Love, Marriage & Partnership

Home alone and happy: how living apart together helps couples

Who says you have to live with the one you love? Couples living apart together are bucking tradition in favor of an option that strengthens their relationship.

Living apart together

By Expatica

Updated 29-2-2024

Loving and intimate relationships are about two people sharing time together, doing things together, and having a close relationship; about sharing the same space both physically and emotionally. Well, yes and no; more and more couples are in committed relationships but choose to live apart, which is especially common for expat relationships. Living apart together is a growing lifestyle pattern, and often a lifestyle choice.

Research by demographer John Haskey of the University of Oxford suggests three main reasons for people in relationships to live apart. Couples living apart together generally fall into three categories: apart, but sadly; apart, yet gladly; and apart, but working on it.

Reasons for living apart together

Couples living apart together but are doing so sadly may be those whose work frequently takes them away from home. Perhaps one person has other family commitments keeping them apart such as former relationships or caring for a relative. One of the most common scenarios affecting expat couples is their legal status in a country or residency requirements.

Some couples choose to have separate homes and come together when they want to, falling into the gladly apart category. They often live close together ,but have a separate space in the same house or in the same area. These couples share responsibilities for family needs but acknowledge that they need to have their own space. A famous example of this is English actress Helena Bonham Carter and her partner, director Tim Burton; they live in adjoining houses with a door between them.

The third category of couples – apart, but working on it – are trying to find a way forward with the commitment they have for each other. This exists alongside a need to make sense of the differing pressures they’re under and decisions each one has to make.

Letting go of preconceptions

Younger couples are more likely to be familiar with living apart together because they’re in a long-distance relationship. Their first experience of intimate relationships, either at university or in their early careers, is often a choice between trying to keep together with geographical distance between them, and letting go of the relationship.

Woman with a glass of wine looking at her phone
Many couples living apart together are doing so because they’re in a long-distance relationship

Difficult choices, indeed, but how much more tricky are these relationships when the commitment has been made? Career paths that separate families, albeit temporarily, can be complicated. Negotiating the ground rules for families that are not in the same home or even the same country can be fraught. In an age of fantastic networking opportunities, we can stay connected all the time. But ultimately, time zones and work pressures can impinge on family life. Finding time to spend together is really vital – and, after all, a cuddle is a lot better than a WhatsApp message. Couples that are in it for the long haul need to plan together and be realistic about how and what is possible.

Some relationships thrive when there’s a bit of distance between them. But this can only happen if the feelings are mutual; if one partner feels ambivalent to be living apart together, then things can quickly turn sour. The quality of time spent together needs to be the focus, rather than the quantity. Communication is the key to managing a way through the challenges, especially if absence is supposed to make the heart grow fonder.