We’ve all been taught that living with your spouse “til death do us part” is the way to go. But maybe it’s time we challenge this archaic convention. Actress and lifestyle entrepreneur Gwyneth Paltrow seems to think so at least.
In June, Paltrow told The Sunday Times she and her husband Brad Falchuk only live together for about half the week. The other half, they spend apart in separate houses. Per Vanity Fair, Paltrow told the Times she and Falchuk — who she married last year —decided to live separately after Paltrow’s intimacy teacher advised her to create “polarity” in her relationship.To the Goop founder, this meant spending time alone.
“All my married friends say that the way we live sounds ideal and we shouldn't change a thing,” Paltrow told the Times. And sure, we like our alone time as much as the next person.
But is living separately from one’s spouse or S.O. better for the relationship?
We asked sexologist and The Game of Desire author Shan Boodram.
“By living separate, you get to maintain the unknown in the relationship,” Boodram tells O.school, “The coveted and sexy, unfamiliar — that space where your beloved both belongs to you and is a mystery to you.”
Boodram says living separately from one’s spouse can also mean less compromise, and consequently less conflict in the relationship. Plus, “when you don't share a space you don't share as much financial dependency (money is one of the top causes for divorce),” Boodram says, “And you get to compartmentalize outside relationships (be that with children, family, or even lovers) in a clear way.”
For those interested in learning more about the psychology behind successful long-term relationships, Boodram recommends sex and relationship expert Esther Perel’s TEDTalk,"The secret to desire in a long-term relationship."
“[Perel] details the extremes that romantic love must swing between in order to thrive: love thrives in closeness but desire thrives in distance,” Boodram says.
However, couples who are considering transitioning to a lifestyle akin Paltrow and Falchuk’s should know living apart from one’s spouse isn’t a perfect solution either.
So, what are the downsides to living apart?
“We create sexual and pair bonds through proximity, so the less time we spend with people, the less biologically bonded we will be,” Boodram tells us, adding that this may not necessarily be a bad thing. The less biologically bonded we are to someone, the more logical we can be in our decision-making about our intimate connection with someone.
However, Boodram continues, “It is undeniable that sleeping together (both sex and just the basic 8-hour act) brings people closer together. There have also been studies that suggest that sleeping with someone you love produces a better sleep, thus a longer life.”
She explains this could be because we feel protected when we’re close to someone, and therefore, we allow ourselves to be completely comfortable in our most vulnerable state of sleep.
“Finally,” Boodram says, “when you don't live with another adult —assuming this adult is an equal contributor — you gotta do a LOT more yourself. One of the greatest joys of cohabitation in coupledom, is choreography — watching your partner do errands that you no longer have to bear the entire brunt of.”
Of course, if, like Paltrow and Falchuck’s relationship, there are children involved there are other factors to consider such as who the children will primarily live with, if they’ll bounce from house to house, or if having both parents present at all times is pertinent to their upbringing.
It’s important to note that most married folks most likely don’t have the financial option of living in two separate households. Paltrow comes from a place of privilege and is able to do so. If space and time to yourself is important to you and your partner, there are still ways of achieving those needs without paying double the rent or mortgage. Engaging in separate hobbies, spending time with different friend groups, or simply occupying space in different rooms could be a good start. Communicate with your partner and see what’s feasible. If you’re not sure where to start, this O.school guide is a great starting point for helping define your relationship.
Spouses considering the idea of living apart should be open and honest with each other about what they hope to get out of the living arrangement. Having a clear line of communication is vital for making any relationship work, but perhaps even more important when the couple is not physically together at all times.
And if you’re worried about what others will think if you choose to live apart from your spouse, take a page from Paltrow’s book: “Haters are irrelevant to me,” she told the Times. “It’s like Brené Brown says: I’m not making this work for people who aren’t in the arena. Haters don’t mean anything to me because they are not my people.”