With an endless stream of concerns provoked by COVID-19, many people have found themselves in isolation and unfamiliar situations. On top of individual concerns, many couples are now having to adapt their relationships during this unprecedented period of isolation, whether that be from a distance or in the same home.
Kassidy Cox, a second-year doctoral student from Allen in the Counseling Psychology program, found herself navigating this unexpected situation with her high school sweetheart, her boyfriend of seven years.
“Our seven year [anniversary] was, like, last month so it's very recently seven years. We started dating in high school and came to Tech together for undergrad, so we both did our undergraduate degrees here,” she said.
Before concerns of COVID-19, Cox said she and her boyfriend never formally lived together during their time in Lubbock.
“So, we have never like formally lived together by any means. We both have our own houses and we both actually live with family that lives in the area, so I live with my sister, who did medical school out here,” she said.
Things changed when it became clear her sister, now a resident pediatrician at the University Medical Center, could potentially be exposed to COVID-19. Cox said she and her family had to make the decision for her to move in with her boyfriend to prevent her exposure to the virus.
“We kind of, you know, talked with my parents and each other and we were kind of like, it might not be the safest idea for me to be there, in terms of, like, I can be working from home, but I can never be quarantined away from her, because we live together and are sharing a bunch of spaces and I would be exposed constantly to germs,” she said.
Although they planned to wait until after they were married or engaged to move in together, Cox said the decision had to be made for her safety and soon after she moved into her boyfriend’s home with her dog.
Cox said there has been a learning curve of performing her workday functions while living with her boyfriend in an environment that is not officially her own, since she is not planning to stay after the isolation period is over.
She said she is still having to work on her thesis, teach a class and conduct telehealth sessions as a student therapist and is finding ways to adapt without her own office, often using a TV tray table as a desk, while she is temporarily living in her boyfriend’s home.
“So, it's been kind of hard in terms of trying to kind of like interweave myself into his life, but only temporarily because I'm not going to, you know, renovate a room, knowing I'm going to not be here,” she said.
While she is in meetings or client sessions, Cox said she goes into a separate room with headphones and puts a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door to let her boyfriend know not to come in or knock on the door, not only to protect HIPAA for her clients, but also to explicitly communicate her needs during work hours.
Dr. Jaclyn Cravens, assistant professor in the College of Human Sciences, said in addition to this communication, compassion is also an important factor to keep in mind when attempting to maintain a happy, healthy relationship during isolation.
“Being compassionate is my global recommendation for all couples that isn't specific to navigating work, but I think that explicit communication is really key, that we have to be more intentional about talking with one another about what our day looks like,” she said.
Cravens said while communication is important for couples who are cohabitating and working in the same environment, the concept also extends to others experiencing changes during this time.
Although there are some limits for those who are not partnered or dating, or for those with open relationships who are looking to meet people through dating apps like Tinder, Cravens said there are ways for them to continue meeting people virtually.
Cravens said it is important for these people to take a step back and identify their intentions behind using these apps.
“If the goal is to connect with people on an emotional level, then asking ‘How can we get creative, we can still use the app?’ might mean setting up virtual dates, where we're using zoom and we're having a date night and getting to see people online, getting to know them and still having communication,” she said.
Although through virtual means, Cravens said quarantine can still be an opportunity for those on dating apps get to know people and form connections.
For those who were instead previously using dating apps for sexual gratification, Cravens said there are ways for those needs to be met virtually but that these interactions should be approached with caution.
“We run an additional risk, but if we can be vigilant and informed about how we're using those sites, I still think that there can be ways to have sexual interaction, which might have been the purpose of being on some of those hookup or dating apps whenever we were able to interact offline,” she said.
Cravens said communication and discussing individual needs is important in these interactions. This is also the case for couples who are currently long-distance because of the isolation period.
Although there are many outlets for communication and ways to stay connected with technology, Cravens said couples should avoid being too consumed by the ‘What ifs’ and not knowing when the isolation period and travel restrictions will be lifted.
“So, more of a short-term, day-to-day outlook I think could be helpful, or even just the one week out, ‘What’s our goal for this week with our relationship?’ Finding we really, really want to focus on doing this week that will be of benefit, as opposed to getting so caught up in, you know, when I get to see you again,” she said.
Roha Kahn, a junior political science major from Fort Worth, said although she began dating her boyfriend almost right before COVID-19 concerns reached their peak and became a reality for Tech, she is still finding ways to connect with him.
Kahn said that before the isolation period began, she and her boyfriend were still getting to know each other and spending a lot of time together. When isolation began and Kahn had to return to her hometown, she said they both found it difficult.
“When you've spent so much time with that person in such a short period, like I feel like we were always together, you know, isolated from everybody else, when it was time to leave, it was a little bit more difficult,” she said.
Although it was difficult to have to part ways, Kahn said she and her boyfriend are staying in contact and being understanding of one another’s respective situations and feelings.
Kahn said it is the kind interactions and details between them that ultimately matter the most in keeping them connected while they are apart.
“It's more just about communication now," she said. "We stay in contact as much as possible, but we also understand that we live in our hometowns and we have things to do, we have families, we have people in our towns, so it's mostly about just keeping up with how they’re doing, if they’re holding up okay, you know, how can I make their day better.”
Kahn said because they are in different towns, she and her boyfriend are able to have deeper and more vulnerable conversations that can be difficult or potentially embarrassing to have in person.
She said they are still getting the opportunity to get to know each other as a couple because they are able to talk frequently, check on one another and are even able to form a piece of each other’s support system.
“I’m an only child, so I don't really have anyone else to talk to when my parents are at work, so for me to have my significant other and be able to talk to them without feeling, like, loneliness and, you know, fear or just boredom," she said. "It's nice to have that outlet to go to somebody when times are tough right now and life is not what it normally is.”
Kahn said the most important factor in this circumstance is communication and intentionality to keep the relationship alive. Although they are not face-to-face, Kahn says it is also crucial to make time for one’s significant other and talk openly about one’s feelings.
“If you truly care about that person, then no matter how busy your day is, it doesn't hurt to send a text like, ‘Hey, I'm busy today, I’ll text you tonight,’ or just have an arranged time to talk to that person. Just because you're apart doesn't mean that you know the spark has to go away or the relationship possibly fizzle out,” she said.