Many of the millions of couples who live in separate homes – the modern phenomenon known as ‘living apart together’– wish at heart for more traditional cohabitation and marriage, research says.
The British Sociological Association’s annual conference in Leeds heard yesterday that around 5 million people are now conducting relationships where they live in different homes from their partner.
Professor Simon Duncan, of the University of Bradford, said this was partly due to financial or work constraints. But even where women had made a strategic decision to live apart, they often felt guilty about it or considered living together.
Survey data was analysed on 572 people who were ‘living apart together’ – 81% had been together for six months or more and 41% for three years or more, and most lived within five miles of each other. He also interviewed 29 women and 21 men.
Of the 572 survey respondents, 30% preferred having separate homes, 32% said they lived apart because it was too early in the relationship, and 30% said outside constraints such as financial issues prevented them living together.
It found that both sexes were equally likely want to live apart for similar reasons and there was little evidence that the rise in the number of such couples was because women were exercising their autonomy more.
One woman said she preferred that her partner was not living with her because “he can just sort of slob about” but also admitted to liking the “idea of traditional marriage when you get older”, as she was worried about “who will look after me if I’m ill.”
Another woman said she would like to marry and have a child “for cultural reasons, that’s what my parents would accept and it’s quite nice anyway.”
Professor Duncan said: “This apparent guilt was perhaps why some interviewees seemed to compensate by carrying out traditionally gendered domestic work for their partners. Some expressed guilt over their ‘selfish’ actions, and some elected to carry out traditional labour services for their partners, almost as a sort of compensation or symbol.”
Barbara Bloomfield, Relate couples counsellor explained, “Running your own household is hard work and I wonder if some of those surveyed wanted to share this burden with their partner?
“I think the interesting comments made show the complexities of sharing your life with another and perhaps the grass does always look greener elsewhere. Perhaps this explains the secret longing for the ‘ideal’ relationship that some of those surveyed seem to hanker after?”