Married but not living together: What do you think about “Dual Dwelling Duos”?

April 2, 2012 by Melissa Leave a reply »

Recently, a follower of The Long Haul project sent this great article by Kate Bolick from Elle to our attention, which talks about couples who are married but not living together, or “Living Apart Together” as it’s officially called by the kind of scientific types who spend their lives doing research on stuff like this so bloggers like me can write about it.

The first time I heard of this idea was years ago when I saw Helena Bonham Carter interviewed on some late night talk show. She said that she and husband Tim Burton lived next door to each other, in separate houses. They even maintained this living arrangement after having a son, who shuttled between both houses. I remember thinking the idea was very odd and dismissed it as an eccentricity of a rather unconventional couple of artists.

If we were an LAT couple, who would pup choose to live with?

Fast forward a few years and I don’t necessarily find the idea quite so strange. Here’s why: According to the Elle article, this type of living arrangement was once called the “Fannie Hurst marriage”, named for a short story writer who was “outed” by the New York Times back in 1920 for the fact that she kept a separate apartment from her husband. Hurst’s response to the public outcry to her unconventional situation was this, according to Elle:

Hurst explained that she considered nine out of 10 marriages to be “sordid endurance tests, overgrown with the fungi of familiarity and contempt,” and that by living separately from her husband, she was able to keep her most sacred relationship a “high-sheen damask” rather than a “breakfast cloth, stale with soft-boiled egg stains.”

Perhaps it’s because I’m writing this while Tom is away and I have the apartment to myself, but I can see her point. I love being around Tom and I adore our home together. I dread him going away and hate the thought of rattling around the loft on my own. But then he goes and I’m just fine. I settle into my own rhythm and routine. I have more free time to do little personal projects. I don’t feel guilty that it takes me a few hours after coming home from the gym before I take a shower (I know, I know… it’s totally true what they say about working from home. After the first few days you will not bother getting dressed). And when it’s time to get ready to go out and do something, I felt a tiny bit lighter, more excited, more expectant than usual.

Tom and I have been working together from home and we’ve been working hard. We’ve definitely given in to the inclination to “just stay home” on many nights recently. If we didn’t live together, if we didn’t have a shared living room with all those unwatched episodes of In Treatment and Breaking Bad beckoning to us, would we make more of an effort to go out and have adventures? If we weren’t sharing a bathroom and if Tom didn’t see me in my grungy old robe padding from the shower before I got dressed, would I seem more alluring (it’s hard to imagine anything less alluring than my old robe…)?

Suffice to say, I can see Fannie’s point. By not living together, you can extend (perhaps indefinitely) the romance, mystery and anticipation that usually fades after the start of a relationship.

But if I really think about it, I wonder if by choosing to be in a “LAT” marriage, you prevent yourself from experiencing the intimacy that makes marriage wonderful. The little moments you’d miss if you lived separately, like the other night when Tom sleepily took my hand after I woke up from a nightmare; when one of us walks in while listening to a great song on our ipod and it leads to a spontaneous dance-off; or when it just is nicer to cuddle on the couch with a good movie than any other option.

What do you think? Can you see the upsides of the Living Apart Together arrangement or does it just seem plain weird? Are there other ways to keep your marriage interesting? And does anyone know how the heck these people afford rent/mortgages on two places? As always, love to read your comments!

17 Responses

  1. avatar Carol says:

    I have been thinking quite a bit about what it means to a relationship to live apart. While it has been said that absence makes the heart grow fonder, can it also destroy the intimacy which comes from sharing a common dwelling? Does it lead to little resentments? For example, would you become aggravated if the “absent” person returns for a visit and re-arranges the toiletries in the bathroom?

    Since I am not happy living in an area of the country because of my spouse’s job obligation, should I forgo happiness in order to reach across the bed at night and touch his back for the solace it provides me? Is the option for living apart reserved only for the wealthy and the eccentric ( Howie Mandel, the comedian, keeps a separate residence because he is germ phobic )? Is “whither thou goest” an outdated, biblical paradigm? The notion of living apart raises more questions than it answers, so, I will be checking back to read what others have to say about it….I must confess, mixed feelings abound.

