What Is Living Apart Together?

Published On: February 22, 2024|Categories: Dating After Divorce, Dating Over 50, Dating Tips|8 min read|

Years ago, many of us would never have dreamed of living separately from our spouse by choice. However, in the modern world, living apart together is becoming a more common choice.

Many people today aren’t content with following along with what we’re “supposed to” do in a relationship. This has led more couples to take an unconventional approach to making their relationship work and keeping the spark alive. Talking about her own relationship, actress Gillian Anderson says,

“My partner and I don’t live together. If we did, that would be the end of us. It works so well as it is, it feels so special when we do come together,”

Gillian Anderson, actress

This lifestyle choice isn’t just for Hollywood elites, either. More and more people from all walks of life are choosing to keep separate living arrangements. Read on to learn more about living apart together, the benefits and drawbacks, and why it could be the right choice for your relationship.

More Couples Are Living Apart Together

Between 2000 and 2022, the number of married couples who did not live together rose by a very substantial 40%. This includes a sharp uptick in 2022 that brought the US’s total number of married adults living apart to nearly 4 million.

Many among this number were divorced, widowed, or longtime singles who began a new relationship well into adulthood. Surprisingly, it’s not just happening among newly serious relationships. Some long-established couples are choosing to move out in favor of living apart together.

Longtime San Francisco residents Gordon and Lois never expected to live separately, but after he retired, Gordon wasn’t happy living full-time in the city. He wanted to live a slower-paced life, but his wife wasn’t willing to give up the life she’d built in the city. With a second home in nearby Pengrove, the couple came to a natural compromise that suited them both.

Instead of moving entirely, they decided to split their time, with Lois spending part of the week in San Francisco and Gordon in Pengrove. For the rest of the week, they spend a long weekend together in one of their homes.

“I know I would not be happy full-time [in Pengrove]. I would have to make a life there and why would I do that now, at age 86? . . . I think Gordon likes it, too. He can eat when he wants to eat, not when I prepare meals. He can have his TV uninterrupted for as long as he wants.”

Lois, living apart in San Francisco

Retirement is just one reason to forgo moving in. Here are a few reasons why living apart together is the right choice for many couples today:

More Independence: Couples who live apart together have more personal time to see friends, participate in hobbies, or do whatever they please. Not needing to consider someone else’s daily schedule when making plans is something that many non-cohabitating couples appreciate.

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder: Couples who live apart together spend less time with one another than cohabitating couples. While this might initially sound like a downside, the limited window makes couples more appreciative of each other.

Living apart together takes your relationship from an “opt-out” experience to an “opt-in” one, according to social psychologist Samantha Joel. She says these couples often have a more passionate connection. They daydream about their partner more and report more loving feelings than couples who live together.

Community Ties: In long-distance relationships, moving in together requires at least one partner to travel a considerable distance. This could mean leaving behind community ties and relationships. Many people spend years, even decades, building a life in one area. For those who are satisfied in their current town, the thought of starting over later in life can be unattractive or even downright scary.

Differing Household Preferences: Household chores are an extremely common cause of conflict for couples who live together. A survey by Yelp found that 8 out of every 10 couples have disagreements about housework. Couples butt heads about when to do household chores (53%), how to do them the right way (50%), and who should be doing them in the first place (48%). Of those couples, 20% say they’re having disagreements often.

What Is Living Apart Together?

When couples don’t want to give up their sense of independence or change their schedule or lifestyle to accommodate living with someone new, they don’t have to.

Here are a few reasons why some couples are choosing not to cohabitate:

Homeownership: When renters move in together, the process is usually just signing a new lease and maybe breaking an old one. When you move out, you leave the old place behind. However, owning a home can make moving in with a partner a much larger ordeal.

Deciding what to do with the empty home can create stress and financial burdens. Selling might not be an option if the housing market isn’t favorable. Many people don’t want the complications that accompany being a landlord. Leaving the house to sit empty can eventually lead to maintenance issues, so that’s not a long-term solution, either.

Comfort in Familiar Space: Especially for folks who have lived alone for several years, it can be less than appealing to move into a new home. Perhaps even more stressful is the possibility of a partner moving their things in. Sharing space can lead to conflict if partners are set in their ways or aren’t willing to compromise in a new living situation. These things can put undue stress on a relationship, which is why some couples are choosing to sidestep the issue entirely.

Changes to the Relationship Dynamic: Among older generations especially, gender roles within the home can be very prescriptive. Women are often expected to shoulder the burden of housework and cooking meals alone. Over the last few decades, these expectations have begun changing, and many women are not willing to accept an unfair share of domestic work. Instead of risking this, many older women are instead benefitting from living apart together arrangements.

Children From a Previous Relationship: When your children are grown up, this might not even cross your mind. But if one or both partners in a relationship have children living at home, moving in can be disruptive to the kids’ home life. For some families, this isn’t the right choice. Children with special needs may have a much harder time adjusting to a major change in their environment, for example.

The Downsides of Living Apart Together

There are many benefits to living apart together, but don’t start looking at apartment listings just yet. Living separately from your partner has its drawbacks, as well.

Cost of Living

Keeping two separate homes means two of everything. Two mortgage or rent payments, two sets of utility bills, two car payments, and the list goes on. The expenses can add up quickly, prompting many couples who do move in to do so earlier than they might have done otherwise.

Financial pressure created by the rising cost of living is a concern for most of us, but especially so for older Americans. Older people are the group living apart together most, and they are also one of the most financially vulnerable age groups. According to the National Council on Aging, nearly half of older adults are at risk of financial insecurity or are already struggling.

Retirees are more likely to have fixed incomes, so rising expenses can mean major trouble. Living with a partner means having an emotional and financial safety net that isn’t available to those who live alone.

Health Risks

Living alone comes with several health risks, especially as we age.

Falls are the second most common cause of accidental deaths worldwide. The risk of a fatal fall is greatest for those over the age of 60. Balance and vision issues may make it more difficult to get around as we get older, making the likelihood of a fall greater. Those who live alone may not be able to seek help as quickly or easily as someone with another person in the house.

Living with a partner can be beneficial in other kinds of health emergencies, too. Researchers discovered that married men make it to the hospital an average of 30 minutes earlier when they have a heart attack, making them more likely to survive. The study’s lead author posited that this may be because women are more likely to take on a caregiver role in the relationship.

Beyond the risks to your physical health, living alone increases the likelihood of social isolation. Lonely people are more likely to be depressed, according to Noreena Hertz, author of The Lonely Century: How to Restore Human Connection in a World That’s Pulling Apart.

“It seems to be the case that loneliness and isolation can accelerate genetic or circumstantial depressive tendencies, in part because of their physiological impact—we sleep less when we’re lonely, for example, and a lack of sleep can trigger depressive symptoms. So too can the symptoms of depression themselves fuel loneliness—by making it harder for the depressed person to connect. It can be the chicken and the egg.

Noreena Hertz, author of The Lonely Century

Loneliness is a strong predictor of health outcomes, with lonely individuals being more likely to develop dementia and to die prematurely. Loneliness has also been correlated with higher rates of hospitalization and emergency room visits, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Just a Trend or Here to Stay?

Living apart together isn’t just a trend; it’s a reflection of changing attitudes toward relationships. Couples are prioritizing individual needs while nurturing their connection in a way that feels authentic and fulfilling. As relationships continue to evolve, we’re likely to see more and more couples who are choosing authentic connections over societal conventions.

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