For these couples, absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Melisa Celikel, 30, is writing a book, recording a podcast and even running a business with her partner, Aidan, who she plans to marry. But one thing they’re not doing with one another — even after they tie the knot: Living together.
Indeed, she just bought a condo in downtown San Diego, and he recently bought a house in the nearby suburbs. Though they talked about living together, they decided it was better for their relationship if they instead slept over at one another’s homes a few nights a week but maintained their own pads. “We are both introverts and need plenty of alone time to be successful business owners,” Celikel says. “This allows us to see each other when we want to see each other, and then go back into our little hermit crab shells.”
Other couples do it because of career demands, but like it. For the past four years, Jennifer Dombrowski, 39, has either been living apart from or just living part-time with her husband of nearly two decades, Tim — as their careers (he’s in the U.S. Air Force, most recently stationed in England, and she owns LuxeAdventureTraveler.com and is based in Bordeaux, France) took them to different countries.
While she admits that there have been challenges with this arrangement, like having to pay for two homes, “we also both feel our relationship has strengthened during this time,” Dombrowski tells MarketWatch. “The time together is more special and after 17 years of marriage, things often feel new and exciting when we do get to see each other.”
She’s not alone: Goop founder and actress Gwyneth Paltrow recently shared that she only lives with her husband, producer Brad Falchuk, four days a week, adding that: “Oh, all my married friends say that the way we live sounds ideal and we shouldn’t change a thing.” And when actress Helena Bonham Carter and film director Tim Burton were married, they lived in separate but connected houses in London for over a decade.
Strange as this may seem, married couples living apart is more common than you might think: Roughly four million married couples live apart, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. This happens for a variety of reasons including work, personal choice, incarceration and one person being in a nursing home. The largest percentage of married people who do it are in their 20s and 30s.
There’s even research to suggest that it can work for some couples. A 2014 study of couples who were “living apart together” concluded that this arrangement can have “empowering potential” and can offer “individual-level solutions to broader gendered inequities in cohabiting relationships.”
And experts say this certainly can work for some couples. “Couples who are living apart successfully are individuals who like living alone, but still want companionship and the financial benefits of marriage,” says Tina B. Tessina, a psychotherapist and author of “Dr. Romance’s Guide to Finding Love Today.” She adds that it can work well for “couples who have sharp differences in living styles, but get along fine when they’re not sharing space.” She says that this kind of arrangement can diminish personality clashes and allow both each person to “pursue his or her own lifestyle and priorities, without having to alter things for the partner.”
And psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo, author of “Better Than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love,” adds that it can be especially helpful to a couple who both have children from a previous relationship. “When you add more people into the equation, such as when both parties have children from other relationships, attempts to all live together can compound stress,” she says.
Of course, there can be big downsides, like costs and convenience, says Tessina. “It’s very expensive to have two households. It’s also inconvenient to commute to be together,” she said. Plus, adds psychologist Kelsey Latimer of counseling firm Hello Good Life, “It may also lead to a sense of emotional distance for some couples.” And plenty of people wouldn’t be happy at all with an arrangement like this, as they love spending as much time as they can with their partner.
But for those who do it — like education consultant Andrea Sehiralli, 30, who only lives with her fiance about six months of the year — it’s sometimes just right. For her, the arrangement has meant “we don’t get sick of each other” and get to “miss each other” and that their “time spent together is more valuable.” Plus, she jokes: “He’s an investment banker so he’s always busy and doesn’t feel guilty having to work late on projects.”
And sometimes, it even changes the way you see relationships. Creative director Raimee Iacofano, who has lived with her partner of five years part-time for more than two years now, says this: “I love living with him part-time because it gives me enough time alone to really feel like I know myself as an individual, and not just within the relationship. In past relationships, I found myself becoming too caught up in the identity or role I played in the relationship, that I forgot about who I really was without the person. Then, when those relationships ended, I felt completely lost and devastated. Now, I feel like I have an entire life outside of my relationship that I love just as much as my life within the relationship.”