People, Places, and Things

The psychology of design: How to create an environment in which you will thrive

Kudos for Living Apart Together

There are good reasons not to co-habitate.

Being in a long-term committed relationship with someone and not living in the same home is unusual, but more and more individuals seem to be doing just that – or maybe more and more people feel comfortable saying that they have a partner with whom they don’t cohabitate.  People in long distance relationships have lived separately since long distance relationships started to exist, what's news are the people who live in the same area, who could physically share a single home, who select not to do so.

As an environmental psychologist, I think that people choosing to maintain separate households is a fine idea.  We all communicate what we think is important about us through the way we personalize our homes.  The things our home “says” about us are never clearer than when a place belongs to just one of us.  Sure, people can merge their households without scrambling their messages, but separate homes makes misunderstandings unlikely.  Many people in committed relationships also don't feel that their primary identity is as half of a couple but as the whole of a singleton, and in that case the mere existence of separate homes sings a loud clear song.

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People not only choose to send different messages with their homes, but they also can, literally, want to manage their households in different ways.  People may meld mentally, but that doesn't mean that they have similar ideas about when the bathroom or kitchen needs to be cleaned or if the living room is “picked up.” There are many factors related to how a home is managed, and we don't necessarily agree with our significant other on any of them, so if there aren't financial or child-rearing type reasons to blend households, separate spaces can keep domestic squabbles to a minimum.

Living apart together is unconventional, but it's an option we can all consider.  People who chose to maintain separate households should have our support and not our skepticism.

Sally Augustin, Ph.D., is a practicing environmental psychologist who studies person-centered design and sensory science.

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