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Separated – by choice? The Increasing Popularity of “Living Apart Together”

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal discussed married couples who are living apart – not due to estrangement, but due to preference. Sometimes called “Living Apart Together,” the trend is becoming increasingly popular among both married and unmarried couples. According to the Wall Street Journal, the number of couples living apart has risen 44% since 2000, and an estimated 3.96 million people “live apart together.”

The practice is most popular among individuals in their 20’s and 30’s and is, according to The Guardian, more prevalent in the U.K. than in the U.S., as nearly 10% of couples in the U.K. are living apart. Per the Huffington Post, Canadians have also been trying living apart out, with an estimated 2 million Canadians living separately from their partners in 2011.

In the U.K., about half of couples living apart are in the 18 to 24 age group, and the practice spans across all socio-economic groups. The practice is becoming more and more popular among unmarried seniors, however. Seven percent of individuals between the ages of 57 and 85 years old are in relationships that do not involve cohabitation.

Why is the trend increasing in popularity? For younger couples, living apart is often seen as more of a “step” towards cohabitation and, eventually, marriage. Younger people in these types of relationships tend to expect to live with their partner sometime in the future.

The opposite is frequently true for older couples. Seniors who live apart from their romantic partners often cite a need for autonomy and more egalitarian relationships. Many have already been through a divorce and are not anxious to move back in with a romantic partner – for example, if a woman’s ex-husband was jealous and controlling and she does not want to have the same type of relationship with a new partner, it may be more satisfying to have a romantic relationship but still maintain the independence inherent with living alone.

Regardless of motive, there are upsides and downsides to a “Living Apart Together” arrangement. One of those is finances, which can be both a pro and a con. On the plus side, living apart can ease financial stress on couples who keep their finances separate, and give both partners more financial independence.

Money is at the root of most arguments between couples; if a couple lives apart, each managing their own finances, it can eliminate that source of frustration.

The con, however, is the cost of maintaining two households. This type of arrangement may not be ideal – or even feasible – for single-wage homes (for example, if one spouse stays home to care for the children).

Children present other complications to a separate living arrangement. Who do the children primarily live with? If one parent wants to live separately because they want to have a child-free space, will the other parent resent that they do not have their own child-free space? Who purchases food for the children? Who cleans up after children? These are questions it is important a couple agree upon before they decide to live separately.

There are emotional considerations to living apart as well. Per the Wall Street Journal, it is important for both partners to equally want to live apart. If one partner feels pressured, problems almost certainly will arise in the future. For older couples, some enjoy living apart, so they can maintain their own homes, activities, finances, and social events, but sometimes such a relationship can cause resentment with a partner’s children. There have been reported instances, for example, of one partner falling ill or being moved to a different location by family members and the other partner, lacking the legal rights of a spouse, is never even notified.

According to Psychology Today, there can also be emotional benefits to living apart. For example, it can prevent a relationship from becoming
“monotonous.” Many are familiar with the adage about the end of the “honeymoon phase,” when the reality of sharing a home, bills, bank accounts, and
contagious illnesses with another human being sets in. Living apart can ease this stress and encourage couples to put more effort into the more limited time they do spend together.

While many are choosing to live separately from their spouses, some individuals do not have much of a choice. In military families, for example, a
couple may go months without seeing each other. Several studies have been done on the stress of deployment on military spouses, due to the nature of military service itself.

Some military spouses, however, choose to live apart even when they have the option of living together, which is sometimes referred to a “geo-baching.” This is done for any number of reasons, including not wanting to remove children from a school or electing not to leave a job. Other times, a non-military spouse may want to keep the family near their parents or support system in case the military spouse is deployed again. Often, living apart in this situation is intended to be temporary, until the military spouse can retire.

Another factor that has led to the increase of couples living apart is work. With current technology and relative ease of travel, it is not uncommon for an individual to be sent to another state or country as part of their employment. Additionally, in places like New York City and the Silicon Valley, where the cost of living is high, some elect to stay in the city during the workweek and return home on the weekends. Other professionals in niche fields where jobs are few and far between elect to take jobs in different areas and visit each other. Technology, such as Skype and FaceTime, can sometimes ease the burden of distance in these situations.

Regardless of the motives, “Living Apart Together” relationships, statistically, tend not to differ significantly from more traditional cohabitation
arrangements. Most individuals in these relationships value monogamy and commitment just as much as the average person. A study done on U.K. couples
living apart by the Economic and Social Research Council found that these relationships are not “a radical departure from the contemporary norm of
coupledom.” Like any other arrangement between two people, the potential success or failure of living apart depends upon the individuals involved.

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