Living with a spouse or partner can be a beautiful life experience—but this relationship arrangement can be challenging for some folks, regardless of their commitment to each other. Circumstantial causes, risk of loss of space and autonomy, different living habits, or navigating children from prior relationships may make cohabitation difficult—leaving individuals feeling stuck, resentful, and potentially disconnected. However, the traditional relationship status quo of what it means to be in a successful, long-term marriage or committed relationship is now changing thanks to a trending rise in couples opting to live apart together1.
- Adam Blum, MFT, psychotherapist and the founder and director of The Gay Therapy Center
- Angela Amias, LCSW, licensed relationship therapist and co-founder of Alchemy of Love and the Institute for Trauma-Informed Relationships
- Kelsey Latimer, PhD, CEDS-S, RN/BSN, licensed psychologist and founder of KML Psychological Services
What is living apart together?
First coined by Dutch journalist Michiel Berkel in an article in 19782, and later popularized by academic sociologists Irene Levin and Jan Trost in 19993, "living apart together" (or LAT, for short) is a living arrangement where individuals in a committed relationship live in separate residences.
"Individuals are choosing the kind of relationship they really want, instead of trying to conform to narrow expectations for what a relationship is supposed to look like.” —Angela Amias, LCSW
LAT is seen as a newer type of relationship path, but has shown up in various forms throughout years past. “There are some famous examples of couples of LAT throughout modern history– French philosophers Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre lived apart together [in separate apartments],” says relationship therapist Angela Amias, LCSW, the co-founder of Alchemy of Love and the Institute for Trauma-Informed Relationships. “The trend really picked up steam in the last several years, and census data suggests that the number of Americans living apart together is around 3.9 million people,” she elaborates. “It’s not that LAT is new so much as people are owning it as an intentional choice they’re making because they want to.”
No longer are the days of living apart together only for the logistical sake of practicality and circumstances such as kids, work, school or finances4 (which is how living apart together was typically understood in prior decades). Couples are now intentionally doing so long-term. “In the past, people felt awkward about admitting that they were living apart from a partner out of choice, rather than because of circumstances. It wasn’t seen as a valid lifestyle choice the way it is now,” Amias says. Non-cohabiting between partners is now more socially accepted. “Individuals are choosing the kind of relationship they really want, instead of trying to conform to narrow expectations for what a relationship is supposed to look like.”
Why couples choose living apart together
Experts say that there are many reasons why modern couples choose to intentionally LAT5. “When you LAT, time with your partner can feel more often like a happily anticipated choice rather than a routine. For some couples it can be easier to be fully present with each other when they know that their activity has a more clearly defined beginning and end,” says Adam Blum, MFT, a psychotherapist and the founder and director of The Gay Therapy Center.
Some couples might find that their interpersonal dynamic is improved by living apart. “While living together is often [societally] idealized as the ultimate goal of a committed relationship” Amias says, “in reality, it comes with the potential for increased conflict and decreased quality time together. LAT [can eliminate] two of the most common sources of arguments in a relationship around shared money decisions and household maintenance.”
“Taking the time to fully understand yourself and who you are as a person in a relationship while also separately as an individual is indispensable,” notes psychologist Kelsey Latimer, PhD, CEDS-S, RN/BSN, founder of KML Psychological Services. “It allows couples healthy ways to briefly sunder and cool down before addressing and resolving disagreements.” Living apart together may establish balance between one’s own independence outside of the relationship, while maintaining a healthy interdependence with a partner. “That’s very empowering for some people,” Dr. Latimer says.
Who does living apart together benefit?
1. Couples with differing living preferences
For some, the opportunity to cohabit in a new space is an exciting relationship milestone. However, those who have contrasting living habits or schedules may greatly benefit from living apart together. “There’s one woman I work with,” says Amias, “where the moment she walked into her partner’s home for the first time, she knew they’d never live together. He loved being surrounded by lots of sentimental objects, while she was a minimalist who valued uncluttered space.” While many couples find ways to bridge that gap, some individuals find cohabiting too compromising to their space and sense of self. “They knew that if they tried to live together, there would be constant tension between their different living preferences,” she explains.
2. Couples who prioritize alone time and autonomy
Spending too much time together is strenuous for some, and may affect an individual’s sense of autonomy and ability to balance their self care. Living apart together allows people time to re-charge that battery and enjoy a little bit of solitude while still being in a loving, committed relationship.
“For individuals who tend to be more introverted and value time alone to refuel,” says Blum, “[LAT] can be especially desirable– and can support autonomy in relationships.” Quality time increases since how that time is spent is much more intentional—and limited. “They get the advantages of the love, support, and connection that long term relationships can offer, while avoiding some of the stresses that can come with too much togetherness and not enough alone time.”
3. Couples who practice non-monogamy
Some couples are forgoing monogamy all together in favor of a different dynamic, and this is where LAT can be really beneficial. “Couples are increasingly re-thinking the traditional boundaries of [monogamous] relationships and are exploring open and polyamorous routes,” Blum shares. “Living apart together is a part of this trend of intentional experimentation with boundaries in loving partnerships. They share a common aspiration—to feel intimate and connected to their partner while also engaged in creative connections to others and to themselves.”
