Benefits of living together (either married or not) versus living apart?
June 24, 2013 10:26 AM   Subscribe

I've read about Living Apart Together (LAT) relationships and I can see the benefits of this arrangement for some specific situations/couples. I can also see the drawbacks. Living together -- either as a married or unmarried couple -- also has benefits (perhaps many more) and some drawbacks as well.

What are the specific benefits (of any kind) of living together? It is typically a sign of a serious commitment -- but beyond that -- what makes it great for the individuals specifically and how does the relationship benefit specifically?

I am looking for examples of concrete or specific examples of the benefits of cohabitation with a loved one/spouse.

Anecdotes are also great. I'd also like to hear of cases where the drawbacks were too great, but the relationship endured in separate dwellings. And also examples where the drawbacks seemed great at first but it worked out well.
posted by Lescha to Human Relations (28 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Are you interested in financial benefits/drawbacks?
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:32 AM on June 24, 2013

You get to spend more time with a person you care about.

You only have to pay for one residence instead of two.

Those are far and away the biggest two.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:39 AM on June 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

Caretaking. From intensive care for a very sick loved one to a bowl of soup and a box of tissues, it is very nice to have someone take care of you when you are sick. I think that's why they have "in sickness and health" in the traditional wedding vows.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:40 AM on June 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

Maybe this is overly simple but you can save an awful lot of work and money when you live with someone else rather than living on your own. I mean, that's true whether you're living with a spouse or a roommate or a parent or a sibling, but if you have a romantic partner who you're serious about, I can see the appeal of having them around, especially if you share possessions or pets or children.
posted by mskyle at 10:40 AM on June 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

Are you looking for the emotional or the practical?
posted by baby beluga at 10:43 AM on June 24, 2013

Benefits: saving on rent and utility bills. In the UK 2 people living singly will also pay 50% more council tax than cohabitees overall. Check whether something similar applies where you are.

People living together live longer. The question is whether this because of having a partner or because there is someone there to help if you have a heart attack/stroke/fall off a ladder. Maybe a bot of both but you might have reduced risk from cohabiting.

Its much easier to get personal space if you live separately which I imagine can be great at times.

Its nice if someone has a hot meal ready for you after a 15 hour day.

Some people don't cope well with hearing about non-traditional living arrangements. Decide whether this sort of criticism bothers you and who it might come from if anyone.
posted by biffa at 10:47 AM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

You don't have to keep necessities and clothes at two residences; you don't have to decide "whose place" you're hanging out at; you can divide up some of the tasks that go into maintaining an adult life -- paying the bills, planning the meals, getting the Netflix queue up to date -- so that there's more free time and fewer headaches to go around; you have the cozy feeling of sharing space, getting to know each other intimately, letting down some facades and being comfortable with the farts and freckes; you automatically get together, even when there's no "date" intentionality, even when you just want to kvetch about work and/or flop on the couch.

I dunno -- this list for me is based on intimacy and team-building, but I also believe in being committed to the relationship *before* moving in, rather than "trying it out" because you inherently entangle a lot of your lives in ways that make breaking up a lot more painful. Plus, team-building is a long-term mental frame.

posted by acm at 10:48 AM on June 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Living apart can be great for people who love and respect each other, but have very different personalities or habits, such as if one person is very clean and the other is very messy.

I have elected to live apart in situations where our combined living space would be too small for me to have adequate alone time. I'm highly introverted, so not having a space where I can be completely isolated is possibly the worst fate that I could suffer short of physical torture. I either need my own office, or to live apart.

For what it's worth, the benefits of living apart have always been a function of the relationship I was in. It was preferable in some, and impossible in others.
posted by Shouraku at 10:48 AM on June 24, 2013

In "traditional" hetero relationships, one person bears most of the housekeeping tasks. Arlie Hochschild is sort of the go-to writer for this. I'll let you guess who tends to do most of the cooking/cleaning/social life directing.

This is a potential drawback for one half of the couple, and almost always a definitive (if unrecognized) benefit for the other half.

