What is Living Apart Together
The term “Living Apart Together” means that two people who are in a romantic relationship choose to live separately. LAT arrangements vary; it can be a couple who is married or unmarried. Young couples, and older couples whose spouse may have passed on and choose to commit yet remain unmarried. However, for the sake of this article, the focus is on married couples who choose to live apart.
LAT is a non-traditional way to be a couple. Couples living apart together may have different reasons for doing so. Many older couples consider LAT a lifestyle choice. Younger couples often choose this lifestyle to avoid the problems that come with a break-up.
Who am I to write about Living Apart Together? Well, I have the first-hand experience of living it; LAT saved my marriage. David Essel, my guest on this podcast episode has four decades of counseling married couples using this technique.
Being in love, and yet living in separate residences, could be the answer to millions of people who are looking for both a deep connection and inner peace the same time. ~ David Essel
Living apart to save a marriage gives each partner the time and space to heal.
LAT couples who want to succeed will come to a mutual agreement on the terms of the relationship. For most, one boundary is no intimate relationships outside of the nuclear couple. It’s best to set boundaries for household living arrangements, what’s okay and what’s not, etc. Expectations cause anger, resentment, and frustration for couples who live together as well as those who choose separate dwellings.
As David mentions in this podcast episode, it’s crucial to set those boundaries, and he suggests putting it in writing. We made a verbal commitment, in the presence of our therapist.
Does living apart together work?
Many married couples stay together because splitting up is difficult. Dividing property and moving are just a couple of obstacles in divorce. There is something wonderful about knowing that you are together because you choose to be, not because it is convenient.
What happens when a couple chooses to spend some time separately is that they have enough space to find that love they once had. Finding out that living apart makes you happier as a couple doesn’t mean you should live apart forever. It’s an option for sure, but so is living together again once things are sorted out.
Is it healthy for married couples to live apart?
This depends upon the couple. But it is possible for a married couple to live apart and maintain a healthy relationship. If both parties are mutually vested in the relationship they will work at their marriage just as hard as a couple living under the same roof. In fact, some would argue that couples who live separately are allowing their relationship to breathe and grow whereas living under the same roof can lead to feelings of bitterness and being suffocated by their partners’ constant presence.
I’ve seen plenty of examples of married couples who trudge on living under the same roof, unhappily married, bitter towards one another, bouts of the silent treatment, and worse.
What percentage of married couples live separately?
According to data from the US Census Bureau, an estimated four million married couples live apart.
Other instances where this works?
- Military families
- Long haul truck drivers
- People who live far apart due to careers (happens all the time in China)
- A long-distance relationship for other reasons
- Blended families where each parent lives with their child from a previous marriage
Pros of Living Apart Together
- Separate downtime.
- More alone time, especially meaningful for someone who has been raising children for 30+ years
- Your own space to do with as you please
- A greater appreciation for one another
- Appreciate sex more (absence makes the heart grow fonder)
- Reduces the friction that comes from living with a loved one.
- Makes the relationship more interesting
- Less likely to sacrifice their own interests for the happiness of the other
- Fewer reasons and time for arguing
- The ability to have companionship without being smothered by one another
- Less conflict
- More independence
- Less of a tendency to feel stuck
Cons of Living Apart Together
- Cost: It’s expensive, very expensive. Living apart means taking care of two homes, with two sets of utility bills, etc. Although, do you really want the only reason you’re living with someone be to save money? Or better yet, is it even affordable? More on this at the bottom of the post. Couples who own two separate homes also have two investments, so perhaps this is not a con?
- Trust issues and Infidelity: Some would say that living apart opens the door for infidelity. Cohabiting hasn’t prevented millions of people from being unfaithful, so I’m not sure this counts as a con. Living together is not a magical shield against affairs. People can be in a committed relationship whether they live together or apart. Just like couples can have affairs even though they live together.
- Easier to avoid difficult conversations and problems. Face-to-face chats with your significant other to work through problems is an important part of relationship building and contribute to a happy marriage.
- Social acceptance: Choosing this type of relationship is less socially acceptable than traditional cohabiting relationships. (As David Essel mentions in this podcast episode, some couples fear being judged by their friends.)
How we made LAT work
When we made the decision to live apart we were having problems but neither of us wanted a divorce. There were times in our marriage when I couldn’t have imagined us spending the night apart much less living separately. Things happen. Long term relationships go through lots of ups and downs.
For our family, LAT made sense a the time because of multiple factors. Our relationship was not getting better after years of ignoring problems. I was feeling suffocated, my husband neglected. I had been in therapy for years trying to work on issues that I had carried into our relationship.