Amias agrees. “Traditional [heteronormative] married life and monogamous relationships are no longer the pinnacles of what it means to be in a happy, healthy and loving relationship.”
4. Couples in varying life stages
Individuals, both young and old, are choosing LAT due to where they’re currently at in life—and this will probably continue to fluctuate over time. “I am seeing younger adults, particularly Gen Z choosing to spend more time individually, while remaining committed to each other, to figure themselves out,” says Dr. Latimer as an example.
Alternatively, “for older adults, it’s often those who are divorced that are wanting to preserve their independence and personal space after getting out of long, unhappy marriages,” says Amias. They may also already have established careers, homes, and lives they don’t feel the need to enmesh.
Are there people who might not gel with LAT?
Maintaining connection, whether that’s through regularly scheduled visits, calls, or date nights, is imperative for the success of living apart together. As such, this relationship style may not work well for those who place too much emphasis on distance. “Couples who aren’t proactive about connecting with each other will often find that distance grows in their relationship in ways that don’t help, but rather cause estrangement from each other as time passes,” Amias stresses.
Dr. Latimer agrees, adding that some individuals may use LAT as an excuse to avoid confronting the challenging, less-than-ideal aspects of a romantic partnership (like learning to share or compromise on tense issues). While conflict is never wanted, it’s ultimately inevitable when navigating romantic interpersonal relationships (in a healthy way, of course!).
Amias notes that individuals who usually feel anxious in relationships may also not be suited for LAT. “They may need more frequent contact to feel connected and [securely] relaxed in the relationship,” she says. Moreover, the constant need for reassurance while apart may intensify and destabilize the anxious individual’s security, and likely the relationship altogether.
The decision to live apart while in a long-term relationship might signal a lack of commitment to some, and while that’s understandable, it isn’t always necessarily the case. There are a variety of factors at play that are unique to each individual and relationship. “For some people, there is not a commitment without taking the step to live together,” says Dr. Latimer. It’s important to know your needs and boundaries, and it’s okay if living with your partner or spouse is something you desire. But know that LAT may not be right for you.
How to navigate living apart together successfully
One commonality relationship experts agree on is the crucial ability to clearly vocalize your needs to one another as to why you want to live apart. “Communication skills are important for all relationships, but they’re especially vital for LAT relationships,” Amias states. Be clear and have a shared understanding about boundaries. “We tend to make a lot of assumptions without talking about them directly. While this doesn’t work well in [monogamous] relationships, it can be particularly disastrous for [non-monogamous] ones, because when something goes wrong, the tendency is to blame the "nontraditional" approach, rather than the lack of communication and clarity about expectations for the relationship [frequency of contact and intimacy, for example],” she says.
“Talk openly about what you want and why you want those things,” Dr. Latimer emphasizes. Ask questions with curiosity and without judgment. “Where do you see yourself, and how does your living arrangement fit into that long-term picture of what you want for the relationship?”
Blum says that LAT works best when individuals intentionally connect and embrace vulnerability. “Without the ability to talk about difficult topics and feel closer at the end of the conversation than at the beginning, couples living apart may be at greater risk of feeling alone and disconnected in the relationship,” he says. “Learn to connect emotionally: Connect over the phone, video, or through texting while not living together.”
Fluidity and reciprocity in LAT relationships allows individuals’ needs to be heard and met. “Flexibility also supports relationships,” Blum says. “Being available for more time together when one partner is going through a difficult time and needs some extra reassurance is important. We need to know that our partner will be there to support us when we experience greater distress.”
Additionally, flexibility opens the door for evolution in the dynamics of the arrangement with more ease, should one or both individuals change their mind about LAT at any point. “Nothing is better or worse,” adds Dr. Latimer, “but rather, it's about ensuring that everyone feels heard and satisfied so that resentments do not build. Ultimately, the key to any happiness in a relationship is that both people are in agreement on what they want, and they continue [healthily] communicating to ensure they are growing with the relationship.”
- Duncan, S., Phillips, M., Carter, J., Roseneil, S., and Stoilova, M. “Practices and perceptions of living apart together.” Family Science, vol. 5(1). 11 June 2014. pp 1-10, doi.org/10.1080/19424620.2014.927382
- Giraud, C. “Living Part Together: 40 Years of Sociodemographic Research on LAT Relationships.” Population, vol. 78(1) (2023): pp. 51-86, doi.org/10.3917/popu.2301.0051
- Levin, I., and Trost, J. “Living apart together.” Community, Work, and Family, vol. 2(3) (1999): pp. 279-294, doi.org/10.1080/13668809908412186
- Levin, I. “Living Apart Together: A New Family Form.” Current Sociology, vol. 52(2). Mar. 2004. pp. 223-240, doi.org/10.1177/0011392104041809
- Ayuso, L. “What future awaits couples Living Apart Together (LAT)?.” The Sociological Review, vol. 67(1). 18 Oct. 2018. pp. 226-244, doi.org/10.1177/0038026118799053
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