"Living apart together" is becoming more common — but is it actually good for relationships?
When Gwyneth Paltrow recently revealed that she and her husband Brad Fulchuk live apart together by splitting their time between a shared home and separate houses, many people expressed skepticism. After all, wouldn't that kill intimacy between couples? Yet according to Paltrow, that's the opposite of the truth. "All my married friends say that the way we live sounds ideal and we shouldn’t change a thing," she told The Sunday Times, adding that not living together helps her and Falchuk maintain their own identities.
Many others share their way of thinking. Living apart together (LAT) seems to be increasingly popular for people of all ages, in all types of relationships. Back in 2011, a study found that among 7,700 Wisconsin adults age 50 and older, 39 percent of those who were together but unmarried lived apart from their partners. While more recent research isn't available, there's undoubtedly been plenty of chatter around the subject in the past few years, thanks to famous couples like Paltrow and Falchuk talking about their situations. And as more younger people let go of milestone goals that no longer serve them, LAT will likely only become more common.
But is living in separate houses from your parter actually healthy? It depends on the couple, according to Joshua Klapow, a clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show. “As long as both people are truly happy, fulfilled, and satisfied, then the LAT approach is not for others to judge,” he says.
For those who are used to being independent and who might feel suffocated living with someone full-time, having separate homes can absolutely be a good call. "Some couples do very well with LAT, especially those who have very independent and active lives on their own,” explains Toni Coleman, a psychotherapist and divorce mediator. Dr. Klapow agrees, adding that living separately can allow partners to have the space and opportunity needed to maximize each person's individual time, growth, and development.
LAT can also be a great choice for relationships in which each partner has a different personality type (i.e. extrovert vs. introvert). If one person typically wants more alone time than the other, living in separate places can address the specific needs of each individual without the couple having to make compromises, says Coleman.
Then there's sleep. "Many couples struggle with sharing a bed with a light sleeper or someone who snores or has a very different schedule,” says Coleman. “In that case, living together part-time allows both people to get a good night’s sleep their own way, without feeling they have to adjust to the other’s routine or habits.”
However, living apart together has its downsides, even for people who think they fit the bill. For one thing, “it often hinders the bonding process," says Dr. Klapow, as living separately "places obstacles in front of the couple’s ability to connect and form a level of intimacy that can help keep them together for the long-run."
While this might not be the case for couples who don't depend on each other for most of their emotional support, many people might struggle not having their partner around when they need to talk or be close. For some people, LAT can also lead to trust issues since each person spends so much time by themselves. "The physical distance can result in opportunities for misunderstandings and the constant pressure of living separate lives," says Dr. Klapow. In addition to that potential drawback, LAT can also be a financial burden, adds Coleman, since maintaining separate households is costly and requires significant time and energy.
Ultimately, couples need to be on the exact same page when deciding whether to pursue the LAT lifestyle. “Many would likely even find it to be a deal-breaker if one partner wanted the arrangement and they didn’t,” says Coleman, as it might indicate different values and priorities in the relationship.
Dr. Klapow notes that those considering LAT should closely examine the reasons they're interested: Is it because of logistics like having opposite work schedules or one person needing to travel constantly? Or is it because each person truly believes that they'll live better apart than together? “While there are no rules or laws regarding how you live your relationship functionally, a couple who decides to simply live apart for compatibility purposes must question the purpose of being a couple," says Dr. Klapow.
Unfortunately, having this discussion might end up creating emotional distance for a couple rather than bringing them closer together, but that's far better than trying out a situation that ends up backfiring down the line.