living apart together

Growing up, I always envisioned a perfect, traditional marriage. It would begin with a wedding fit for a princess. My husband would carry me over the threshold, unlocking the door to our shared home and a lifetime of shared happiness.

Adult reality fell far from that childhood fantasy. From a shotgun wedding pre-college to cohabitating with boyfriends as a single mom, I’ve had a variety of experiences. I even attempted a more traditional formula later in life, where I was adamant we not live together until after the wedding. That deal didn’t pan out as well as I’d hoped.

To my surprise, the most successful living agreement I’ve had with a committed partner was one in which we were living apart together or LAT.

LAT couples maintain separate households throughout their intimate relationship, including marriage. This may seem baffling to couples that view moving in together as an essential milestone and act of devotion. People question: “When will you move in together? Are you two ever going to get serious? You must not really be in love.” Perhaps it’s difficult to comprehend that living apart together can prove just as committed and happy as conventional couples sharing an address.

Could living apart together be right for you? What are the benefits of being in love but not in each other’s household?

1. Independence

From paint color preference and toilet paper roll position to major schedule and lifestyle decisions, living apart together offers an opportunity to preserve individuality. For many, independence is highly valued, and compromising this can quickly lead to the end of cohabitating. LAT offers even the most free-spirited and self-reliant folks a valid alternative for a lasting long-term covenant. Women and men who have spent years cultivating a meaningful lifestyle explicitly to their taste and comfort don’t see the attraction in giving it up. For that reason, divorced, widowed, and elderly couples are more likely to consider LAT as an alternative. The nuclear family model continues to evolve, spousal and parental roles are dynamic, and one common residence is no longer considered an obligation. Atypical work schedules, enterprising careers, and increased travel make a strong case for separate units.

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2. Personal space

Spending less time tripping over your partner’s mess means spending less time annoyed by them. Keeping personal space can prevent resentments from building up. Irritating incompatibilities that may have been the relationship’s demise become bearable if not confronted with them day after day. Physical advantages are obvious – extra counter space in the bathroom, a whole closet (or two!) to yourself. But space is more than just square footage! A dwelling of your own allows for expanded mental and emotional capacity. An introvert may need substantial time to recharge in solitude. An extrovert may desire the freedom to socialize frequently in the home. Unique personalities can thrive; the character doesn’t have to be compromised.

3. Fulfilling sex life

There’s something so tantalizing about staying the night at a lover’s place when a relationship is new. Packing your toothbrush, a bottle of wine, and a sexy nighty never feels boring. The prospect of a passionate sleepover can keep intimacy fresh, while an unvarying bedroom routine can breed complacency. Depending on distance, couples might need to get quite innovative to show affection. Romantic rendezvous, surprise visits, and trysts via phone or video can keep love interesting versus the bland pattern of a daily schedule. Anticipation builds when you spend time apart. Libidos are heightened and sex is less likely to feel stale.

4. Less fighting over finances

Finances are often kept separate when living apart, eradicating one of the leading causes of divorce. Couples often have different core beliefs and strong emotions around money, which may never be truly reconcilable. Maintaining separate homes and bank accounts permits each person to spend or save according to their distinct philosophy. Combining a percentage of funds in a collaborative way  – towards vacations, retirement planning, or emergency savings  – demonstrates mutual caring and dedication. Some couples, particularly younger or those living in extravagantly expensive cities, cohabitate before they’re ready in order to share the burden of bills. This puts them at risk of turning bitter and generates a false perception of commitment. Upholding financial independence can lead to greater mutual respect and a sense of security. No one will feel obligated to stay due to budget.

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5. Quality time vs quantity

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder” is a legitimate advantage in LAT. Time together is precious and enjoyable when not assumed or taken for granted. Communication can actually improve and is more appreciated since face time isn’t guaranteed every day. Couples may find themselves enjoying new activities and planning creative date nights. Even if the occasions are scheduled, time spent is meaningful and less likely to involve friends or distractions, as the couple’s been apart, missing and longing for each other.

6. View it as a vacation

Career, travel, or location preference can mean one partner’s place is more exotic or appealing. This can be a fun perk of having separate homes. Personally, my significant other lived on a houseboat. When I needed sanctuary from the mundane, I relished the ocean view from his floating home. Even if your mate lives in a typical suburban neighborhood, taking a break from your own chores and routine can be a refreshing retreat. Make sure not to fall into the role of caretaker or handyman when you visit; giving one another the generous gift of relaxation is a way to show your appreciation and love.

7. Families benefit too

Moving in with a significant other when children are involved can cause more chaos than comfort. Living apart allows the parent and child(ren) ample quality time while avoiding common conflicts such as jealousy. The significant other or stepparent can be a role model and steadfast support, while respectfully vacating to his or her own home when appropriate. While it’s less likely for nuclear families to adopt this way of life, it’s not unthinkable. Parents can take turns utilizing the second home for project completion, extended work hours, or simply to take advantage of the time to themselves.

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Living apart together is the ultimate solution for some couples. My boyfriend and I found it the prime structure to nurture our individualism while still seeing each other as much as we desired. Though the union eventually ended, it wasn’t due to distance. I’m more than willing to consider LAT with a future partner.

The ability to love and care for one another is not based on proximity, total hours spent in each other’s presence, or whether you share one living room. Moving in together does not definitively signify the serious intentions of two people in love. Choosing to live apart for the duration of a long-term relationship doesn’t’ declare: “I don’t love you enough to live with you”. Rather, it affirms “I love you enough to honor your desires, comfort, and lifestyle”. LAT is not an act of selfishness or egoism. It doesn’t represent one’s inability to compromise or share. LAT is an individual’s expression that they value their own uniqueness and their partner’s differences as much as their relationship. This depth of self-awareness and consideration can serve to strengthen the bond.

There’s no ironclad research that indicates which model of cohabitation is more likely to cultivate a lasting connection. It may be an intriguing prospect for many couples though, as a variety of relationship categories are explored and accepted in modern culture.

It takes a significant amount of support, trust, and respect to reap the rewards of this unconventional agreement. Ultimately, it’s up to you and your loved one to decide what living ‘Happily Ever After’ means for the two of you. Don’t be too quick to discount the benefits of living apart together based on social norms or nostalgic childhood beliefs – it could be just the arrangement that brings peace and harmony to your home.

Abby is a writer, mother of one grown daughter, and a mindfulness enthusiast. She views being a single, empty nester in her mid 30's a grand new adventure.

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