Some couples who are living apart, together have bucked the trend of of living under one roof and share a bed. Why? Well, history lent itself to cohabitation due to societal norms of marriage and gendered roles. Today, a growing population of individuals are choosing a new family form, Living Apart Together, better known as LAT. Often defined as a monogamous intimate partnership between unmarried individuals who live in separate homes, but identify as a committed couple, thought some married folks are represented as well. This break from traditional cohabitation, while on the rise, is still widely misunderstood, and stigmatized, as marriage is universally promoted as superior. LAT can be a choice but more commonly a result of a myriad of relational functionalities, i.e. finances, education, kids, fear of lost autonomy, ease for relationship dissolution, etc. There is no longer one preference for relationships and LAT is helping transform norms around living situations.
Although best to have both parties engaged in the discussion around arrangements, research is finding differences between older adults vs. younger, who choose LAT. Older adults choose LAT as a lifestyle option, perhaps not wishing to caretake, protecting autonomy and independence, or a general disinterest in cohabitation after divorce. Younger folks are finding themselves in LAT as a result of circumstance, not wanting to give up a great apartment in the housing market, educational pursuits, job market, and financial constraints. LAT is not seen as an opposition to marriage or cohabitation, often people still seek healthy intimacy, just not in the way we have come to expect. How individuals reconcile relational beliefs dictate whether or not they view the situation as living apart or an LAT relationship. Some older adults find it challenging to “come out” about LAT, fearing reprisal from older adult children. The trend may continue to grow among younger adults, particularly women, who want to avoid traditional domesticity, and have the economic privilege of living alone. A couples’ therapist can help couples navigate these conversations with ease.
Research is burgeoning, but currently no best practice exists, methodology is left to the partnership. Examples include having two homes, living on separate floors, two bedrooms in one home, living a block away, and living in different states part time. For some it’s the idea of being together and being able to “visit” the other when they deem appropriate. It’s difficult to determine when dating ends and an LAT relationship begins. Unlike having a move-in date, LAT may not have an official start. Recognizing that this family form is not available to everyone, cohabitation may be necessary, versus desired, for some couples who need to pool resources.
It is important for couples to tell the story of their LAT in order to reach societal normalcy and acceptance. Some still hide this aspect of their relationship in order to avoid unnecessary questioning and shame. For some families, an expectation of cohabitation exists as part of a marriage trajectory, believing it a “trial period” before a wedding. Time and empathy may render this trend mainstream, much like the acceptance of divorce.
There are many reasons for choosing LAT, but relationship satisfaction is couple-dependent. For some women, it may be a strategic undoing of gendered norms and an attempt to resist patriarchal structures. By living apart together, no one finds themselves the designated house person, and today, women find themselves with more independence and financial security.
Perhaps a way to reduce disputes, no one sleeps on the couch when you don’t share a bed. Many couples report an increase in novelty and excitement, keeping the treasured parts of coupledom but avoiding the loss of individualism. Long distance couples report more passion in the relationship, having to work harder to see eachother can keep things spicy! Keeping one’s preferred way of living, including privacy standards is a bonus particularly for people with an avoidant attachment style. Also, the prospect of long-term dating with the intention to move in together can be overwhelming.
A rise in polyamory and “open” relationships are making LAT more attractive, while simultaneously risking secrecy. Research consistently highlights, the perception of concealment is correlated with relationship dissatisfaction. Relationships can be full of variety and options, but sharing your heart doesn’t mean you have to share your home. Some women reported feeling vulnerable in cohabitation as a result of previous toxic relationships and others due to the needs of children not from the current partner. Everyone needs time alone and time to connect, living together is often a bold act of commitment and can be viewed as a relationship investment. LAT is allowing another choice, it avoids the obligatory commitment to a deeper relationship simply due to proximity. There is no “til death do us part” in different apartments.
Whether an LAT relationship is right for you is a worthy self exploration. Here are a few questions to start you thinking, and remember, those who engage in thoughtful decision-making around relationships report more dedication, higher satisfaction, and less infidelity, and do not make this decision solo.
- Do you consider yourself rigid in your lifestyle?
- Does the toilet paper have to be folded a certain way? If you are particular about your things and your alone time, this is something to pay attention to
- How many people have you cohabitated with in the past? What happened?
- It can be easier to break up when you don’t feel stuck and there is no shared stuff.
- Are you quick to jump from relationship to relationship?
- Artificially increasing commitment to a relationship through moving in together can be problematic.
- What are your current budget and financial goals?
- LAT may be a cost saver, but does that mean it’s right for you.
- Have you cheated (no judgement) and do you get “bored” quickly in relationships?
- Living apart together makes it easier and more convenient to stray.
- What are your relational norms or expectations and can you move past these?
- If you believe in marriage, want to get married, believe in living together, and want to live with your partner, there is nothing wrong with that! Do you!
- What are your primary love languages?
- If you enjoy daily intimacy, a lot of touching/hugging, LAT will make this harder, not impossible, but harder.
- Do you or your partner snore?
- Valid question.
Regardless of your decision, you can always change your mind. Social pressure to live with a partner still exists, and currently, homes are setup in hetero-normative formats. It may be harder to find someone who wants an LAT relationship, but if you prioritize communication and exploration with your current or future partner, the possibility exists. Sliding versus deciding is a concept referring to the lack of intentional decision making in relationship issues, and is often associated with less satisfying coupledom. So, whatever you do, live together, live apart, or live apart together, consider the future of your relationship together, if you want one.
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Finkenauer, Catrin & Kerkhof, Peter & Righetti, Francesca & Branje, Susan. (2009). Living
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