Living apart may mean that different standards of cleanliness can be maintained to a degree with less resentment about dividing tasks fairly.
posted by bilabial at 10:50 AM on June 24, 2013 [9 favorites]

Obvious benefits include the typical ones for non-romantic co-habitation -- ie. sharing the cost of rent/mortgage, utilities and other fixed costs that come with one docimile that can house more than one person. There is also a benefit to having another person in the house to help with chores, but this may be countered by the complexities that can come with having an unequal standard to which certain chores should be performed. Basically, the standard benefits and drawbacks to living with a roommate/housemate, except with the added complexity/pleasure of romantic attachment.

For the relationship itself, cohabitation increases the frequency of shared experiences, which I believe is a foundation for any good relationship. It forces more open communication and increased trust, because you can't quite retreat to your own space if either of you are just in a bad mood. As a result, both partners are exposed to the extremes of each other's behavior and are forced to accept or deal with that; which I think is important with getting know each other as human beings and not just dating partners.

Also, on more mundane matters, it simplifies logistics. You don't have to factor in travel time or who left what in which place. If you want to loan someone a book, you can just walk over to the bookshelf and show them the book rather than pencil it down as something to bring the next time you're over.

With that said, in my last live-in relationship, my partner and I also placed a high value on having our own space for solitude and personal focus. We always lived in apartments with two bedrooms, and while we frequently slept in the same bed, it was always important for us to have the option to retreat to our own space if we needed it; retaining some of the independence and privacy of living apart while cohabitating.
posted by bl1nk at 10:51 AM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

In my experience, it's wise to live together before marriage because if you aren't a good fit for living together, marriage isn't going to work.
posted by 2oh1 at 11:11 AM on June 24, 2013

I am looking at all aspects: financial, emotional, practical etc.
posted by Lescha at 11:15 AM on June 24, 2013

I live with my partner. I only have to cook and buy groceries three days a week. We use an automated drip machine (on a timer! Fresh coffee first thing in the morning!) to make coffee because between the two of us, we can kill a French press in a matter of moments. Both of our clothes combined make up one load of laundry per week. When I get home from work, the cat bites me, but my partner is happy to see me and I am happy to see him. He changes the lightbulbs that I can't reach. I do the chores he loathes; he does the ones I can't stand, though neither of us ever does the dusting but we've agreed that that's okay. Our house is large enough that we can have space to ourselves (and if we weren't living together we wouldn't be able to afford to live there). If I go out for a run, I know that someone will notice if I don't come home and eventually call the police. Because we live together, we almost never have to talk to one another on the telephone, which actually might be my favorite part. I get a thrill when we get a letter addressed to the My Last Name-His Last Name household. I end up watching movies or reading books that I might otherwise not have watched or read because they're lying around. Our litany of in-jokes has grown into a shared language that my partner calls The Parlance. Seeing each one of us getting ready to go exercise often reminds/shames the other into following suit.

In any serious relationship you're going to have to be accountable to someone more than just yourself, but it's particularly true, I think, when you're cohabiting. I've definitely noticed that since we've moved in together, my thinking has shifted from "What's in it for me?" to "How is this going to affect us?" There's something about creating a home together that made me feel like we were building a family, even though it's just the two of us and the cat.

Of course, there are drawbacks. The different standards of cleanliness that bilabial mentions are definitely an issue, as is rigidness/stubbornness ("YOU DO THE RECYLCING WRONG!"). It was way worse in the beginning, but we've more or less figured out how and when to compromise.

Sometimes after a bad day, all I want to do is come home and have popcorn and beer for dinner and snarl at all other humans, but I can't because that wouldn't be fair to my partner. I do think that constantly having to be a slightly better version of myself for his sake has led to small, positive personality changes on my part -- I'm less selfish than I used to be, and less impulsive. The ready supply of sex doesn't hurt, either.
posted by coppermoss at 11:31 AM on June 24, 2013 [20 favorites]

It is typically a sign of a serious commitment -- but beyond that -- what makes it great for the individuals specifically and how does the relationship benefit specifically?

Living together is a serious commitment, not a sign of one, but not living together is not necessarily a sign that there isn't a serious commitment. Note that cohabiting couples (married or unmarried) break up, too, so I'm not sure it's an indication of anything other than... living together.

