Brandon University researchers to survey partners who lived apart through pandemic

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A pair of Brandon University professors are collaborating to launch a study exploring the impact of the global health pandemic on people who are in committed, romantic relationships but who are living apart.

“This type of relationship, where people are in a committed relationship but don’t live in the same household, is a relatively recent development, and there is not yet much research on it,” said Dr. Serena Petrella, chair of the BU Department of Sociology and a BU Associate Professor who studies families and intimacy.

She says that living apart together, or LAT relationships, are an increasing trend in Canada. They are relatively common among younger Canadians, but LAT relationships are also gaining traction among older segments of the population. This research is focused on Canadian academic faculty and staff, among whom LAT relationships are common, in part because of the difficulty for many of them to find work at an institution that is close to the workplace of their partners.

“Some researchers have found that LAT relationships are less rooted in structural commitments, like finances, and depend more on mutual exchanges of emotional support, intimacy, satisfaction, and moral ties,” Dr. Petrella said. “One of the areas of particular interest is the impact of the ongoing global health pandemic. Through this research project, we hope to understand the impact it has on families in LAT relationships.”

She is conducting the research along with Dr. Breanna Lawrence, an Assistant Professor of educational psychology at BU with a strong background in mixed-methods research.

“This is a very exciting project, linking sociology and applied psychology to explore LAT relationships and to develop practical approaches to support families,” said Dr. Lawrence, who specializes in counselling psychology with research interests related to families and mental health. “Being able to apply our findings advances therapeutic approaches to supporting families during an unprecedented time when some families may be experiencing very unique challenges.”

Another aim of the research is to propose ways for institutions themselves to support faculty and staff who are in these relationships, through policy and programming.

Drs. Petrella and Lawrence say they will also use this research as the seed project and hope to secure grants for a larger, international study on the evolution of personal relationships and LAT relationships. This will be carried out in collaboration with a network of international scholars who have been collaborating with Dr. Petrella at The International Society for the Study of Gender and Love since 2012.

An initial survey was launched this week through faculty associations across Canada. The survey can be accessed at this link:

It will be followed by in-depth interviews and real-time data-gathering.


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