  2. avatar Melissa says:

    Thanks for the comment, you brought up some excellent points and I agree this type of situation would raise a lot of different questions and would require plenty of open communication and setting of rules and boundaries.

    I always feel very open to pondering ideas about alternative ways to approach marriage… but I have mixed feelings about this one, too. I wonder if the advantages would be outweighed by all the potential challenges.

  3. avatar Sara says:

    I could see this wokring for married people who don’t have kids but I do not think it would be easy if you did have children. Who would they stay with, would the wife get stuck with the cooking and cleaning andhomework help? Would it be strange for the kids at school and would they think their parents were really divorced?

  4. avatar Bethany says:

    My husband and I lived apart for 3 years when I was in grad school. It was hard because we were in different states and we didn’t really choose to do it but it was just the way it ended up working for us. The hardest part was adjusting to seeing one another after we had been apart for a few weeks. I’d get annoyed at his habits and crave my own space and alone time instead of enjoying that we were having time together. It was hard for us to make it through but I’m glad we stuck with it. I wouldn’t choose to do it again though.

  5. avatar Melissa says:

    Due to the job market and our careers, my husband and I have lived apart for more than four years. It is extremely difficult, but since we have no children, our focus is on each other. It takes a lot of work, but at the same time, we appreciate our time together more. Communication, love, mutual respect, and a commitment to the marriage makes it work.

  6. avatar Ana says:

    My second husband and I are going through this right now for two years now. Not good! I live with my daughter from a previous marriage and he lives with his aging parents. We have a business together as well as his mother has opened up one at another close location. To make a long story short I see it not working out for the both of us. Blending both tween daughter and step grandparents into one roof is going to be VERY difficult. I feel like we were working towards a future but with the business and the economy now-it’s putting a double strain in the marriage not to mention a few other things.

  7. avatar Christie says:

    Thank you for your post! Some of this info is new to me. I came across your blog after pondering the same question myself.

    I am newly minted married, and my husband and I were living apart for 8 years and counting this day – grad school, career, not used to living together, etc – and I tell you it is a strain for us, as two people who are on the quiet, pensive side. Phone conversations just don’t provide the same kind of intimacy as sharing the same couch and talking in person.

    Others have mentioned resentment building from living with each other, while I have experienced resentment building from not seeing my spouse. Is it a damned if you do damned if you don’t situation?

    (Also, some people (Howie, Helena) can afford separate residences, not everyone can afford that for practical reasons…)

  8. avatar Mindy says:

    loved your post, came across it after searching being in a similar situation myself. I have a wonderful BF of 4 years and we have lived together for 2. I have been feeling an inner restlessness for months and after blaming my job for stressing me, social life for being boring then being certain I must be having a pre – mid life crisis event, I went for a reiki session for clarity. I came home pondering the question do I need my own space to have room to think what is missing? To capture the inner restlessness that is stopping me being satisfied with my wee life? When living with someone you tend to blend into one, the independent adventurous type you were takes up a comfy corner on the sofa swapping cocktails for cuppas. I am playing with the idea of moving out and staying together but I do not know how to bring it up. Most men are simple thinkers, the answer is black or white no grey areas in other words he will think i am trying to break up… any advice?

  9. avatar Melissa says:

    Thanks for your comment, Mindy. I wonder if there might be measures you can take, before you bring up the idea of moving out, that could help you regain a sense of independence?

    When I was feeling a similar way, I made a point of carving out alone time each week where I’d go and do something just for me– whether it was spending an afternoon in the park with a good book or going to a movie I’d been wanting to see. Just that small step helped me to feel like I was reclaiming my self and remembering that I was more than just half of a couple.

    It can also be nice to plan a little getaway that’s just for you– go on a solo trip or head out with some girlfriends. It gives you the chance to miss each other and have some adventures on your own. Small changes like that might give you more time to think, and also make you feel happier and less restless.