My partner and I live together and it has benefits: it's cheaper, and there is some division of labour that's advantageous. My best friend and her partner do not live together and have never lived together, but raise their (totally tremendous) child in two houses. They eat dinner every night at her house and it all works very well for them.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:32 AM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

My boyfriend of nearly 3 years and I live apart, and plan to live apart for as long as it is possible (barring financial/health catastrophes).

It is difficult pretty much only because it's more expensive. He had to look for a new place recently, and we saw how much further our money would go if we lived together, but we love living separately and think it's worth it to compromise on our separate places if it allows us to keep LAT. It does puzzle our friends and relatives, but who cares?

Bonuses: Time together is special time, and we're together because we want to be. I feel like the quality of our together time is much higher than when I've cohabited in the past. There are a million daily disagreements and arguments we don't have to have -- cleaning, laundry, groceries, dishes, whatever. I don't comment on the way he keeps his place and he doesn't comment on mine. I feel so much more independent, and not subsumed into the relationship in a way that I have when living with people. And I've read a study that said that women tend to have a higher sexual attraction in long-term relationships when the couple doesn't live together. (I'll see if I can find this again.)

I tried to get this subReddit off the ground but it hasn't really gone anywhere.

It takes a certain kind of introvert, I think, to make LAT work, but it makes us very happy, and I'm happy to answer anything more personal if you MeMail me.
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:36 AM on June 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

My boyfriend and I live together, but are currently living apart by necessity for an academic program that we both attend. The benefits to being apart are that I have more time to unwind by myself (something I don't usually miss, but I enjoy it for now), and I can surprise him with gifts or food because he doesn't know where I am all the time.

The benefits of living together vs. now are that we get to sleep in the same bed together/cuddle up at night when we're tired and stressed, we get to cook and eat together, we get to talk to one another whenever we want, we can always watch TV and movies together, and I feel much much closer when we're living in the same domicile. Can't beat it, in our situation.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:37 AM on June 24, 2013

If we didn't live together, I wouldn't get to listen to him baby-talk to our cats.

A++++ 100% worth it, would cohabitate again.
posted by baby beluga at 11:44 AM on June 24, 2013 [13 favorites]

Have you ever lived with a roommate before? Someone you actually like, a friend? Living with someone you're married to or partnered with has all of the good aspects of that. You have someone to watch TV with, someone to hang out with when you're bored, someone to talk to when you get home from work. When there are irritating chores to be done, you have someone to share them with. And it's often just sort of nice to have someone you like around more often.

Plus, you likely get to have more sex with the person you're having sex with if you sleep in the same bed at night.
posted by decathecting at 12:08 PM on June 24, 2013

Back rubs. Foot rubs. Tummy rubs.
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:14 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

You don't have to "make plans" to do something with someone. You just show up at your home and they are there. It makes being together less of a structured activity and more just a regular part of life. And it also doesn't take away from other things you want or need to do - you can watch TV, read a book, make dinner, get some work done - and still spend time together with that person.

If there's someone you want to see more than every once in a while, this benefit is emotional (because you get the emotional benefits of being together more often), financial (because you don't have to spend money on activities/transportation to see them), and practical (because it's just easier!).
posted by capricorn at 12:22 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Having lived apart from Mr. Tech for an (academic) year for career reasons, the biggest practical disadvantage that struck me was how much it sucks grocery-shopping and cooking for one person.

Most recipes are for much more than two servings, so I'd always be either trying to ratio things down (which is tricky, as it can mess up stove top cooking times, and is hard to do with baking things that require a certain sized dish) or slogging though seemingly endless tupperware containers of leftovers. Also, because I'm not a big sandwich-eater, it was hard for me to get through a loaf of bread before it went moldy. (I took to keeping bread in the freezer and toasting individual slices, which wasn't ideal.) I couldn't eat a head or bag of lettuce myself in a week, so it ended up throwing out a lot of greens. And there as a lot of dumb little stuff, like if I decided I was bored with apples, I couldn't just leave them for Mr. Tech to enjoy, i knew I would have to eat them allllll myself.

As a result, I tended to underbuy on fresh fruit and vegetables, and cook less from scratch, eat out and eat more processed stuff than normal. I felt like I just didn't eat healthily. I have a lot more sympathy for my single friends who find it hard to cook and eat healthy food!
posted by BrashTech at 12:25 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

The US tax code is written such that it assumes a married couple is sharing a residence. This means it is kinda weird to file jointly with two addresses. It also gives a lower standard deduction to married couples as you'd typically be setting up one household, and the economic efficiencies that come with it. (mainly rent/mortgage) It wouldn't reflect the situation of a married non-cohabiting couple.

