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The case for living apart from the one you love
Are couples who don't live together okay, or even happier than those who cohabitate full-time?
My father and his significant other of 50 years have had separate homes for the entirety of their relationship. They are happier than ever.
What does it mean to be in an LAT?
Demographers call this type of relationship “living apart together” (LAT). According to The New York Times, as of 2022, 3.89 million Americans are living apart from their spouses, or approximately 2.95 percent of married Americans. In the United Kingdom, LAT couples accounted for approximately ten percent of adults even 15 years ago.
People live separately for financial reasons, to maintain their independence, because of work situations or children, or simply because they prefer it. Many who were previously married choose this arrangement, perhaps to escape an asymmetrical division of household labor or unequal demands of caring for a partner that was previously experienced. Not being together every day increases sexual desire for some.
Christine A. Mosher, a psychotherapist and life coach in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, has many clients, married and unmarried, who choose to live apart.
“Some older couples who have been single for many years due to being divorced, widowed or never married, have lived on their own in their own homes for a long time and feel comfortable and set in their ways,” Mosher says. “The idea of leaving their home to live in their partner's home might feel stressful to them, thinking about having to share space and adjust to another's sleep/wake cycle, eating habits and cleanliness standards. While older couples may love their partners and enjoy spending time with them, they also value their independence and freedom.”
“There are some people who need to have their own physical space in order to feel balanced and able to also have deep intimacy with another person. Others need to be together under the same roof, and benefit more from being together full-time.” — Dr. Anita Gadhia-Smith
Mosher says that couples keeping their own individual homes can keep that sense of independence and freedom, and have a space to retreat to if there is stress in the relationship, or if a person just needs some time for themselves.
“It can also provide a space for individuals to invite their friends and family, without feeling like they are intruding on their partner,” Mosher shares.
“With couples, what is most important is how they fit together,” says Dr. Anita Gadhia-Smith of PracticalTherapy.net. “There are some people who need to have their own physical space in order to feel balanced and able to also have deep intimacy with another person. Others need to be together under the same roof, and benefit more from being together full-time. In today’s complex world with complicated varieties of family units, there are many more options than ever before.”
Celebrities are joining the trend. For example, actor, Gwyneth Paltrow and her husband, Brad Falchuk, split time together and apart between houses and teenaged children. Travis Barker of Blink-182 and Kourtney Kardashian haven’t merged their homes entirely since marrying. Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton had houses next door to one another in London.
“Oh, all my married friends say that the way we live sounds ideal and we shouldn’t change a thing,” Paltrow told The Sunday Times in 2019.
Avoiding complacency and maximizing quality time
I choose to live apart from my partner of nine years. I was married for 25 years, raised two children, and enjoy my alone time. Being away from my significant other makes us miss and want each other more. It tends to make our time together of better quality and less impacted by daily stresses. I firmly believe that loving someone is a daily choice, and that if it is logistically easy to walk away, people will try harder to make it work. Complacency can harm relationships. I know plenty of couples whose relationships resemble roommate situations, as opposed to romantic, loving unions.
This arrangement also makes things easier when my adult children visit home. They enjoy coming to my home and do not feel that they are imposing on my significant other by visiting.
There are disadvantages, of course. The arrangement may lead to decreased intimacy and connection, as well as the increased financial burden of owning two homes when money could be saved if a couple lived together. In addition, LAT likely only works where those involved share mutual trust, and if both members of the couple are fully on board.
“Living apart can be a problem when one person wants more space than the other and they are not able to find the proper balance between their respective needs for togetherness in separateness,” says Dr. Gadhia-Smith. “As long as these needs are negotiated and there is a good fit, living apart can give partners the best of both worlds.”
“Whatever arrangement works best for the couple is what they should do, without worrying about societal norms or opinions from family and friends.” — Christine A. Mosher, psychotherapist and life coach
As is the case with most relationships, communication is key. Technology makes it easier for people to stay in touch. My partner and I text each other most days and almost always speak before going to sleep. Our conversations seem deeper and more detailed than on the days we are together.
“If couples want to keep their own individual homes, they can communicate to their partner why this is important to them, and also make a commitment to spending time together in each of their homes,” Mosher advises. “Some couples may make a schedule and designate certain days of the week to spend at one home, and other days of the week to spend at the other home. Other couples may choose to spend one week here, another week there.”
LATs make solo trips okay, too
Some couples enjoy vacationing separately. I did not understand this choice when I first learned that my writing mentor did this every summer. I do now, and I frequently travel without my partner. Because I have more wanderlust than he does, he does not have a problem with my seeing parts of the world without him. Other couples spend increased time apart when a second home is purchased. Anecdotally, I have seen how this increased autonomy has breathed new life into some of my friends’ marital relationships.
“Whatever arrangement works best for the couple is what they should do, without worrying about societal norms or opinions from family and friends,” Mosher says. “With open, honest, regular communication, flexibility and trust, couples living apart can be a successful, satisfying arrangement.”
We all need to stay vital and keep growing as individuals, and having new experiences to share about with one’s partner keeps conversations interesting and helps people to evolve. While the LAT demographic grows, each couple should feel empowered to make decisions that are best for them, regardless of outside opinions or norms.
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Maria Leonard Olsen is a divorced mother with two adult children, an attorney, author and podcaster in Washington, D.C. She is the author of 50 After 50: Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life. For more information about her work, see www.MariaLeonardOlsen.com.