I recently read an article in The Telegraph about Gwyneth Paltrow?s arrangement with her husband, Brad Falchuk, to live in separate houses. The article talked about how they spend just four nights a week together and are pretty happy with the arrangement, alongside accounts from other committed couples who seem to prefer this part-time living arrangement.
Reading the merry accounts of the people interviewed made me question, all this seems well and good, but what happens when this type of arrangement doesn?t quite go to plan? When, what starts out as an arrangement that both people agree to, turns into a major area of contention in the relationship. If, for example, one person becomes unhappy with the amount of time their partner spends with them, or if a new work arrangement which involves lots of travel destabilises family life.
The convenient circumstances that keep you living apart
It can sometimes be the case that, like Gwyn and Brad, an arrangement to be in a long-term committed relationship although live apart, can work for a couple. However it can also be the case that the physical distance is used as a cover up for an emotional distance between the couple.
If an emotional rift is actually what?s developing, work commitments and expectations can provide a distraction to the relationship problems. Work can be held up as justification for why, say, one member of a couple ?has to? travel and be away from home 2 or 3 nights a week. I?m not saying that, for some, the need to work away from home isn?t a legitimate requirement, I?m simply highlighting that for others it?s a ?convenient circumstance?.
The justifications for career-based ?convenient circumstances? and the more difficult aspects of living apart could sound something like this; ?We had no choice. She/he is the only person who can do the job?. Maybe; ?His/her work makes it impossible for us to live together?. Perhaps; ?It?s been this way for so long, we?ve had to get used to it?. Or it may even be positioned as a desire to want to spend more time together which can?t be achieved; ?You say you don?t like me travelling so much, but when I?m home you?re the one always working?. Like I said before, for some couples these may be bona fide reasons that can?t be avoided. However it may need for you to ask some difficult questions about the health of your relationship if you honestly want to know whether this is true for you or if it?s hiding something that you don?t want to admit.
When living apart means growing apart
If there are more worrying problems in your relationship that neither of you want to face up to, maintaining a distance can also hold the issue at bay. The problem with this is that it?s rarely a permanent fix. What may start off as a convenient circumstance can very quickly become an inconvenient truth and can form the basis of a problem that may lead a couple to therapy.
When faced with this scenario as a therapist, I wonder; What does maintaining a distance allow this couple to keep believing? Is there something about the relationship they cannot face? What are they worried may happen if they do face it?
For many, it can be more convenient to blame it on the boss and hold on to the belief that there?s nothing you can do about it. However sometimes tough questions about living arrangements need to be explored. It is possible that by having the conversation, potentially guided by a therapist, the catastrophe that you believe needs to be avoided, could instead open up understanding and common ground that leads you to question if the distance is what?s been holding you together or holding you apart.