I'd also say cohabitation infers a more serious level of commitment to people outside the relationship (which might not all ways be the case). This might be a bit frustrating if you're being downgraded in your spouse's friend's minds: "Oh but he's just some guy you're dating right?" vs "Oh this is the guy you live with!"

Assuming both parties want to do equal housework/homekeeping, there is efficiency in numbers. I know a grocery bill for a single person more than half the bill for a couple. Often buying smaller packages of food means an increased price per unit. There are time efficiencies that come from sharing housework: Two small loads of laundry becoming one large load. Cooking for one is almost as much time as preparing the same recipe for 2. Owning one vacum cleaner/stock pot/coffee maker/etc vs two, etc.

Theres a benefit in being able to trade your least favorite/skilled job to another person, or having someone else pick up your slack on occasion. A night where you might have said "I'm too tired to cook" means you get treated to a home cooked meal by your spouse instead of fast food on your way home, for example.
posted by fontophilic at 12:26 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

One of the things I really appreciate about living together is the time spent together that is not really deliberate. I greatly enjoy just being in each other's presence in a way that doesn't feel planned or like an intentional date or anything, even though we may be doing our own activities and not actively communicating. It's very relaxing.

I'm not an introvert though and don't really need any alone time (and in fact hate living by myself) so YMMV.
posted by deadwax at 3:40 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've lived with my partner for a whole bunch of years now. Here's one thing: when you live with someone, you really cannot hide who you are. All your little flaws and weird quirks, they're going to come out sooner or later. Whether you see that as a benefit or a liability depends on your personality, and I guess also the dynamic of your particular relationship.

For instance, since you asked for anecdotes: my partner was there on the day when I clogged the toilet, badly botched the plunging of said toilet, flooded the bathroom, and ended up spending two hours in galoshes trying to clean up the resulting mess.

I was very, very embarrassed about this at the time. It's the kind of thing you rarely have to deal with when you're just dating; you can spend your time going to movies and eating tapas and walking in the moonlight, instead of dealing with plumbing disasters.

But. In retrospect? I now see this as one of the pivotal moments in our relationship. My partner's kind, level-headed response to the situation showed me something important about who he really is. And his ability to love me and find me attractive even when I was, let's not sugar-coat this, ankle deep in my own poop showed us both how strong the relationship was.

However, if this sounds light a nightmare to you, and I can certainly understand if it does, living separately might be the way to go.
posted by Mender at 6:09 PM on June 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

I lived with my now-wife for 7 years post-undergrad (3 states, 4 residences) (apart in undergrad) and now that we're married, we are living apart (for about 18 months, 1200-ish miles). It's only been 3 weeks, but I miss sharing responsibilities (I did the laundry, took out the garbage, weed-whacked; now she has to do that and I have to cook and clean), I miss having someone cook for me, I miss all of our shared possessions. I miss having a space that we built together, I miss our dogs (and they are truly both of ours), and I miss the noise that comes with someone else occupying communal space. I miss sleeping with her, and being able to talk to her without being on the phone or FaceTime or Skype or some sort of screen. I miss sharing everyday experiences with her-- she can show me that the tomato plants are growing, or that our boxer is sleep-barking, but I'm not there to experience it with her.

Financially, we're spending at least $1k/month more than when we cohabited. I found the cheapest apartment I could, and am trying my damnedest to make healthful meals (although yes I forgot I don't really like oranges and bought a bag, ugh, oranges). I had to buy duplicates of a lot of things. I need dishes and silverware and pots and water bottles, distinct from our shared pool. I had to buy another bed, another shower curtain, plunger, scale, another set of towels, a toolset... these are all things that, if you're living separately, you can downsize upon moving in together!

Pros: I am reading more (may also be a byproduct of moving away from the Support Structure & completing grad school), and cooking for myself. If I drink a sixpack and eat jellybeans for dinner, no one is necessarily the wiser (is that a pro? maybe sometimes).
posted by worstname at 9:47 PM on June 24, 2013

My roommate and I are not romantically involved but we function very much like a couple and care for each other like partners, so I'm going to chime in here. I'm going to focus on things that aren't provided by run of the mill roommate arrangements.

