Why More Couples Are Living Apart, Together

Some couples just need their space and that's OK. (Photo: fizkeys/Shutterstock)

Frederic Chopin and George Sand did it. Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir did too. They chose to live apart but maintain their relationships. Plenty of less famous people from the past did too, of course. Today, about 10 percent of Britons, and between 6-9 percent of American and Canadian couples opt to live separately. It's called Living Apart Together (LAT) by the people who study such phenomena, and for many it is how they keep their relationships going.

Among couples, LATs (also called non-residential couples) are slightly more common among gay men and younger people, according to sociologists who have studied them, and while they are similar in most ways to couples who live together, those in LAT relationships are less likely to pursue marriage and more likely to "...perceive similar amounts of emotional support from partners, but less instrumental support than cohabiters perceive," according to the study linked above.

Younger people tend to be drawn to the arrangement due to changing norms around what constitutes a healthy relationship, as well as the enjoyment that being independent brings. “Living apart gives you that autonomy you want while also giving you the option for intimacy,” Jacquelyn Benson, a University of Missouri gerontologist who has studied LATs, told Rewire. It's also a lot easier to maintain a relationship while living apart, with free texting, Facetime or Skype, and other communication technologies currently available.

Here's a look at who LATs are:

Why some couples enjoy living apart

There are plenty of advantages to living apart, and people do it in all kinds of situations and for a variety of reasons. Some might live cross-country from each other because their jobs keep them in different states. Even within the same city, a couple might keep two apartments, meaning each part of the couple has their own space. Or one apartment might be where the kids live whereas the other apartment is adults only — creating a refuge that both parents can use to get away, alternately.

Author Judith Newman and her husband did this in New York City, where they lived 70 blocks from each other for more than 25 years. She saw real benefits to living apart: “[Some] people get married or start to live with each other, and all of these qualities they find wonderful rub up against the ones that aren't supportable on a day-to-day basis,” she told Glamour. “If they didn't have to do that, they'd probably be very happy together.”

Some LAT couples say it actually enables a stronger relationship since time together is planned and opted-into, rather than just the norm: “We enjoy this idea that there is a space we each have to ourselves that nobody else is going to enter for a period of time,” writer Annie Fox told Glamour. “I do think it really forces communication.”

Living apart can also solve the issue of incompatibility between living styles in couples who otherwise love each other. There's no more fighting over cleaning the cat litter or emptying the dishwasher, or about how late to stay up listening to music or working. Perhaps this is why so many couples in creative fields seem to be a part of this trend.

Commitment and communication

Sociologists have found that while some people in LAT relationships are indeed traumatized by a past romantic entanglement or aren't ready to live together yet (but would like to in the future), "...most people in LAT relationships have a strong sense that they are a couple, and many are in long-term relationships to which they are deeply committed,” Professor Sasha Roseneil, from the University of London, Birkbeck said in a release.

Time plays into LAT relationships too: For some couples, it's just how their relationship functions best, while for others it's a time-limited situation (when one person attends school or works on a project). Whatever the situation is, like any part of a relationship, those who live apart are best served by ensuring open communication on a regular basis — even if that's over Skype.