The secret to a happy marriage may mean living apart together in separate master suites, a recent Wall Street Journal article declared.
Not everyone lives in a “4,700 square-foot Tudor home” or wants to, but without a doubt, more people, especially older people (like — *sigh* — me) are interested in having a room — if not a whole apartment or house — of their own.
Those who are divorced, widowed or never-married who want romantic relationships later in life are “motivated by the desire to remain independent, maintain their own homes, sustain existing family boundaries, protect the relationship and remain financially independent,” a recent study states.
But, as my co-author and I detailed in The New I Do, couples can choose that arrangement from the start of their marriage. Granted, this is a hard concept for many to wrap their heads around. They have questions. So, I have answers to the top three myths people have about live apart together (LAT) relationships, or what my friend Sharon Hyman calls apartners.
Why even get married if you’re going to live apart?
People get married for a lot of reasons, not just love although most of us like to think that’s the main reason — or should be the main reason — to wed. Although love is the No. 1 reason for hetero couples, according to the Pew Research Center, following closely behind are lifelong commitment, companionship, kids, having the relationship be recognized by a religious ceremony, financial stability and, finally, legal rights and benefits (same-sex couples overwhelming cite the legal rights and protections). I don’t see “to live together” as a top reason, do you? OK, in honesty, it’s probably just assumed. At the same time, all the stated reasons for marrying can be achieved while also living apart from your spouse.
What about companionship, you may ask. Well, there are many ways to interpret companionship. Does it mean being around someone 24/7? Does it mean sharing the same space? Can you have companionship while also maintaining a certain amount of freedom?
As Esther Perel has written in Mating in Captivity, love longs for closeness, desire thrives on distance:
Our need for togetherness exists alongside our need for separateness. One does not exist without the other. With too much distance, there can be no connection. But too much merging eradicates the separateness of two distinct individuals. Then there is nothing more to transcend, no bridge to walk on, no one to visit on the other side, no other internal world to enter. When people become fused — when two become one — connection can no longer happen. There is no one to connect with. Thus separateness is a precondition for connection: this is the essential paradox of intimacy and sex.
So, yes, you can have companionship without being smother by the day-to-day realities of living together. Just ask any person whose spouse is deployed overseas or who spends days at a time at the fire station. And, let’s not forget that companionship is available from our non-romantic partners — friends, family, co-workers. They key is finding a happy, healthy balance that works for you as a couple.
Living apart together is only for the wealthy
This is a common perception but misguided one (on a few levels). Let’s assume that when you met your partner, he or she was living alone. So were you. In other words, you both had your own places — so nothing’s changed, right? Even if one or both or you had roommates, you’d still have roommates.
Why continue to have roommates when you can just move in together? Good question. Except your relationship with your roommate is not the same as a relationship with a romantic partner — you’re not sharing the same bed and you don’t have the same expectations from him or her or them. It’s often the heightened expectations from our romantic partners that cause a lot of resentments, frustrations and anger.
Nevertheless, I can hear you say that you’d save money if you moved in together!
That’s most likely true, but there are ways to afford your lifestyle that don’t crimp your freedom in the same way, such as getting a roommate (if you don’t already have one) or Airbnbing your place or a room if you really need the cash. In other words, if saving money is the compelling reason to live together, there are creative ways to work around it.
But the much bigger issue is this — are you only moving in together to save money? Because your financial situation isn’t the best reason to move in together; you should only cohabit if you’re prepared to live with your partner 24/7 and all his or her peccadilloes, and not because you want to save money. If that isn’t what you’re prepared to do then it’s better to continue to live apart and get creative.
People who live apart more likely to cheat
Yes, it’s true: people who live apart from each other cheat. But, guess what — so do people who live together, right? Given the rates of reported infidelity (since it’s self-reported, the percentages are sketchy and clearly not everyone admits to being a cheater), it’s obvious that living together doesn’t prevent anyone from having an affair — ever. But does living apart make it “easier”? It seems like it could; after all, there is a lot more time spent alone, often in separate places, and it would be a lot less complicated to hide any extramarital shenanigans. Plus, people might love the freedom but also get lonely.
As we wrote in The New I Do:
LAT marriages help people cope with the uncertainties that come with romantic relationships. You are basically forced to contend with your insecurities, and for many, that leads to greater introspection and self-awareness. While those choosing a long-distance marriage may not end up having to deal with an affair any more or less than those who live together, they do tend to think about it more. And because of that, addressing monogamy and infidelity may be a more frequent conversation between those couples, which cannot hurt and actually can help. Ultimately, what it comes down to is this: are you marrying or are you married to someone you trust, and is that person worthy of your trust? And, are you offering the same? Because if you can’t trust your partner, whatever living arrangement you have isn’t going to change the situation. It isn’t how you live (together or apart); it’s whom you live with.
In fact, as we note in our research, couples who live apart feel happier in their relationship than couples that live together, and feel more committed and less trapped. But for me, this sentence says it all: “It isn’t how you live (together or apart); it’s whom you live with.”
You can’t raise kids while living apart
Wait — isn’t this a fourth myth when I’ve only promised three? Not really, because this is obviously a much longer discussion, one that could be a blog post on its own — or a book. We address this at length in The New I Do. But as a teaser, divorced people do it all the time — they raise kids together while living apart. So do people in platonic parenting partnerships and, as mentioned above, those with spouses who are deployed overseas or live for days at a time in fire stations. So if you want to be married and have children, don’t think you can’t do it while being a LAT couple. You can; you just have to want it enough to find a way to make it happen.
Want to learn how to live apart together? (Of course you do!) Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow on Twitter and like on Facebook.