What is LAT?
The term “Living Apart Together” (LAT), first used in the sociology literature, refers to couples who are in a romantic relationship – married or unmarried – who choose to live separately. It is a non-traditional way to be a couple but one that is being embraced by an increasing number of individuals. In the past, when couples lived apart it was because one or both of them had jobs in different cities they could not give up for various reasons. While this may still be the case for some, the increase in the number of LAT relationships is because more couples are now intentionally choosing to live apart. Many older couples or those who have experienced divorce are choosing this as a lifestyle. It is also a way for some, especially older women or those who have followed traditional gender roles to avoid caretaking or homemaker responsibilities on a full-time basis. Millennials who have spent their twenties and thirties living alone often find it difficult to give up their independence, preferred lifestyle, and/or individual space (or at least one person in the relationship feels that way) but who want commitment and connection are also opting for this arrangement. Some couples are also choosing this lifestyle to avoid problems such as financial complexities that often arise after a break-up.
Benefits of Living Apart Together
The reality is that the traditional family structure simply does not work for those who choose the LAT lifestyle. We also expect much more from our relationships than ever before which puts a great deal of pressure on a couple. Living apart together can often alleviate those pressures and make room for a healthy and peaceful relationship. But what are some of the more tangible benefits of living apart together?
There is less conflict
Not living with a partner means less time together in the same environment so naturally there would be fewer arguments. This is not to say that conflict does not occur but generally occurs less frequently among LAT couples. The living arrangement itself means there is less need for consensus on issues such as living conditions, household chores, and finances. A certain amount of conflict is natural and even healthy as it can present an opportunity to bring clarity to an issue or to learn more about each other, including a partner’s perspective on a topic. Frequent arguing or unresolved conflict; however, can create stress for couples and can erode the satisfaction with and strength of the relationship over time. Fewer arguments in a relationship can lead to greater satisfaction with the partnership, a stronger connection, and increased happiness and inner peace.
There is more downtime
Living with a partner often puts more demands on our time which in turn means less downtime and more stress. The purpose of downtime or “me-time” is to replenish the energy stores that we deplete. Downtime looks different for everyone but it could be watching a movie, reading a book, writing, taking a bath, going for a massage, exercising, taking a short trip or having a social outing with friends or coworkers. Sometimes downtime is about completely slowing down and having quiet time. Having this time to replenish can contribute to a relationship in positive ways because it nourishes us, decreases stress, and allows us to give more to the relationship. Having downtime also allows us to maintain a sense of self and independence without which we can end up feeling resentful and codependent.
The “together” times are exciting
Couples who live together will often mention being stuck in a rut and feeling as though aspects of the relationship have become mundane or habitual. Things just don’t seem as exciting as they were when they first met. Couples in any situation have to be mindful of this and remember not to take each other for granted. However, living apart can help avoid these issues as you both put in the effort to enhance your relationship and connection. You don’t see your partner all the time so when you do come together, there is a dedication to togetherness during those times. Not seeing each other every day also leads to a greater appreciation for each other and a desire to do things for your partner to show your love and commitment. Many couples even say that spending weekends at different homes creates a vacation-like feeling for them. Not seeing each other daily also keeps things interesting as time is spent catching up on the days you were not together. In essence, the quality of the experience becomes more important than just the hours spent together.
The sex is better
Living together with a significant other can sometimes cause pressure to simply have sex because we are with our partners all the time. Living apart together can remove that pressure. Routines and familiarity can also have a negative effect on interest and motivation and the same can hold true for intimacy and sex. In fact, many couples who live together report experiencing less intimacy over the years. Living apart can decrease this familiarity thereby creating a feeling of continuous novelty. Sexual desire can actually increase, which does not necessarily mean increased frequency, but it does mean increased satisfaction and affection, so when you do come together, the sex is better. Sex is also affected by fatigue and relationship conflict so living apart can also help because there is often less stress and conflict. Because LAT couples live separately, coming together often feels like a romantic date night, sometimes even encouraging us to pay more attention to and put effort into our appearance for ourselves and our partner.
Your partner’s habits are more bearable
Let’s face it. We all have habits that can be annoying to others. Living together and having to deal with that on a daily basis can be more than bothersome. Whether it’s excessive spending, leaving socks on the living room floor, dishes in the sink, or watching TV with the volume cranked up, it can add an element of stress to a relationship. Tasks associated with traditional gender roles also tend to make their way into relationships often without change over the long term. In particular, unequal division of household chores can impact relationships negatively. Not having to deal with each other’s habits on a daily basis that one might find less than desirable keeps conflict at bay.
Challenges of Living Apart Together
While there are many benefits of living apart as a couple, there are some challenges that those considering this lifestyle should be aware of.