    I haven’t had to broach the discussion about moving out but staying together… so not sure the best way to approach it. If you do have that conversation, I recommend being honest and fair and being clear you’re not laying blame. I’d also be prepared to really listen to what he has to say and be open to compromise- if you value the relationship. It would be a tough thing for anyone to hear!

    Best of luck with whatever you decide and hope you find some clarity!

  10. avatar natalie lost says:

    i am in the same situation, but mine is a long storie
    we got married a year ago wasnt living to gether for 7year now 8 even when we got married. my husband lives whith his parents and i whit mine he have a dauther of 14 years living with him. i dont have any children and cant have but i finde it dificult to live with him and his parents, the relationship is falling apart i neeeeed help

  11. avatar Jessica says:

    I have been married for almost two years and my husband and I only lived together for three months. we plan on not living together until 2015. We live in completely different states and see each other about 2 weeks a year now. We both refuse to give up our dreams and independence but it is that same independence that attracted us to each other. we were seperated because we are both in the army and due to our jobs we cannot live together. This situation is not calm or routine. It makes us fighters because we know the reality of being alone. We are faithful to each other, we just sadly have very little in common besides our drives for independence and following our dreams. We just happened to meet each other on the road to our success. (lol we will see how long this lasts)

  12. avatar Gina says:

    “We have very little in common”…so um…why are you married???

  13. avatar Sarah says:

    I have 4 children who I live with half of the time. The other 50% of the time they live with their father on the same street. I have remarried to a man I love. He lives 3 km away. We loved each other but I knew he has raised his kids and likes his space .We worried that the stress of blending families would be bad for everyone. We do things as a family and he comes for dinner with my kids- we go to his home. We vacation together. I think the alone time with my children is great for them. Someone always loses when you have to choose between your kids and your spouse. They love him he loves them but no one ever has to fight or have resentment over wether bedrooms or clean or how much I spent on running shoes or discipline etc. We may change this in the future but for now it works. As far as affording it…..we had two homes before we met- it’s no different now. We never fight about household stuff and when we are alone together it’s truly wonderfully EVERY time! We have been married 10 years!!! Longer then most marriages.

  14. avatar claire says:

    I am 63 and had a LAT relationship for 20 years that ended eight years ago with the death of my partner and finally husband. Like a miracle, I am in love again. We have agreed that we while we truly love each other, we want to live separately, and not mingle finances and complicate inheritances through marriage. The question is how to explain our committed relationship to our adult children (and his ex-wife) so that they will treat it with the same respect they would a marriage. We are planning on assigning each other as medical representatives so when illness strikes it is clear that we belong involved. We struggle with what to call ourselves when explaining this new and non-traditional relationship to our kids. boyfriend and girlfriend sounds so high school, partner sounds gender-free. How have others handled this?

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  16. avatar Melissa says:

    I’ve never heard of marrying without living together. I’m traditional in marriage only… until, the chance to marry for a second time came around. We cannot seem to meld the families and exes and living situations together. If I want to marry the man of my dreams, I find myself considering the formerly unthinkable. Keep separate residences until most of the kids are out of the house for good. Our parenting styles are polar opposites, as are our spending habits. This way, we can continue our lifestyles, while having the security and love of our spouse.
    The traditional way didn’t work the first time, after all. Who knows? I’m bringing up the subject tonight…

  17. avatar Jo says:

    My husband and I have been living 70 miles apart for 7 years. At first there weren’t any difficulties and we never argued as we treasured the tine we had together. Our jobs were the main reasons why we never lived together. He is an engineer and I am a teacher. Either location does not any openings for either of us, hence the reason why we aren’t living together. At first everything was perfect, but this past year has been a struggle. Three weeks after our anniversary we had a big fight. It has now been three months and we haven’t seen each other. We have only spoken on the phone three times since then. I miss my husband…my best friend.

    He doesn’t see a solution for us and the ideas I come up with he doesn’t like.

    Does anybody have any ideas on how to save our marriage?

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