Relationships evolve. Not just our own, but also in society. It’s been making news for the last few years that people are getting married less (marriage rates have dropped 60% since 1970) and later in life than before. In 2012, people were intrigued by the prevalence of commuter marriages, which 3.5 million Americans were in. The current type of relationship that’s finally gaining legitimate study is living apart together (LAT).
LAT is becoming more prevalent in the United States, but it’s certainly not new. It’s a choice that appeals to those who want to maintain independence (socially and financially), family boundaries, and their own homes. It’s becoming a more common choice for older adults—who may have children and their own homes before the relationship begins—but younger people are also embracing it.
But how does one go about discussing with their significant other that this is what they want? While more people are embracing it, it can certainly feel awkward to broach the subject. Here are some suggestions on how to prepare and have a productive discussion about LAT.
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1. Be honest with yourself.
Decide if you sincerely want to be in an LAT relationship or if you just don’t want to be with that person. Studies have shown that those in LAT relationships are more likely than cohabiters to be emotionally dependent. LAT relationships are about maintaining certain types of independence, space, and privacy with the goal of enriching your life and your relationship. It’s not to allow cheating, withholding, and other behavior you want to hide or lie about. If you think an LAT relationship will “take the pressure off,” it may be the relationship that isn’t a great fit, not the living arrangements in that relationship.
2. Try to make it clear early.
Ideally, you won’t spring LAT on someone who thinks you’re about to ask them to move in. Years ago, I had just begun dating someone when I told him I had been engaged. He told me that if that was what I saw for my future, I should know he didn’t plan on getting married. I was relieved. My engagement had confused me; I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to get married either. As awkward as we’d both felt talking about it, it helped us clarify what we wanted and expected up front—twelve years later, the relationship has been more solid for it. If you’re honest early, even if it feels almost too early, it’ll save everyone confused expectations and heartache later.
3. Believe whomever you’re dating when they tell you what they want/need.
One of the most frustrating things I get told about my relationship is Oh, he’ll change his mind and propose one day. No, he won’t. And I don’t want him to. Believing that someone will suddenly have completely different wants is what keeps people in relationships even when they know and have been told repeatedly that the other party cannot give them what they want. Life is not a romantic comedy; if she tells you she doesn’t want kids, or if he tells you he wants an LAT relationship, don’t bank on them changing their minds. If you are sure about what you want, it’s only fair to assume the same is true for others.
4. Don’t expect or ask for an immediate answer.
Though you don’t want to assume someone is going to change their mind, after you lay out that you want to LAT, give them time to understand why and what that means. Wanting something outside the norm can make one feel guilty, uncertain, or abnormal. Many of us are okay with considering a relationship that doesn’t conform to societal norms, but we need time to figure that out. It probably took you some time to come to the conclusion you want to LAT. Give the other person time to digest and accept it as well.
5. Open the conversation by asking how your significant other envisions your future.
This should be a conversation, not a mandate delivered via monologue. A relationship is give and take, and your conversation about that relationship should be give and take as well. After you ask them what they see in the future and you tell what you see/want, talk to them about why and ask them why they want what they want. Maybe your visions are compatible, even if they don’t seem to be at first. Regardless, understanding each other better is always a good step, as is being able to articulate your own wants better.
Early and with understanding is the key—understanding of any surprise or negative initial reactions and also understanding of your own reasons for wanting it. The clearer you can articulate what your needs are, the easier it will be for them to understand. And above all, remember it’s a conversation. As much as you want to explain what you want out of the relationship, you should care what they want as well. Without discussing it, you can’t know if your desires are symbiotic or not.
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