Living Apart Together (LAT)

In our twenty-seventh year of marriage, we have finally discovered our key to wedded bliss: living separately. Lise Stryker Stoessel

I have been doing some reading about couples who live apart, perhaps a dozen or so examples. An increasing number of married couples in this country (9%-10%) and abroad (9%) England live this way. Sociologists have labeled them LATs (Living Apart Together)

Most of the couples are young, a few are middle age and some older. Most live in the same town, visit frequently, if not daily, often spend the night or weekend together. Only a few that I’ve read about so far live in distant towns, largely commuter couples who have jobs in different cities. Not one of those I’ve read about expressed real concern about the financial limits of maintaining two separate homes or any degree of serious discontent.

In Living Happy Ever After Separately Lise Stryker Stoessel describes the reasons she and her husband decided to live in separate homes. Soon after they were married, they became aware of their opposing needs, competing desires and the bitterness that came from a cascade of disputes. She wrote:

…our differences and disharmonies would engulf us: He tends to be a hermit; I am outgoing. He is a worrier; I am optimistic; He is a Spartan; I am a decorator. He is self-contained; I need and offer affection. He guards his territory; I invite people in. He likes his routine; I crave new experiences. He is practical; I am aesthetic…His cup is half empty; my cup is half full.

Her therapist asked if her marriage was so miserable, why didn’t she get divorced like everyone else. Her answers were clear. They loved one another, she needed financial support, and they wanted to raise their children as a family.

They decided to try to preserve their marriage by living in separate homes, he in the one where his construction equipment was scattered everywhere (to her annoyance), and she to a nearby townhouse that she decorated to suit her taste. The friction and bickering didn’t end, but it was far less frequent.

In her recent (3/17/14) interview on NPR the English, Booker Prize winner Penelope Lively describes the reasons why she and her husband lived in separate homes:

“Jack, my husband, and I had both led busy, professional lives rather separately. He was an academic and I was a writer, so I was often on my own. We lived in two places. We lived partly in London and partly in the country, in Oxfordshire, and quite often we'd be in different houses, so I was used to being in a house on my own. That didn't worry me too much. Of course, then I always knew there'd be an end to it — we'd be together again — so that's rather different...”

The concluding section of Living Happy Ever After Separately raises an important question: Why is it so hard to stay married these days? Stoessel’s answers point the way to potential remedies: We aren’t taught about how to be married and we have unrealistic expectations about what married life is like. Well, maybe. But I doubt that would do much, if anything, to reduce the divorce rate or bickering among married couples or quite frankly most couples, married or not.