Why 'Living Apart' Can Actually Help Keep Your Marriage TOGETHER

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is living apart good for your marriage?

Personal space is a beautiful thing!

Despite what everyone tells you, there's no right way to do marriage.

Today, you have more viable choices than ever before. And you probably won't do marriage the way mom and dad did. Heck, even mom and dad might have chosen differently if their world offered more choices back then.

But, fortunately you do have options. And It's absolutely OK to structure your marriage the way that works best for you and your partner, whether that's living together ... or apart.

In fact, "Living Apart Together" is an actual conscious, intentional lifestyle choice that's growing in popularity. It's a way of doing marriage in a way that seemed unthinkable — or weird  in the past. But, that's no longer the case.

So, what is Living Apart Together (LAT) and what makes it different from a "commuter marriages" or long distance relationships? 

First, in a LAT marriage, there is no imperative or desire to live together in the same home. Although careers, finances, and locations may influence the decision to choose a LAT lifestyle, they are not the fundamental reason for the choice. 

Instead, LAT has its roots in what is best for the partners and the relationship as a whole. It's not bound by any supposed "right" way to demonstrate commitment by mandating co-habitation. It is not driven by "shoulds" or cultural habits. It is for partners who:

  • Know themselves well
  • Are clear about their values, priorities, and vision for their lives
  • Are comfortable spending quality time alone
  • Are self-reflective and aware
  • Want the best for themselves, their partners, AND for the relationship
  • Consciously choose what is optimal for keeping their unique love alive

LAT situations vary greatly. For example, one couple might choose to live just doors apart in a townhouse complex. Their children go between the homes, generally, during the week but with designated alone times for each partner (i.e. child-free).

Weekends are typically spent together as a family, at one home or the other. Oh, yes, and there are those exciting, clandestine nights when the partners find themselves creeping over into one another's bed, too.

A couple like this finds that the LAT decision keeps the fire ignited, gives each person restorative alone time, and gives them the best of both worlds. As a result, the children have two happy parents who love each other and show it.

In a different scenario, a childless couple who both work from home (in very different careers) might live in their own apartments ten blocks from the other, or on opposite sides of town. They take turns sleeping over four nights a week. They remain completely available to each other, without the hassles of merging their lives. And this arrangement works beautifully for thier marriage. They love it.

The key is finding what suits you as an individual and as a couple, takes reflection, honesty, and courage.

LAT living is not a cop out or excuse to not handle the differences and difficulties of marriage.

It is a conscious, wise choice to bring out the best of marriage: vital, engaged, supportive, loving, and respectful.

As a long-time relationship consultant, I've seen lots of couples who do not benefit from living in the same house. They're at each other's throats, battling over kids, finances, food, organization, and sex way too frequently. They have colossal wars about toothpaste tubes and toilet seats.

Could they negotiate a new, healthier way that would cause them to appreciate, respect, and miss each other a little? An alternative way that would give them space to regroup and restore — allowing them to bring their best to the relationship? Probably!

Why would you consider a LAT relationship?

You absolutely love, adore, and are passionate about each other, but your lifestyles, needs, and preferences are very different. Maybe one or both partners have:  

  • A deep need for much personal space, time, and quiet.
  • Been in relationships where there togetherness was usually forced, robbing him or her of any sense of autonomy and separateness
  • Very differing schedules that interrupt sleep patterns
  • Widely divergent ideas of beauty, order, or, material assets
  • A desire for keeping the courtship and mystery alive
  • A deep love for their partner and prefer to keep the day-to-day life and infrastructure separate from it

These folks could benefit by sharing the joy of their love and passion for each other, without all the irritants those differences bring about almost daily when sharing a home. It's wise to get some help from a relationship expert familiar with LAT living, to work through to your ideal arrangement.

Some LAT arrangements are not about different living spaces, but about different emotional spaces.

They serve the needs of families where the parents no longer consider themselves a couple, married or not. They co-habit, however, for financial reasons and/or the needs of the children but strive to do so in drama-free environment. They share financial, household, and parenting responsibilities even though they no longer have a romantic attachment to each other. Their arrangement is clear and by agreement. They are emotionally free, while living apart together.

Even the New York Times has weighed in on the benefits of LAT relationships. And, according to studies of LATs, in the last five years throughout the United States and Britain, it is clear that most LATs are not married and are younger than 24. Partners between 25 and 24 are the next largest group. They're possibly married, but whatever their relationship status, they are 100 percent committed to the relationship. They may choose to live apart for work, financial, or relationship reasons.

Some were married previously and want the joys of marriage without the day-to-day decisions and potential for trivial differences.

How you live with "your person" is your choice. Do you remember how Meredith Grey on Grey's Anatomy talked with Christina Yang about being each other's "person?" Your partner IS your "person." Whatever the two of you decide is the right fit for your relationship, as long as it lets you keep fulfilling each other's "person" requirements.  

LAT is not the right choice for everyone. For some, it keeps the marriage alive and thriving. For others, only a more traditional relationship will satisfy.

Be honest with yourself and your partner. If either of you have concerns about jealousy, loneliness, sexual needs, or insecurities, a LAT arrangement might be too risky for you to consider. That's OK. Know what's best for you both.

Distance and intimacy make great bedfellows.

But, if you base intimacy on proximity, then a LAT relationship across the continent probably won't appeal to you. There is no "right" formula. 

However, you aren't required to stay in the  same vicinity of each other physically, to have emotional intimacy that sustains and strengthens both of you. That comes from sharing your values, your vision for your life and relationship — your beliefs, and your purposes in alignment. It comes from a commitment to maintain honest, trusting, respectful communication with your partner. It's what leads you to make good decisions about the right living situation.

Is "Living Apart Together" the best way to keep your marriage together?

Only you know. But, do consider it. It might be just what you need to keep all the good things you love about your relationship, and let go of all that puts a wedge between you.

Rhoberta Shaler, PhD, is The Relationship Help Doctor. She created Coupleology™: The Gentle Art of Merging and Converging, to give couples the building blocks for blame-free, game-free, non-manipulative relationships that work. Start learning more now by subscribing to her weekly newsletter and podcast, Coupleology: Vital Tips For Relationships.  


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