Living Apart Together: A Couples Counsellor On Living Separately from Your Partner

couple home bed

My boyfriend and I just signed a lease on our very first place together. Although we’ve been living together for the past year, we’ve technically been house-sitting, so the space hasn’t really felt like our own. I guess it’s been a bit of a test-run, just to make sure we didn’t completely piss each other off before taking the plunge into our own place.

Moving into this new place with him feels really natural, and I’m mostly feeling excited. There is a small part of me, however, that worries for our independence, as both of us are super independent people. We like our own space and don’t like to feel limited by someone else. I think that’s pretty natural; I think a lot of people feel the same way.

But recently, I’ve been hearing a lot of conversations around the benefits of living separately to your partner (they call it ‘Living Apart Together‘). 2020 really allowed people to reflect on themselves and how their relationships fit into their lives. With such a huge focus on self-care, it seems that there’s a large majority of people in relationships now that crave more ‘me time’, especially after a year of living in such close confines with someone else. 

“As a couples counsellor, I’m seeing several couples who are choosing to live apart,” couples counsellor Annie Gurton shares. “While it’s certainly not the norm, it does work for those who find they value their own space and find living with someone too intense or claustrophobic. For some, the core reason they are seeing a counsellor is to do with their living arrangements.”

Living together is seen as a natural progression when you’re in a serious relationship. For a lot of people, it’s what being ‘serious’ means. And it is a serious step; because it’s something physical and also financial that you’re doing together. It’s a step towards taking more responsibility for each other. 

“Some couples see moving in together, before or after marriage or without marriage even being discussed, as a natural progression. That’s what our society views as ‘normal’. It’s often seen as the ‘normal’ precursor to having children, but there are couples who are co-parenting and are living apart. They are often couples who lived together at one time, had one or more children and then separated, but I also talk to a couple who have a child but have never lived together.” says Gurton, adding: Every couple is different.

For me, it doesn’t feel like an active choice I’m making because it’s the next step — I just really want to live with him and it feels like the right thing to do in my life right now. I don’t feel pressured by the people around me, my partner or society, and that makes me feel really lucky.

This got me thinking, are there some couples that feel pressure to live together and vice versa? Are there some personalities that don’t suit cohabitation? If so, choosing not to live together seems like the best option.

“There are certainly some people who find it hard to trust their partner, or need to have a closer connection and spend more time with their partner than they can while living separately. This often depends on their childhood experiences, but can relate to an individual’s personality type. People that feel insecure in either themselves, their relationship or both, are going to find living separately really difficult,” explains Gurton. 

“For someone who learned to protect themselves emotionally as a child by withdrawing, the experience of living with someone else can be too overwhelming, unless they have their own space they can retreat to. If one person is wanting to be constantly in physical contact, the idea of living apart is a complete non-starter. But if both partners are secure in themselves, trust their partner absolutely and need time to be alone, living apart can work well for them.”

So basically, living apart takes some serious vulnerability. But so does living together. In order to be able to do either successfully, you need to be able to trust yourself, trust your partner and have an open dialogue always. 

For people that want to live together but also really value their independence, it’s important to still have your own life and interests separate from your partner, and that you take the time to do them. Just because you share a home, belongings and bills, doesn’t mean that you have to share all of your hobbies and interests. Sometimes, living in the same space when you’re both independent can feel a little claustrophobic, and that’s okay. Those frustrations are normal. 

When you have those moments of frustration, it’s easy to feel as though you’re ‘failing’ in your relationship, but that isn’t true. There’s a lot to learn from the difficult moments. 

“If each person in the relationship wants to live in separate homes, and that works for them, that looks like a very successful relationship to me — probably more successful than when a couple is living together but arguing a lot, and staying together for a socially constructed reason,” says Gurton. 

A mark of a successful relationship is being able to resolve conflicts well rather than letting them fester. This applies equally to couples living together and those living apart. It’s not whether they can live together in harmony that determines whether a relationship is successful or not.”

Each individual and each couple is totally and completely different. Thinking about your own independence is important, of course, because no one wants to lose themselves in a relationship. But with things like living together, it can be tempting to listen to everyone else rather than just doing what feels right and instinctive to you. 

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