New research out of the UK has found the number of couples ‘Living Apart Together’ (LAT) is increasing, but do relationship psychologists believe this dynamic to be the way forward?
LAT refers to couples who maintain separate households while going about a relationship that abides by the same rules as married or cohabiting partners. These couples keep up a stream of communication via messaging and calling platforms, and maintain monogamous relationships. The only difference, really, is that they each keep separate homes.
While some of the study’s participants were younger couples who lived separately because they “weren’t ready” or felt it “too early” to move in together, an increasing number of older participants who had been married or had cohabited before chose to live this way in order to retain independence, or simply because they didn’t want to move in with their significant others.
“Living apart together supposedly gives people all the advantages of autonomy — doing what you want in your own space, maintaining preexisting local arrangements and friendships — as well as the pleasures of intimacy with a partner,” Professor Simon Duncan from the University of Bradford explains in a piece for The Conversation.
Previous surveys have suggested that around 10% of adults in Western Europe, the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia choose to live apart together. But does LAT work?
Dan Auerbach, relationship counsellor with Associated Relationship & Marriage Counsellors, says that while keeping separate households has its benefits, the decision not to join households may lead to a lacking feeling of emotional support.
“Casualising relationships could bring with it greater relationship dissatisfaction,” he says. “Us humans seem to thrive when we are able to count on another person for regular contact and emotional support.
“Living apart and being in a relationship shouldn’t be misunderstood as a lesser relationship. It just means the couple has to find out what level of connection they each need and find ways to make that work for them.”
The pros and cons of Living Together Separately
Auerbach says that for some couples, living in separate households may actually allow them greater quality time together.
“For some couples living apart might, in fact, better enable them to maintain a strong emotional bond. People who are recoupling with kids from a previous relationship or who work or have family commitments far apart from each other may actually end up with more quality time if they live separately part of the time.”
He explains the disadvantage to be a lack of physical contact, or if living apart means a couple doesn’t have a regular ritual for reconnection. “Being together in person offers us a unique and felt way of giving and receiving support and connection,” he says.
“We tend to do better if we know we can reliably count on our partner to be there when we need them. So either a couple needs to have some certainty about how often they are able to meet and have quality time, or at least need to know that they can reach their partner for emotional support in another way when they are apart.”
The final word
Ultimately, Auerbach said it didn’t matter if couples lived together or not, but rather that they felt supported and communicated regularly.
“Whether you live together is not the most important factor influencing relationship success. We know from research and observation that couples who do well together communicate regularly and do it well.
“They take a strong interest in each other’s lives and they are there to offer each other emotional support.”