Q: My partner and I combined families two years ago. Both of us have kids, and we have slowly gotten them on similar schedules so we have some private time together. Then COVID-19 hit and all this togetherness has made things terrible between us. Last night an argument spiraled out of control and she slapped me across the face. Luckily the kids were with their other parent, but things are really bad. We are on the verge of breaking up. What's good ex-etiquette?

A: When the COVID-19 lockdown first began, people joked that there would most likely be another baby boom at the end of 2020 moving right into 2021. Unfortunately, that's not what we've seen.

The stresses of being cooped up, no social interaction, possible loss of job, school closings and the fear of contacting a life-threatening virus has so permeated our families that rather than banding together to cope with the challenges, many lashed out at each other. Studies are now reporting that intimate partner violence and child abuse have both increased substantially during lockdown.

Along these lines, when the words "child abuse" are mentioned, many think of sexual abuse. Although I don't have the specific numbers concerning sexual abuse, my experience is telling me it's physical abuse by frustrated, unprepared parents that is on the increase. It sounds like you're facing a similar situation.

I have been talking about the importance of designing a Forum for Conflict Resolution for your family, particularly your bonus family, for years. I often ask couples how they problem solve. Few have ever said, "Oh, we have a plan." Because when couples get together, they aren't fighting. They're in love.

Then COVID-19 hit. No one has ever seen anything like this, and the powers that be did not anticipate how lockdown would affect a family's mental health.

You've probably have heard that people parent as they were parented — unless they make a concerted effort not to make what they perceive are the same mistakes. That means if their parents spanked them, they may spank their kids as well. If their parents were yellers, they most likely yelled.

I've observed that couples also problem-solve the same way their parents did. If there was domestic violence, statistics show that is perpetuated as well.

So what do you do? You have to be smarter. You have to know it's up to both of you to be the leaders of your family and demonstrate firsthand how love can remain the ballast during any disagreement.

Plan the steps. Figure it out before you move in together, and then follow the steps you've agreed upon.

You two have some serious work to do. If you can't fix it yourself by taking a step back, don't be afraid to reach out for professional help.

For specific ideas on how to construct a Forum for Conflict Resolution within your relationship or for your family, hit the Bonus Families website (www.bonusfamilies.com), keyword: contract. That's good ex-etiquette.

Jann Blackstone is the founder of bonusfamilies.com.