Nine years ago, when my husband and I got married, we had workplaces in the same city – Gurgaon. We found a house and continued there together. After 4 years of marriage, when we got pregnant, I quit to enjoy a new phase of motherhood. In a couple of years, my husband had to relocate to Chennai as part of his job and we contemplated the move. We felt staying apart was not ideal since both of us enjoyed and cherished the companionship we had. Additionally, our toddler needed both his parents while growing up. Hence, we decided to move together.
After marriage, my husband and I have not had to spend any time apart, besides short business trips or other small exigencies. However, things are different for newly married couples today. It is very common to find couples living separately after marriage. In fact this trend has a new name– Living Apart Together (LAT). LAT refers to couples in a relationship but not necessarily living with their partner. While the term includes couples in a relationship and not necessarily married, it extends to married couples as well and is a distinct phenomenon.
One could question why you would be married if you are going to be living separately. Several factors seem to be at play. Relationships are increasingly less traditional. Higher studies or career demands may require the couple to spend time apart- many times in different cities. It may occur at any phase of marriage, though it seems to be prevalent in the initial years- which adds to the surprising part of the puzzle. Out of curiosity, I reflected upon this, spoke to couples living apart post marriage and thought more about it. Here are some things about LAT that could be beneficial –
• The option of staying apart gives the couple time to find a city with two good jobs or find a good job for a person moving to other person’s city. Neither has to quit their job and take a career break.
• The idea of introducing some space in the relationship in an attempt to get closer might not be as counterintuitive as it initially sounds. Time apart can be a great way to nurture the two separate selves that make the couple and it can be exciting and interesting to be apart and then come together again. This may be more relevant for couples staying apart after many years of marriage. It may rekindle and re-energize the romance.
• Research on couples in long-distance relationships has shown that in general, they view their partner more positively, report feeling more romantic love for their partner and spend more time thinking fondly about their relationships.
But like all things in life, there is a trade-off. The common pitfalls are –
• Couples living apart may have to work doubly hard to make their marriage work. In a long-distance relationship, one needs to have a lot of patience because finding time to talk when you are in different states/countries and coordinating schedules just to have a simple date night can seem very difficult.
• The initial years of marriage require a lot of investment. Living together is a different ball game. One is still discovering the other’s habits, lifestyle and making adjustments each day to make it work. There is more friction especially once the honeymoon period is over. Marriage is all about compromises coming from both partners and physical absence may mean a partial experience only. Too much of “solo” behaviour inhibits sharing and compromise even if together.
• For couples living apart, after having children it may get trickier. Children are usually left with the mother and fathers are not around to share the responsibilities of parenting thereby putting more pressure on the mother. This can be difficult in today’s set up, considering men and women don’t take up specific gender roles like older days. They usually share household chores, child care and other activities. Living apart makes that complicated.
In all of this, technology plays a very critical role. Harnessing its benefits can make LAT not seem so cumbersome with real-time communication and “always on” digital networks. But any amount of technology cannot replace the human touch-which is what makes relationships different and that much harder to nurture and grow. While every couple will be distinct, their relationship drivers and needs unique, and their personalities varied; a marriage will continue to need quality time, hard work, compromise, and constant learning to grow stronger and last a lifetime. Each of us has to answer whether our LAT fulfils these parameters.