Sia Rathore (name changed) and her husband knew it would be difficult to live together as their career choices differed. Rathore planned to go abroad for further studies and settle there, while her husband wanted to be in India. Despite the distance, the couple loved each other and wanted to make it work. That is when they came across the idea of "Living Apart Together" (LAT) and decided to give it a shot. Three years into LAT, they are still going strong, discovering that the adage of distance making the heart grow fonder is true. "If it hadn't been for giving the LAT model a fair shot, we probably would've broken up and been unhappy," believes Rathore.
While LAT isn't an entirely new concept, it is becoming a choice that couples are considering, especially in cases where distance, lifestyle and/or career choices, and social restraints are making it difficult for them to live together. And a lot of couples are finding the model feasible, offering independence and individuality. We speak to relationship experts to evaluate this model's pros and cons and the caveats that couples must keep in mind while considering this model.
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LAT, as most therapists point out, isn't a new concept entirely; it has been around for a long time. "In fact, the concept of visiting husbands is culturally known and practised in various communities in India as well as across the globe," shares Komal Kaira, an integrative psychologist and psychotherapist based out of Mumbai. For instance, couples from defence services may often live apart together due to the demands of the job, or many queer individuals may practice the LAT model with their partners or chosen family due to social restraints, she points out. "As there is no one way to be in a relationship, each couple has the choice to decide what works best for them and their situation."
It also helps to keep concrete plans on the back burner and stay flexible for a while. This offers couples the opportunity to weigh the pros and cons of what works best for their relationship and then decide, she adds. And yes, a couple's therapist can help ease the transition process from living together to living apart together.
Of course, the final result of this decision varies from couple to couple.
Anshuma Kshetrapal, a Delhi-based psychotherapist, drama and movement therapist, has seen couples for whom the LAT model has worked wonderfully as well as those for whom it does not. "It's really about considering what is right for both parties. Both need to understand and know their individual patterns of thought and behaviour, how much space they require, what is it that they're looking for from marriage, etc. It's not about going with the convention of marriage; it's really about considering what the best fit for both is," she says. And yes, communicating expectations is key to the success of the relationship.
In her opinion, if the expectations are mismatched, LAT won't work. "For instance," she says, "If one of the parties likes physical affection and closeness and in such a case if the couple has opted for LAT, then the model won't work. Since there is an expectation mismatch, it will lead to resentment, which will worsen with the distance."
Take the case of Aadesh Jha (name changed) and his girlfriend who decided to give LAT a shot as they both had very different lifestyles. He was an early riser and an extrovert, while she was a night owl and an introvert. However, since they loved each other, they decided to opt for LAT. But a few months into practising the model, Aadesh realised it wasn't meant for them. "She would have male friends over without telling me, and that would really hurt. We ended up having a lot of fights and resentment started building. The love we had started corroding with each phone call," he recalls.
These issues are bound to crop up unless dealt with patiently and with a lot of care. If there are insecurities, jealousy, mistrust, or lack of understanding, one or both partners may feel like they're not being prioritised, believes Dr Meghna Singhal (PhD Clinical Psychology, NIMHANS). However, it is possible to make the relationship work with clear boundaries and ground rules where expectations from each other are clear and realistic. Kshetrapal says that one has to be open to change and not resent the other person for changing. "The couple has to look forward to each other's growth, be open-minded, non-judgmental, and let go of the small things," she says.
Of course, the foundations of a good relationship--trust faith and communication--don't change whether a couple lives together or apart. However, in the case of LAT, both parties need to be invested in it and stay committed to working on difficulties that may arise, as Kaira points out. And yes, all experts unanimously agree that communication is the key to a successful LAT relationship. Taking responsibility for one's actions, and emotions and frequently, honestly talking about it without snapping and being available is something that is observed in LAT relationships that worked, says Kshetrapal. "A lot of couples end up equating what they do for each other, and rivalry of affection starts playing out. They want to be compensated equally for the affection they give, and it means that two different people are trying to do something which is not something they can actually keep up with. Slowly it will develop into resentment, but if communicated healthily, it can be resolved," she adds.
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And cliched though it sounds, it does mean building a better relationship with yourself and being very clear about what you yourself want from a relationship. "The way to build honest communication, trust and faith in such a situation is to, first of all, get to know oneself and be very open and clear about what I need rather than waiting for the other person to hint it out or find out or have expectations without communicating them, believes Kshetrapal."It's also necessary to set boundaries clearly for yourself and your partner, so there's less scope for misunderstanding and disappointment," adds Divija Bhasin, a counselling psychologist based in New Delhi
If you manage to make that time and effort to have open discussions with your partner and keep in touch regularly--technology does make that easier today--LAT does have several benefits. Kaira observes that when practised with mutual consent as well as clear, open and respectful communication, relationships with the LAT model have as much of a chance to survive and sustain in the long run as relationships where couples live together. "While working on a relationship may seem easier when couples live together, daily household responsibilities and lifestyle differences often become points of contention. On the contrary, without the pressures of sharing responsibilities, couples who practice mutually consented LAT models may be much more focused on the core features of their relationship- such as intimacy, communication and boundaries," she says.
Dr Singhal points out that in such a model, both partners have the solitude and space to lead their own lifestyle, meet friends, and invest in hobbies without the stresses of everyday living together and without feeling guilty about splitting time with your partner. "It might also, in some cases, keep the spark alive- after all, absence does make the heart grow fonder!" she exclaims. She shares some caveats that couples can keep in mind to make the relationship work.
Both partners in a LAT relationship must be
Totally on board with the LAT arrangement
Equally committed to making the relationship work
Open to communicating with each other, especially when things are not working
Flexible to living together when needed
Doing tiny everyday acts of thoughtfulness and love
Allowing yourself to be vulnerable with each other
Repairing when you mess up or make mistakes
Divya Naik is a Mumbai-based psychotherapist