Separating or separate houses? Can you "live apart" from a partner?
The strongest relationships are those that withstand the test of TIME SPENT TOGETHER!
A job, a partner, and friends you see regularly have one huge thing in common - you spend a great deal of time in their company. It is very easy to indulge in a one-off get-together at Christmas with people and think you had a wonderful time even though you had "nothing in common"...but spend every other night with them, and a different story may emerge! As such, rather than leave a relationship that is otherwise ok - except for the fact you are "Just spending a little too much time together"... there is a practical solution - of living apart.
Benefits of living apart
- You retain your own independence: This is a huge one because sometimes, when couples live together, there can be the risk of the more dominant of the pair setting the foundation of the relationship – where you go, who you see, what you do…and I don’t mean in a manipulative manner, just simply, someone enjoys making decisions, the other enjoys going along – BUT this can become hugely problematic when you have become very used to this and something disrupts it for example, one person becomes ill and is already struggling with the fact they need to rely on the other; and the other has to step up and take charge.
Further, before anyone balks at the “living separately” – while you and your partner may share a bed, it is also likely that you DO have separate spaces in your home (man/woman cave anyone?) and do separate things during the day. It is not that couples who live separately do not share a bed, of course they will, but sometimes they will also sleep in their own space…just an extension of the independence most couples enjoy anyway!
- You worry less about sleep (or other) disruption If one of you snores or is a light sleeper or does shift work – you may already have separate bedtime spaces. As such how much difference does it make if they are across a street rather than across a hallway? Related to this, their personal habits may be less noticeable as they are simply not around displaying them on a regular basis!
- You retain your sense of responsibility for yourself If you aren’t sharing a house you may not be sharing responsibilities – and therefore you need to be on top of your bills and your commitments as there’s no shared calendar of events. In some ways this can even aid your communication with each other – so you both know what’s going on in each others’ lives
- You have lots of things to talk about Living separately can mean maintaining hobbies or lifestyles separately – and it means there’s always something new to learn about which takes you beyond the usual “fact finding conversation of “how was work today?”
- You MAY be spending less so you have more to treat each other with. This one is largely dependant on household, but it can sometimes mean that you have a little more to treat each other with as two smaller houses MAY be cheaper to maintain than one big one.
- You don’t always have to worry about inlaws – they can have theirs over and you can have yours, and no-one feels the need for extended family events – which if they are not your thing, are often really not your thing! There’s less need for squabbling or negotiation because you have two spaces to entertain.
- You don’t have to wait to watch Netflix together. Again, this is also more likely because your independence means that you aren’t feeling you need to wait for the other to do something you enjoy…it may mean not giving away spoilers though!
- Sex may be more fun/less routine When you are living together it is very easy to get into a routine – and living apart give you more opportunity for spontaneity…and also not having seen each other for a while can also strengthen desire.
Red flags to watch out for (also relevant for long-distance relationships)
- You may feel a little insecure?! This is a strange one because if you have both chosen to live separately, you are likely to have a sense of security…or at least a sense of your own independence that outweighs the need for 24/7 coupledom…but especially with social media, you may sometimes feel a little envy if your partner is getting involved in loads of events and not even inviting you...so talk about it.
- If there are joint responsibilities, you may not know what the other is doing…I bring up things like addiction or gambling issues here – because both of those can have a huge detrimental effect on loved ones, but they are also things which addicts and gamblers tend to keep very very secret…and it is easier to do when you are living apart…so it is important to stay involved and mindful of each other’s behaviours.
- Sometimes you might “trauma dump” without realising…this is a bit more of a personal observation in that I found when in a long distance relationship, I would wait until I saw my partner and then tell him everything…which can be quite a lot of emotion if you are only spending a little bit of time together…so you may need to learn to drip feed things you really want to express and perhaps find other outlets or sources of support.
- It may be difficult for children to explain. While there is nothing wrong with people’s choices and preferences, it can be hard for children to normalise something to their friends which they themselves may not understand emotionally, or that their friends don’t understand cognitively…and this can lead to them struggling at school if they end up “not wanting to talk about it” or being made fun of because “your parents don’t even live together”. You do need to be mindful of how your preferences and choices affect those who may not have had as much say.
What can we learn from this for relationships in general
Apart from "horses for courses" and as long as it's not hurting anyone and everyone consents, I'm not sure there's ever an issue, but one thing did stand out to me...sometimes we just need to change the amount of time we spend with people.
As I started this piece, I talked about how jobs, partners and friends can come with a time commitment...and if they are simply not sitting right, but you don't want to leave them completely, a very possible solution is to reduce the amount of time spent with them...or increase the amount of time spent with people who make your heart sing. If it does mean that the job, partnership or friendship then needs to change in itself, perhaps that is the sensible next step. We only have a finite amount of time and energy, and this can be boosted by engaging in things that bring us joy. It is up to us to find what balance suits us best...and it is not about rejection nor vilifying anyone...sometimes it's about working out a new practical agreement that suits, other times, it's about reminding yourself of your needs, your values...and your boundaries.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the practical "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; or her Radio Show "The Wellbeing Lounge", and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For self development tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt