Could a Long-Distance Relationship Save Your Marriage?

The number of couples "living apart together" continues to grow

A caricature of a plane flying to a heart.
A little distance could make the heart grow fonder, after all.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

The “sleep divorce” movement has earned millions of acolytes over the last few years, as partners sick of their other half’s snoring, turning or extremely specific thermoregulation requirements have decided enough’s enough and started sleeping in the guest room.

For open communicators who feel secure in long-term relationships, the move can prove a revelation. As one psychotherapist explained to The New York Times: “I have worked with couples who have said that not having to worry about their sleep being disturbed was such a relief that it allowed them to appreciate the good things in their relationship and lifted any resentment they may have felt in the past.”

Sleeping down the hallway is one thing, but how about sleeping (and living and working and eating) in different states? At one point does contesting the traditional marital paradigm go too far?

How Text-Only Relationships Can Help Solve the Male Friendship Crisis
Inside the curious rise of “digital confidants” — friends who go years without meeting in the same place

There are now nearly four million Americans “living apart together,” which represents 3% of the nation’s married couples. It’s tiny cohort, to be sure, but one that has grown steadily for decades (by 25% from 2000 to 2019), and has only accelerated since the advent of the pandemic.

What qualifies as a “L.A.T.” couple? Crucially, these are married couples that are still together — they’re not living separately because they’re on the brink of divorce. From there, though, examples can run the gamut. One partner might want their own apartment in the city where they work, as a place to crash on weeknights. Or perhaps one half prefers to be in the countryside or by the ocean for portions of the year, and rents out a cottage. Other couples might willfully (and eagerly) enter into long-distance relationships on separate coasts or in different countries, and FaceTime each other/plan periodical visits over a span of months or even years.

For conventional cohabitators with their jaws on the floor right now, know that this isn’t some outlandish (and expensive) scheme for significant others to cheat on each other. Couples that land on this decision do so jointly, and have an intimate, nuanced understanding of exactly how it can enrich them individually — with the idea that it will enhance their relationship in kind.

Consider: a woman determined to subvert backwards and burdensome household roles might take some time to look after herself; a partner might choose to pursue a year in a company’s abroad office; a couple might spend half the week together, half of it apart, to feel like they’re “dating” again; a man who never lived alone and feels like he missed out on that learning process might try it on for size.

This isn’t for everyone, obviously, but for the people who do choose it — as profiled in a recent article by the Times — insecurity and secrecy are firmly no-go. If each half of the marriage doesn’t have clear expectations for the arrangement, atop a robust foundation of love and trust, L.A.T. coupledom isn’t the best decision. When those criteria are in place, though, it can be an exciting and empowering opportunity.

In young relationships, distance can make the heart grow envious. Some 40% of long distance relationships are doomed, according to surveys. But amongst long-established couples — the wiley vets of the love world — a little distance can indeed make the heart grow fonder…and open new springs of love and discovery for the decades ahead. So don’t knock it until you try it — but don’t try it without extensive discussion and exploration with your spouse.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.