morning, I was hostile towards her. I had no right to behave that way and I regret it. Not for the first time, I seemed to be saying, “You’re wrong and I’m right.” The subject of the referendum had become difficult over the previous weeks and now it was toxic.
At the heart of my wife’s support for Brexit was immigration. She saw the problems associated with it as something that needed attention. I was completely opposed to this viewpoint and horrified at the thought of leaving the European Union. Not a single one of my friends was in favour of Brexit. In sharp contrast all of my wife’s close friends voted to leave.
I asked myself, can two people with such divergent views live together in harmony? I’m sure many do and I wish we could have, but sadly it wasn’t to be for us.
Anonymous, 62, from Northern Ireland: A lot of my anger at the referendum result is now directed towards my husband
I have been with my husband for 42 years. We have always been different in our views: I am more liberal than my husband.
Our opinions over Brexit have caused a lot of resentment in our relationship. My husband voted to leave and I am in the remain camp. It’s not like we will get divorced or separated because of this, but there’s definitely a lot of tension now.
I am still very angry about the referendum result. There have been so many lies told about Brexit by career-driven politicians. I worry about what it will mean for my children and grandchildren. A lot of that anger is now directed towards my husband.
My husband is quite surprised by my strong reaction. He says I’ve never been involved in politics but for me this is such a big issue. A lot of my upset comes from being a mum. I struggle with anything that is going to be bad for my children. Also it is irreversible. It’s better now than it was immediately after the vote, but it’s going to take a while for me to forgive and forget.
Louisa Guise, 30, from London: I expect the full impact of Brexit on my relationship is yet to come
Brexit has affected my relationship in many ways and I expect the full impact of it is yet to come. My boyfriend of six years is from Cyprus. He went to an English-language school in Cyprus, speaks English fluently and got more GCSEs and A-levels than I did. As a Cypriot, he is also a Commonwealth citizen who had the right to vote in the Brexit referendum, yet now his status in the UK is not guaranteed.
My boyfriend has spent six years studying in England and two years working here. That’s thousands of pounds invested in this country from university fees and taxes. He’s training to be a lawyer, and we want to buy a house. The bank is happy to lend us money, but one of the things slowing down our next step is Brexit. What is the point of investing lots of money in a home when we might not be allowed to stay in this country? I say we, because if he leaves, so will I.
The thought of leaving is daunting as we will then need to find a new home. We also want to be able to visit family easily. My boyfriend passed the Life in the UK test (it’s more basic than a history GCSE) but stopped the citizenship process at the 85-page form, which was only introduced last August after the Brexit vote. Altogether obtaining citizenship will cost more than £1,000 (that’s compared to €249 in Germany and about £100 in Denmark), and the will to do so is fading.
The mood has changed. My boyfriend has a very established life among friends who are both British and foreign, yet he hears Nigel Farage and what appears to be the public consensus reminding him that not everyone welcomes him. These are very depressing times for both of us.
Our relationship has always been strong and we are determined to be together, but we have both lost a little of our identity. My boyfriend always felt close to the British culture and way of life, but now he feels he has to work harder to fit in and merit a place here. We are both very European and no Brexit can take that away from us. However, it’s made us sad and worried for the future.
Laura Harrison McBride, 69, from Montpellier, France: We argue more often, and it has made me very upset
My husband is a UK citizen and I am a citizen of the Republic of Ireland, but we both worked our entire careers in the US. We moved to the UK seven years ago. Needless to say, we have a double dose of political uncertainty: Brexit and Trump.
We had already planned to move to France, and did so in October 2016. With my Irish nationality, we are not afraid of being asked to leave France after a Brexit. However, should I die before my husband, then he might have a problem.
The big impact of Brexit has been on our ability to sell our house in the UK; none of the potential buyers was able to complete because they couldn’t get a mortgage. No one even viewed the house in May, June or July because of Brexit nerves. We finally decided to let it, which will happen this month, we hope. Post-referendum, we have learned not to trust financial arrangements.
So what has all this done to our relationship? It has made us argue more often, and it has made me very upset at times. My husband is very patient, but I’m sure my despair will get to him before too much longer.