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For These Committed Couples, Living Apart is Key to Staying Together

“Even the sex becomes that much more intense because we want to make the best use of those two days in a week when we meet.”

For the longest time, the picture of a conventional marriage was synonymous with nightmares of the worst kind for Sujata. Sujata’s name has been changed for her privacy.

The endlessly quiet hostility between Sujata’s parents that she had witnessed all through her childhood made her doubt just how feasible it was for an unhappily married couple to live under the same roof. 

“The state of my parents really affected me as a child,” the 30-year-old mechanical engineer from Dubai told VICE. “It’s only gotten worse now – they live under the same roof like strangers and not a word transpires between them.”


It was with this frame of reference that Sujata and her husband mutually decided to follow the rather unconventional but flexible model of Living Apart Together (LAT), an increasing but largely overlooked family structure. 

In this model, a couple – married or otherwise – decides to stay in separate quarters, either by choice or out of circumstance. For this piece, VICE spoke only to couples in intimate relationships who have consciously decided to share their hearts but not their homes as a way to preserve individualism and moments of solitude. The combinations can be many, from staying in separate rooms under the same roof to staying in two different addresses to even consensually practising polyamory. 

In Sujata’s case, her first encounter with the world of LAT was during her schooling days in India, also the time she met her now-husband. 

“Nearly all my classmates had non-resident Indian parents who were happily following this model,” she said. “It was a shocking contrast to my own parents who never got along. I don’t ever remember them ever having a proper discussion. My father never had the time for us as he was always working. When he was home, he would not utter more than a word or two in response to my mother’s long paragraphs.”

It didn’t take her too long to convince her husband about her proclivity for the LAT model. The fact that they had known each other from school helped. “He was also my neighbour for a while and knew exactly what I thought about a conventional marriage all along.”


Sujata believes the LAT lifestyle worked for them in the first three years of their marriage. “I was in Dubai and my husband was in Mumbai. We preferred it that way. We’d meet once every two months, and that waiting period kept us both so excited. When we would finally meet after those breaks, we felt the love only more deeply.”

For her, one of the biggest upsides to LAT was how it allowed her the space to breathe and to have control over the “small acts of freedom” that she fondly cherished. 

“Apart from my scepticism about marriage, my relationship with my partner was always on fragile grounds because we had broken up so many times in the past,” she explained. “So, we decided to not physically stay together. I knew that small things eventually escalate. Things like not sharing one’s towel, not wanting to wash the dishes on some days, or simply watching movies alone late into the night – these matter a great deal to me in the larger scheme of things.”

According to intimacy coach Pallavi Barnwal “sovereignty” in any marriage or relationship dictates longevity. “To be married to someone and live under the same roof for nearly a decade and expect them to love you consistently through it all is a mammoth expectation,” she said. “You need to have a framework like LAT to find a harmonious balance between space and companionship.”


Barnwal believes that “desire needs mystery” and in her experience, conventional marriage setups can potentially lead to “erotic death” in the long run. In other words, familiarity can breed contempt, or, at the very least, make your partner seem far less attractive or desirable just because they’re always around.

“Recently I proposed the LAT model to a wife who felt their marriage had become dry,” she recalled. “She said her husband might cheat on her if they started living apart. I just had one thing to say: If her husband had to cheat, he could jolly well do it even when they are staying under the same roof.”

It’s necessary to point out, though, that LAT as an option might be open to only those who are economically privileged. The financial strain of running two households, especially if you have children, is not something most can take on in countries like India, especially in bigger cities with crushing rents. Most of the people we spoke to for this piece own houses.

After years of trying the LAT model, Sujata and her husband have finally moved in together, much like Gwyneth Paltrow, who also moved in together with her husband Brad Falchuk after a year of following the LAT model. Helena Bonham Carter, another advocate and practitioner of LAT, had even joked about how there are speculations about a “secret tunnel” connecting her house to her husband’s. 


In queer relationships, too, the dynamics are nearly the same, although the stigma attached to queerness itself varies globally. For the popular non-binary couple, Bethany Meyers and Nico Tortorella, meeting each other on a “weekly basis and FaceTiming all day” works. However, in the Indian context, living together is as much an act of rebellion as it is of love. 

“I found out that it was also important for me to physically stay with him so that I could understand how he carries himself on a daily basis and what his fears are,” said Sujata of her decision to discontinue LAT. “Though LAT was something that worked for us then, I'm really happy now living with my husband and having a shared space too. After all, I must also acknowledge that we signed up for LAT because of my fears that were rooted in my parents’ marriage.” 

In another part of the world, Shilpa Saji, a 26-year-old data analyst, actually credits LAT for making her husband, Rishal Matthew, more creative in the way he expressed his love. “He’d cook something and courier it to me or just surprise me with a bouquet of flowers on days when I was feeling low,” said the Bengaluru resident. “I’m not sure if these things happen that regularly in a ‘normal’ setup.”


"He’d cook something and courier it to me or just surprise me with a bouquet of flowers on days when I was feeling low." – Shilpa Saji (right) about her husband Rishal Matthew (left)

Both Saji and Matthew had zeroed in on LAT after trying a host of other options – from long-distance to living together. But it was LAT that helped them truly understand the “depth” of how much they truly loved each other. 

“We also discovered the ways in which we precisely depend on each other,” she said. “I also have a history of depression, so when I’d video call him on my bad days, his presence on my screen was therapeutic in itself.”

The societal stigma of a couple living apart together can often be bitter. In Saji’s case, she would hear some of her own relatives talk about how they were staying apart because they were in a “new relationship and were still figuring things out.” But she didn’t let it get to her. “We’ve known each other since forever,” she said. “So how we want to navigate our relationship at different stages must be solely left to us.”  

LAT also spares couples from having to deal with their in-laws. In several Asian countries, people continue to live with their extended family even after getting married. This is often a sexist tradition where a woman is expected to move in with her husband and his parents. “In India, the battle for your own space while living with your in-laws can often get nasty,” said Saji. “LAT simply eliminates all of that.”

Saji acknowledged the ways in which LAT also shaped her own individuality. “I had lost my hobbies of drawing and sketching. When I started living on my own, my sketches were more vivid; they went to strange and beautiful places.”


Bidisha Das, a 36-year-old quality control analyst from Hyderabad, India, also credits her individual growth to the personal space LAT afforded her She has been following the LAT model with her partner for the past three years.

“When people share the same space, particularly in these times, conflicts are bound to happen,” she said. “The chances of you being impulsive only double. Sometimes you end up suffocating each other without even meaning to.”

Das and her partner stay nearly an hour’s drive from each other and meet up on weekends. “Even the sex becomes that much more intense. Because we want to make the best use of those two days, we live our lives more fully.”

According to a recent study conducted by the University of Bradford in England, LAT marriages also help women subvert gender norms. It also found that the popularity of LAT spanned different age groups, with a rising number of older couples also choosing to remain in committed relationships while living separately.

The way Barnwal sees it, LAT relationships must be perceived as an extension of our innate need to have “micro spaces” even in the most ordinary physical places. “We always choose our side of the bed, a specific coffee mug to drink from, or even a separate space on the bookshelf,” she said. “LAT just takes this a step ahead.”

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