Adjust the text

Study: Older Couples Choose To Live Apart

 

Older couples today are opting for more flexible bonds with partners.

According to Statistics Canada, about 1.9 million Canadians aged 20 and over, were involved in "living apart together" (LAT) relationships in 2011. And the number is growing in the age 60-plus category, which jumped from 1.8 to 2.3 per cent between 2001 and 2011.

Sociologists Laura Funk of the University of Manitoba (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada) and Karen Kobayashi of the University of Victoria (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada), recently examined the LAT arrangements of 28 heterosexual couples living in two cities in British Columbia.

The researchers asked 56 individuals, aged 39 to 92, why they chose to live in separate households. And what were the benefits of living apart?

Many of the participants were previously married and had children who lived independently. All had lived in a LAT relationship for at least three years.

Participants gave three reasons for staying in LAT relationships:

  • desire for independence
  • to protect the relationship, and
  • seeing cohabitation as unnecessary.

The findings appeared online in the Journal of Family Issues on April 7, 2014.

Living apart, together

So how do people carry out the daily life of relationships when partners live separately?

A crucial finding is that most lived near to one another. Participants lived an average of 15 minutes (driving distance) apart. Some lived more than 45 minutes away, and some lived in the same building.

Individuals have frequent contact with their partners: typically, three or four times a week and most often on weekends.

In fact, several mentioned their relationship retained a "dating" quality because they spent more time apart.

Independence

Researchers found the desire to maintain independence played a key role in why individuals aged 60 and older chose a LAT relationship.

In a nutshell, these adults value independence. And living apart provides time and space for them to pursue their own hobbies and interests. As one individual put it, "I’m the sort of person that needs time to themselves to revitalize."

Another said, "It doesn’t matter how much you love somebody, you don’t want to be with them all the time. It’s a lot of pressure to put on each other."

Protect relationship

Participants stressed that having their own home allowed them to set practical boundaries in their relationships, whether managing finances or choosing what to do with free time.

Lifestyles

Specifically, individuals talked about wanting to protect their relationship by avoiding conflicts arising from different styles and habits of living, such as choice of home decor or time spent socializing with friends.

They also noted personality challenges such as:

  • depression
  • anger
  • extreme introversion, and
  • pushiness.

Indeed, some participants were willing to live with these differences because they did not have to deal with them on a 24-7 basis.

Control

Women in particular valued living alone because it helped them avoid imbalances in household tasks, as well as maintain control over financial decisions.

"If he [former partner] didn’t like doing something, it was made for me to take it over so that got tiresome after awhile," one participant said. "Whereas if you’re are living by yourself . . . there is only you."

Another noted, "It would be cheaper for us to live together but it wouldn’t be worth the angst, anxiety. I feel that I would constantly be picking up after him."

Women also wanted to maintain control over purchasing decisions. "I don’t have to ask if I want to buy something," one remarked. "I can buy the things he would disapprove of."

Work

Participants often spoke about how their work life was enhanced by having time and space to themselves. They did not have to deal with competing schedules or challenging work conditions.

"At the end of the day there’s nothing expected from us," one participant said. "Both of us need that because we have been in professions where we’re working with people a lot."

Cohabitation unnecessary

Many older participants did not see the point of tying the knot.

"We don’t need to live together. I had a long marriage, 47 years," said one woman. "I don’t need another marriage."

Some claimed living apart allowed them to avoid legal and financial risks, for example, complicated legal issues following a separation or estate hassles that could pose challenges when a partner dies.

Others chose to live apart to ensure sufficient time to devote to family. One couple chose a LAT relationship to avoid challenges that might arise if they combined five children from two previous households.

Finally, some older women wanted to be rid of responsibilities. "I don’t want to take care of anybody," said one participant. "I’ve done that all my life."

Another said, "I think a lot of women feel like I do when they get to this stage. The kids are grown. Your parents aren’t sick . . . for once in your life it’s just about you."