By Joy Birnbach Dunstan, MA, LPC, MAC
Living Apart Together
Relationships have changed a lot with the times. There was a time when it was a bold step to live with a partner without the blessings and legal sanction of marriage – ‘living in sin’ some called it. Before too long, living together became more accepted and not at all uncommon.
Nowadays, there’s another sort of relationship that is becoming more commonplace: married couples living separately. Living Apart Together (LAT) or Apartners are terms to describe couples who have an intimate committed relationship but live in separate homes. According to 2006 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 3.8 million married couples who don’t reside under the same roof. A recent Canadian study counted almost a million couples living separately from each other. These couples are in good company. One of Mexico’s most famous pairs, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, were Apartners, as well as Woody Allen and Mia Farrow, and Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton.
As apartnerships have become more understood, they have become a more accepted option for a growing number of couples. In most cases, couples share the same expectations about commitment and fidelity as traditional marriage. Living apart together can allow partners to have the intimacy of being in couple while at the same time preserving or increasing individual autonomy.
Apartnerships may work well for couples who have been married for many years and share a long history together. For a variety of reasons, they’re not getting along under the same roof and the relationship erodes in a succession of petty squabbles. Divorce doesn’t have to be the solution. There may be financial reasons for maintaining married status, insurance benefits that can be maintained, or it’s simply less complicated than separating their long intertwined lives. There may still be a lot of caring between the two partners, but each may have quite different living habits and not enough tolerance for each other’s differences.
Often, opposites attract but don’t make very compatible roommates. Maybe she’s a neat-freak who likes to decorate with breakable knickknacks and dainty doilies while he leaves his things strewn about and enjoys keeping his man-cave basic and functional. Perhaps one partner is highly social and loves entertaining while the other prefers a more quiet private home life. This doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy sharing meals, travels, companionship, and even a bed sometimes. Their differences may seem trivial, but it’s often the little things in a relationship that drive people apart. Living apart can allow two individuals to come together out of choice – and head for home when they feel the need for their own space.
Living apart together can still mean you’re committed to each other and will always have the other’s back. Living in a different physical space doesn’t mean you don’t share the same emotional space. In some instances, the additional distance creates greater intimacy and renewed romance.
Apartnerships are definitely not for everyone, but neither is marriage or the single life. It’s an alternative that, for some, combines the best of both and places a high priority on friendship and commitment. Relationships and lifestyles have changed dramatically over the years, and the high divorce rate implies there may be room for yet one more option.