Research — and probably your own experience — suggests that constant companionship is a swift killer of relationships. The need for personal space is a very real, very documentable thing and a little bit of physical distance can go a long way for romantic love. The old adage, “if you love it let it free,” may not be precisely right.
If you love it, give it space.
The pitfalls of clinginess are more obvious in long distance relationships. While the standard advice may be that LDRs don’t work, studies demonstrate that they’re actually often more fruitful relationship in terms of romance A 2007 study from Ohio State researchers published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships examined the differences in LDRs and partners in geographically close dating relationships (GCDRs). A investigation of 122 heterosexual individuals revealed a surprising truth: Despite limited interaction, LDRs reported greater relational stability than their peers in face-to-face relationships. The researchers found that LDR couples were more satisfied with how communication between partners was going and were found to have greater rates of romantic idealization, which the researchers describe as a distortion of romantic love.
However, part two of the study was where things got sticky. This romance was only there when the couple was geographically separated. The researchers found that people who transitioned from LDRs to GCDRs were twice as likely to end the relationship compared to people who were still having a relationship by infrequent visits and phone calls alone. The magic was in the separation.
So how can this knowledge be leveraged into achieving real-world, long-lasting relationships? Some believe the trick is a LAT, otherwise known as a Living Apart Together Relationship. While it’s difficult to know how many couples do so by choice, 3.6 million couples (a number that doesn’t include separated, but not yet divorced couples) live apart from their spouse in the United States. This is far from unique situation — about nine percent of the population in the United Kingdom, seven to nine percent in Australia, and seven percent in Canada live apart from their serious romantic partner.
In a survey of 572 English people in LAT relationships, researchers from the University of London, Birkbeck found that the majority of LATs were under the age of 35, with about 11 percent of responders over the age of 55. Two-thirds of the couples lived within 10 miles of each other and 86 percent of them had daily contact.
“Nowadays very few people settle into a life-long relationship in their early twenties and stay with their partner ‘until death us do part’,” study author Sasha Rosneil explained in a press release. “For some people, more or less consciously, living apart together is a way of dealing with the messiness of intimate life today, protecting themselves, their children and their homes from some of the distress that they have previously experienced when a cohabiting relationship breaks down.”
LATs aren’t a super-new concept but historically such relationships existed between middled-aged and previously married people. A 2004 study of Swedish LATs describes the arrangement as an “increasingly acceptable choice among elderly in Sweden.” These relationships, primarily instigated by women, were characterized by emotional closeness and logistical ease. Those involved had already had nuclear families and they didn’t want to go down that path again.
In 2013 the New York Times profiled the rise of LATs among the post-40 set, people who wanted relationships but also didn’t want to give up their own dope apartments. “It’s hard to think of downsides,” Ingrid Doyle told the Times, describing her LAT. “Sometimes I miss him, but he’s just a $7 taxi ride away.”
While motivations among couples may vary a bit, what unites LATs — regardless of age — are liberal values and the desire to have the intimacy of being a couple while still honoring pre-existing commitments. Researchers also credit no less than our globalized society, cultural diversification, and the civil rights movement as forces that have increased people’s desire for the individual autonomy driving LATs. With the explosion of single, adult women choosing to take their time with — or forgo entirely — marriage, LATs are likely to only increase.
And — for the separate bedroom naysayers — psychologists say that sleeping apart has no correlation with having a successful relationship. Differing sleep schedules have actually been found to be a factor that can preserve relationships — good news for any night owl, morning lark relationship, regardless of whether or not they share a bedroom.