For couples who don’t live together, coronavirus has presented quite the conundrum. Public health officials have been strongly encouraging people to self-quarantine during this pandemic, which means it's time to ask yourself: Am I ready to share a living space with my SO? While cohabiting can certainly strengthen your bond, living together for an indefinite amount of time also presents new challenges to your relationship. Fortunately, experts have a slew of helpful tips for isolating with your partner that can help you to navigate all of these challenges in a healthy and productive way.
Moving in with your partner is already an adjustment on its own. Not only will you need to get used to each other's routines and potentially irritating habits (why, you wonder, do they never close the cabinets?), but you'll also have to start sharing new responsibilities (like chores and cooking). Now, add in a steady stream of stress relating to the coronavirus outbreak, and you've got even more considerations to take into account.
It's worth noting that relationship experts typically don't advise moving in with a partner out of necessity alone (to save on rent, for example) — it's best to have another reason for taking this step, like strong compatibility and shared goals for the future. However, coronavirus has presented unusual circumstances, so it's understandable why some couples are choosing to take this step to co-isolate before they might feel totally ready to be long-term roomies.
All that said, isolating with your partner has plenty of perks, too. On the obvious front, you have a perpetual snuggle partner during this distressing time. Not to mention, sharing a living space for a short period of time is a phenomenal way to test out the roommate sitch before you actually sign a lease together.
Just be sure to keep these co-isolation tips in mind for ensuring a smooth transition and a supportive environment from start to finish.
Get clear on your comfort zones.
During a pandemic, it’s important to be informed about what type of physical intimacy is safe. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the coronavirus can be spread from person to person via respiratory droplets (from a cough or sneeze) or via saliva. That's why Dr. Darshan Shah, a surgeon and the founder/CEO of Next Health, advises being aware if your SO has traveled recently, especially to an affected area, or been around other people that have been diagnosed or are symptomatic — as these are all factors that increase their risk for having the virus.
“Those are the types of situations where they really need to be careful about their intimacy,” Dr. Shah previously told Elite Daily.
Otherwise, according to immunology professor Vincent R. Racaniello, Ph.D., it's safe to kiss a partner who's asymptomatic "as long as that person has not recently traveled from an area where the virus is circulating or has no known contact with an infected individual." It's also probably fine to have sex — again, as long as you and your partner haven't been around any potentially contaminated locations or people.
You and your partner should discuss what you're each comfortable with.
“It’s extremely important that couples have open communication from the beginning,” says Melissa Divaris Thompson, a holistic licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in working with young adults and couples. “Talk about what the guidelines are. Some people are still open to things that others are not.”
Bottom line: launching a discussion with your partner about what you’re comfortable with in terms of physical intimacy is key to ensuring you both feel safe and on the same page.
Create some loose structure.
Different people have varying needs in terms of structure — some like to plan out their day minute by minute, while others prefer to keep things flexible. Regardless of which category you and your partner fall under, there's something to be said for having a little structure while you're isolating together, especially since you'll be not only living but also potentially working from the same space.
"Make a loose schedule of things that can be done together," says Dr. Steinberg, who suggests making time for exercise and getting fresh air.
You can also schedule time to make dinner, clean your living space, or watch your favorite show together.
Discuss your expectations.
Living together means getting used to each other's routines. If you've been together for a long time, you may already be aware of each other's habits, but cohabiting means you'll also likely have to get used to compromising on conditions and learning to work around each other's needs.
"A good idea is to talk about one another's expectations," says Dr. Laurel Steinberg, a relationship expert and couples' therapist. "It's important to know if your partner intends to do at-home work on a set schedule, or sleep all day and work at night so that you can find quality time to spend together."
Will you go to bed at the same time — or is one of you an early riser, and the other a night owl? What about meals — will you eat together or at different times? Again, being open and honest about what your ideal living situation looks like together will help you to find a middle ground.
Find ways to have alone time.
Dr. Steinberg also recommends factoring in some alone time. Depending on your personality types, you and your partner might have varying needs where space is concerned. So, the best way to avoid misunderstandings or crossed boundaries is to be upfront with each other about your expectations.
Whether you decide to use that time to read, FaceTime with a friend, meditate, or mindlessly scroll through Twitter, at least you'll know that you and your partner are aware of each other's needs. You might even designate certain rooms for working, exercising, eating, and reading or relaxing.
"Even if you live in a studio, you can turn on headphones, get lost in a movie, or take a walk to get some space," she adds.
Keep checking in about your feelings.
Experts agree that given the uncertain and stressful current conditions, it's crucial to regularly check in with your partner to see how they're handling things. That doesn't just go for the latest coronavirus updates, but other challenges as well — such as working and trying to earn an income under difficult circumstances and maintaining friendships while practicing social distancing. You might even want to schedule a specific time daily or weekly to hash out where you're at mentally and emotionally.
"The most important thing is to be there for each other," Dr. Steinberg tells Elite Daily. "When you are feeling afraid or triggered, knowing that there will be time built in to talk openly is helpful."
Melissa Divaris Thompson, a licensed marriage and family therapist, also suggests having a plan for how you'll confront each other if something is bothering you about your living situation. Then, you can collaborate on finding a solution rather than letting resentment build up unnecessarily. Dr. Steinberg advises also coming up with a plan of action if you ever need a breather during an argument.
"If you have to, take a shower or a bath to get some space," she says.
While isolating with your SO definitely comes with certain challenges, experts say there are plenty of potential benefits to this situation as well. For one, it's a great way to figure out whether you're compatible to live together long-term.
"If you can survive (and thrive!) in such a concentrated experience of being together 24/7, instead of spending the day apart at your work, that is a good indication that you are a very strong couple," says Thompson. "Hopefully, you will also figure out a way to grow together during isolation — for example, by learning skills or by playing games and making happy memories."
Not only that, but Dr. Steinberg says that enduring such a difficult time with your partner may help to put your priorities into perspective.
"This will help couples realize in times of stress and anxiety what is important and what is not important," she explains. "How do we communicate under hard times? How do we advocate for our needs? How do we share our fear around finances as they have been potentially disrupted and when food is [harder] to find? These are all very important conversations to have."
Isolating is, by its very name and nature, an experience that can make you feel alone. So, the beauty of going through this experience with your partner is that you have someone right nearby to support, comfort, and encourage you. As they say, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger — and by heeding this expert guidance on co-isolating, you can hopefully come out the other side with a newfound understanding, appreciation, compassion, and patience for each other.
If you think you're showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you're anxious about the virus's spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all Elite Daily's coverage of coronavirus here.
Melissa Divaris Thompson, licensed marriage and family therapist
Dr. Laurel Steinberg, couple's therapist and relationship expert