It was my idea to live in separate spaces after several years of living under the same roof but not truly being together. My husband is more agreeable than most men, I think. When I talk with my friends about our living arrangement I often hear “my husband would never agree to that!”
Our situation was that we were both under intense stress for a variety of reasons. During this time we were struggling to keep it all together. We moved into separate apartments to give each other some space to breathe and because neither of us was prepared to let our relationship go, we started seeing a couples therapist.
We had been to therapy before, unsuccessfully. This time we sought out a therapist who was trained in Emotionally Focused Therapy. With this type of counseling, couples “learn to express these emotions in a way that helps connect, rather than disconnect, with [each other].”
That was the key to several breakthroughs that propelled our relationship forward. Dana, at Healing Hearts, was able to decipher our stories in a way that other therapists couldn’t even come close to. Since then, I’ve recommended EFT to several other friends who have gone to other therapists and had the same outcome. A huge boost in understanding, the release of trapped emotions, and a more intimate connection with their partner.
Living Apart Together with Children Involved
In this podcast episode, David mentions separating for the sake of the children, it’s something many people have backward. Staying together, fighting, being distant and cold, giving the silent treatment “for the children” is not always the best choice. Even if the couple doesn’t fight in front of the children, a marriage where there is no affection is not a good role model for children.
While some people would say that living apart together while raising children is either impossible or simply a bad idea, it has worked for us. My daughter and I live in the apartment above my husband and our two sons. This is convenient because we visit each other when it’s mutually desired. At the same time, we are each free to keep our own space the way we like.
Living next door to one another means that both of us are available when one of our kids needs some emotional support or just wants to spend time together. When my husband is at work, I am available to take my children where they need to go, prepare meals, hang out, or whatever.
On my husband’s day off, I continue to work at home while he cares for their needs, drives them to lessons, helps with homework, or does laundry. He may hang out in my apartment with our daughter while she does her schoolwork or he may stay up late in his apartment watching a documentary with our son. When he is able to go to bed on my schedule (early) he sleeps with me.
Part of what has made this work for us with children is living within walking proximity to one another. If we had to drive to see one another we could still make it work, but with children still at home, it would be more complicated.
We are committed to making our relationship work, however it works. For at least the next year we will be living separately. We have not decided at what point if or when we will live together again. Ultimately, the main reason will probably be financial. The expense of renting two apartments is high. Our relationship is improved to the point we feel we would enjoy living together again. If money wasn’t a factor, I could see us living this way long term.
In the future, I expect to come up with a clever solution. I’ve always wanted to live in a tiny house, so that may happen at some point. In fact, I’ve thought of a small piece of land where I could build a couple of tiny homes so that we can be close but not too close.
A duplex would be another solution, he could live in one half while I live in the other. Townhomes side by side or nearby would work. I’ve even seen homes with guest quarters that I felt would work for us. We will see what the future holds!
How do we stay committed?
The fact that we have survived so much in our relationship tells us that we are committed to it and to each other. We have hung on when there was little to hang on to, we have worked for what we’ve got.
I prepare meals for my husband most of the time, and he frequently cleans my bathrooms, changes my lightbulbs, or waters my plants. It’s not that he can’t cook and I can’t water my own plants, we do these things for one another because “acts of service” is one of our love languages. For me, preparing my husband a meal or organizing his vitamins is a way to express my love for him.
In fact, my desire to provide his meals was one of the threads that kept us together during a really hard time. I knew that in spite of my “feelings” of anger and bitterness towards him, the fact that I wanted to nourish him with healthy food meant that I still cared about him. During hard times, I held on to the hope that it would grow into this “mature love” that I’d hear older couples speak about fondly.
We also had support from people like Dana, our EFT counselor as well as Dr. Janetta Jamerson, my personal therapist.
My husband and I do not behave like single people.
We are a full-time married couple with 18 years of marriage behind us and hopefully many years ahead. Each of us has previous relationship baggage that we’ve had to work through. In addition, we each have trauma from childhood that has shaped the way we interact with others in close relationships.
Our situation further confirms that each couple will have different reasons for choosing this lifestyle. Couples who face extraordinary challenges and overcome them appreciate their relationship no matter whether they live traditionally, or like us, live apart while staying together.
Now I have experienced what those older couples expressed to me, that before I’d only ever dreamed about. And it is true, those early relationship feelings of infatuation and new love pale in comparison to the deep and abiding love that comes from a relationship that has stood the test of time.
About David Essel
David Essel, M.S. is the best selling author of 9 books, a counselor and master life coach, and an inspirational speaker whose work is endorsed by celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, Wayne Dyer, Kenny Loggins, and Mark Victor Hansen. David accepts new clients monthly via Skype and phone sessions from anywhere. Find David at TalkDavid.com