Missing out on shared experiences
We all look forward to sharing daily experiences with the people we are closest to. It may be as simple as sharing what your work day was like or telling your partner about a new show you discovered on Netflix. Living apart from your partner might mean waiting until you meet to share those experiences in person and by then you may have even forgotten what you wanted to share. Exciting news and the interesting weekly happenings take a back seat in LAC relationships so time must be made to engage and to consistently be a part of each other’s life. Communicating regularly and alone time with each other as a couple is essential so that the small things that are important to each person are known. Getting to know a partner this way enhances closeness in a relationship and is vitally important when living together but requires much more effort when living in different homes. Shared experiences also include difficult conversations and sometimes living apart makes it easier to simply avoid the conversations that must be had. In-person talks with your partner to work out relationship challenges and to work through problems is an important part of relationship building and contribute to a strong, healthy, and happy relationship.
Having downtime can be a real perk of LAT relationships but too much downtime, more specifically alone time, may also lead to loneliness which can be unhealthy and create anxiety. These feelings may also eventually take a toll on the relationship if not handled with care and if a balance between spending time together and alone time is not achieved. Honest discussions about what each partner needs and wants must occur more frequently when these feelings start to emerge. The reality is that relationships thrive when needs are met and falter when they are not, so serious self-awareness is required in such relationships so that needs can be communicated honestly and received with empathy.
Loneliness can also occur as a result of partners not always being available to attend events together or because excessive time is spent with others outside of the relationship. While doing so is healthy and needed for any relationship to thrive, the distance itself in a LAT relationship can magnify these feelings. Your friends and relatives may be with their partners at group events and you may end up attending alone making you feel as though you are not part of a couple. Your partner may begin to attend more events solo making the other feel excluded, in turn questioning whether those feelings ever really go away in a LAT arrangement. Coordinating schedules can pose a challenge and over time these issues can lead one to question how much effort is really worth being in this type of union or how much of a connection will one feel to a person they do not spend enough time with. Daily rituals and day to day moments create memories just as going away on vacations do so making time for each other and prioritizing the relationship even when apart is key to a successful and healthy LAT relationship.
Impact on finances
Maintaining two homes can be expensive for couples who share finances. The idea of two sets of cable bills, utility bills, and double rents can often put a strain on the relationship. For others where this is not the case, there may be other costs such as those associated with travel, which in some cases can take a big toll on finances. Unexpected costs for one person may not affect the other so open communication about how finances will be handled and how the sharing of expenses will occur, if this is to some extent a facet of the relationship, should be handled with sensitivity, clarity, and transparency. On the other hand, for those who have their own investments, the co-mingling of finances may be a non-issue and this may actually be a scenario that works for the couple. Discussions around the costs of planning vacations and other purchases may also be challenging simply because of the lack of close proximity to one’s partner. Some LAT couples have found that having both their own accounts but a joint one for vacations and other social activities simplifies this issue.
Trust and infidelity
Living apart can create feelings of uneasiness from time to time especially in the area of trust for one or both partners simply because you don’t come home to one another at the end of the day to share a home or a bed. While living apart can make it easier to cheat and hide indiscretions, because after all there is a lot more time spent alone, we also know couples don’t have to live apart to cheat.
Susan Pease Gadoua and Vicki Larsen in their book “The New I Do” point out that “while those in these relationships 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.” They write, “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 (partnered with) 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.”
Judgment from others
Surprisingly one of the challenges LAT couples often face come from those closest to them. This type of relationship is less socially acceptable than the traditional cohabiting relationship and the perpetual advice about moving in together and questions about how partners can take care of one another when they live apart continue to be asked. More often than not, others think a relationship must be in trouble if a couple is not living together. Having to defend your relationship to friends and family can be exhausting and sometimes can end up straining those relationships. Even knowing that some non-LAT relationships may be unhealthier than LAT ones, in the minds of most people that does not matter. LAT couples must be prepared to deal with such perspectives and mindsets.
Is LAT right for you?
LAT relationships are not for everyone and what works for one couple may not work for another. Each couple will have very different reasons for choosing this lifestyle. Either way this type of arrangement must be carefully thought out to weigh the advantages and disadvantages given your unique circumstances. Both partners must be equally committed to making this type of relationship work and must be willing to put in the additional effort and mindfulness required for this this type of union. Consistency and reliability are a huge part of what creates safety and trust in LAT relationships and must be practiced with intention. Abandoning the status quo is not for the faint of heart but as more and more couples are finding, LAT can be the secret to cultivating a relationship of love, respect, happiness, and longevity. In “Mating in Captivity” Esther Perel so eloquently reminds us of the following:
“Love rests on two pillars: surrender and autonomy. 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.”
And if that is what might allow a relationship to stand the test of time and reach a deep and abiding love for one another, I, for one, am in.