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On living apart from your spouse

McKinley Valentine — 5 min read

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Quite a few people asked me to talk more about living separately from my husband, and how we manage it, so I’m gonna do that here.

My first reaction was that there’s nothing to say — it’s the same as anybody lives. You get up and make breakfast and eat it. It doesn’t take a special method to do that alone.

But that’s not very helpful so I’ve tried to put more thought into it:

The symbol of commitment isn’t there, so you have to show commitment in other ways

There are two elements to living with a romantic partner. One is whether, on balance, you prefer it to living alone. The other is that it’s a cultural symbol of commitment. So if you don’t want to use that symbol, you’ll need to really clearly and emphatically communicate your seriousness and commitment in other ways. (Such as e.g. words). I think my partner and I had a conversation along the lines of, “I want to be at the moving-in together stage, but not actually move in together.”

(Someone mentioned non-monogamy - it’s a separate question. You can live apart and be monogamous or live together and be polyamorous. It’s just another one of the elements of a relationship you have to figure out how you feel about. But it IS similar in that it’s a cultural symbol of commitment, so if you discard it, there’s more onus on you to indicate your commitment clearly in other ways)

You never get frustrated with each other about household management stuff

My husband I both lived with housemates for much of our marriage, and it’s way better for those frustrations to be had with someone else I reckon. It doesn’t matter if we have different standards of cleanliness.

You don’t get all the little in-between moments

Like, just seeing each other in the morning as you get ready for work. Normally that’s fine because we spend dedicated blocks of time with each other. But when one or both of us is overworked/overwhelmed, then we don’t have dedicated blocks to spare, and then it can get lonely because we don’t have the little interstitial moments other couples have.

When it’s just one of us, the other can go further out of their way to find available pockets of time, but when it’s both of us it can be hard.

Spending time together is a conscious choice, which makes it more meaningful

It’s really nice knowing that, every time you see your partner, it’s because they made the choice to be with you, not just because they happened to be in the same physical location by chance anyway. It’s a small thing, but it’s nice. Also, I quite like the 3-minute walk to my partner’s house! I always spend the 3 minutes looking forward to seeing them!

We can have wildly different schedules without friction

I think cooking and eating meals together is really lovely, but we wouldn’t do it anyway, because I have full-on dietary restrictions and eat at random times of day, and they like routine and get stressed if they don’t have breakfast at the same time every morning. (We do still have some meals together but it’s like planned date-meals).

Sometimes my whole lifestyle completely collapses for a week, and I would feel bad if that caused trouble for other people.

You have to speak up if you’re sad and need company

If you’re not in the same space, your partner isn’t going to just pick up that you’re feeling low, so if you want comfort, you have to directly ask for it. You have to be willing to state needs very directly, which feels very vulnerable if you don’t trust the other person to meet them (I do, but I’ve been in bad relationships so I know what it’s like to avoid saying “this really matters to me”, because if you said it really mattered and they still didn’t do it, it would be unbearable.)

So we usually will specify, when we message to see each other, “It’d be nice, but it’s not a big deal if you want a solo evening” vs “I really want to see you” vs “I’m sad, please come over”.

Actually I’m typically terrible at remembering that last clause, I’ll be like “My day was awful and I received bad news and I’m incredibly sad, how was your day?” and he’ll say “oh no! I can come over now if you want?” and I go “Oh yeahhhhh, I probably do want that, hey. Clever idea, very clever.”

You probably sleep worse when you sleep next to a partner, even if you think you don’t

People get defensive about this, but micro-disturbances just do give you more interrupted sleep, even if you don’t actually remember waking up. People with sleep apnoea don’t remember waking up a tiny bit dozens of times throughout the night, but it still affects them. This is especially true if someone snores or you have different sleep schedules. Even when I’ve lived with partners, I’ve usually had a separate bedroom. (You don’t need to get defensive! You don’t have to prove it’s 100% unalloyed positive to sleep next to a partner, you can just say it’s worth the trade-off!)


It’s more expensive to live separately. Although not TWICE as expensive - my apartment is much smaller than you’d want to live in if you were sharing it. I will note that living apart doesn’t mean you can’t share finances. If you wouldn’t split expenses evenly when living together (because one person earns a lot more), there’s no reason to split them evenly when living apart.

(In terms of who spends more time at whose house: I’m horrendously allergic to my husband’s cat, so that’s never been a difficult question.)

There’s a bunch of stuff online about it

If you want to read more, the terms to google are ‘LAT’ (Living Apart Together) and ‘apartners’ which I can’t decide if it’s cute or nauseating. E.g. this article in Psychology Today.

But honestly, it feels bizarre to treat it like a ‘movement’, it’s just living your life, doing the stuff you normally do. People live away from their partners all the time - for work, because their partners in the army or in prison, FIFO workers, academics, their partner goes home to take care of an ailing parent. (FIFO = Fly In, Fly Out. People go to work in the mines for 14 days then have 14 days at home, or 7 and 7.) It’s not a THING.

Some people I know, they got divorced, and their next relationship, both people already had independent households, and maybe they didn’t want to rush change for their kids, so they hold off on moving in together. And after a while they realise they prefer it how it is.

If anything, “How do you manage living with your partner?” seems like a more natural question to ask, since that lifestyle involves more sacrifice and accommodation.

Sometimes when people hear about this, they say, “But what if one of you gets sick / you feel differently in the future / circumstances change!”

This is a bizarre objection. If circumstances change, we’ll talk about it and decide to do things differently. “What if you change your minds in the future” is an imaginary problem.

Okay, I have no idea if that gives people the answers they want, feel free to ask questions, sorry if it was boring to everyone else!

This piece was originally published in The Whippet #141 – subscribe to get the next one in your inbox!

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