The biggest perk, hands down, is being able to care for each other and be an active force in each other's mundane lives. There's something kind of awesome and heartwarming about doing her laundry (even though I hate doing mine and will avoid doing it until I run out of clothes), doing groceries with her (I'd usually go through the entire freezer before venturing out for food), and even doing the garbage is somehow better because I know it will make her happy. She has found that she's more likely to clean because she knows I appreciate it and I will let her know that I appreciate it. Being able to do these daily "acts of service" has helped us grow closer and feel more acknowledged by each other without making us feel drained.

Similarly, I love cooking with my partner. It's not that I'm incapable of cooking on my own - I would say the division of labour in the kitchen is about 60/40 with me doing the majority - but it's just more fun and worthwhile knowing that she will enjoy the result as well. Today was 40+ degrees Celsius and she worked outside so I made a smoothie for her and left it in the fridge. I wouldn't be able to do that if we didn't live together.

I'm not an "acts of service" type of person, either. I just like seeing her happy on the day to day and doing little things to make her day better, just like she does little things to make my day better.

(I'm moving 6 hours away in a month so excuse me if this super sappy. I just really really love living with someone I love as opposed to alone or with people I'm friends (or less) with.)
posted by buteo at 11:51 PM on June 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

One of my favorite things about living with my husband is getting to sleep in the same bed every night. I feel safer.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 6:30 PM on June 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Financial: this can work both ways. Living together, we do save money on rent and groceries and a few other things. But we have separate cell phones for work and save no money there, and his car costs a freaking fortune. I share the cost because I get use from it too, but when I lived alone, I didn't have a car. So the savings in rent is offset to a large extent by the car. One thing that is MUCH cheaper: travel. Two can stay in a hotel as cheaply as one, and pay half. Plus you then have someone to do stuff with during the holiday.

Chores: I did all the chores anyway when I lived alone; doing most of them now is not a huge change for me. The boy has a chronic illness which makes it very difficult for him to manage most chores. Before I came along, he paid a cleaning lady, and the agreement we have is that he would resume this service, at his expense, if I ever got tired of cleaning and requested it. That said, he drives and I do not, so he does make that contribution.

Caretaking: He is sick a lot (chronic illness) and I do some caretaking there. But that's my personality type and it actually works for our relationship. I enjoy feeling useful and needed, and while there is perhaps some dysfunction in that, it works out for both of us. When I am sick, he generally is okay with minor colds and so forth (in fact, the moment when I knew it was love was when we went out for my birthday two months after we met, and I had a horrible cold, and he stopped for me in between dinner and desert to buy me more cough medicine!) But his health condition does make him very vulnerable to viral stuff, and it can affect him differently. I am a teacher, and do pick up stuff from time to time. Once, he got pinkeye from me, and that is the sickest I have ever seen him. It's such a minor illness for most people, but because of his unique situation, it hit him hard.

Family stuff: This is a tricky one, and it has been the number one source of conflict for us when we do (rarely) fight. He hates large gatherings and has very conflicted relationships with his own family. It's like pulling teeth to get him to come to my family stuff, and I have had to relax my standards significantly. I was very naive about this when we first started going out and had these romantic ideas about falling on love and him loving my family and me loving his and our lives blending together in this perfect, utopic way, and the reality has been that his mother is lukewarm at best about me, and he is terrified of mine. It's been getting slowly better over time on both counts, but it's been work, for both of us. I can make him go, if I push it. But I have to play that card very judiciously.

Belongings: I gained some cool toys by moving in with him---he has a top of the line television (I don't care much for TV, but he likes his video games) and an extremely fancy coffee maker. He got much better furniture when I came along because I have a very large quantity of much wealthier relatives who have given me some decent hand-me-downs over the years. On the other hand, there are my collections of exercise videos and fancy lunch containers, which he could happily throw away, and his collections of baseball cards and Star Wars merchandise which I would have no problems seeing the end of...

In the end, it's been more good than bad for each of us, but we agree on all the big things and can live with the small stuff.
posted by JoannaC at 10:38 AM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

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