Living in separate rooms or homes as a couple may seem taboo, but perhaps it’s not these days. A recent survey by the International Housewares Association for The New York Times found that one in five couples who live together sleep in different bedrooms. There’s more—almost two-thirds of those couples sleep separately every night.
I have lived with two partners in my life, and after both experiences, I can confidently say I’m team ‘separate living arrangements’. As freedom is my leading value, I feel the freest when I have space to use as I please. Insert solitude and one-man RnB concerts during the middle of the day. I love the idea of marking territory and having something that’s exclusively mine despite being coupled up. Clearly, there are many others out there who share the same sentiments.
“I think traditionally, when we think of couples living in separate homes sleeping in separate rooms or sleeping in separate spaces, we think of some sort of issue,” says Yunetta Spring Smith, a licensed professional counselor, certified EMDR therapist, and owner of Spring Forth Counseling in Clarksville, TN. “We assume there must be a disconnect, or they must have had an argument or disagreement,” she tells ESSENCE.
However, there’s a myriad of reasons couples may decide to have their bedrooms or homes. Maybe they have different sleeping habits. Perhaps they want to avoid arguments about how often the sheets are changed, or maybe solitude is critical for one partner’s mental health. Maybe it’s both. Sleep habits are a research-backed reason couples opt for alternative living arrangements. The International Housewares Association survey reported that 46 percent, almost half of the surveyed couples, attributed the separate rooms to their partner snoring, tossing, and turning at night.
Buky Sawyerr and her husband often sleep in separate rooms because they have different sleeping habits.
“I’m a super light sleeper, and he goes to sleep super late,” Sawyerr says. “Downstairs is his territory/safe space, and I typically only go down to take him food or when I’m invited to watch a movie. So it’s like we get to have our place and then meet in the middle when we want to,” she says.
Some reasons Smith’s clients opt for separate living arrangements include travel or different work schedules. She says military couples who spend considerable time apart also tend to want separate living spaces. As of 2022, there were about 710,000 active-duty spouses in the United States.
“Sometimes re-integration can be awkward, uncomfortable, and unfamiliar,” Smith says.
Privacy and a general need to breathe can motivate couples to carve out their own living spaces. Caprice Gonzalez Garrett and her partner sleep in the same room but decided to have individual rooms where they can exist independently. “Mine is called my BabeCave, and my wife calls hers her office,” she says. “When the other is in their room, we don’t knock, call, or text. We allow the other their space.”
The couple, based in Killeen, Texas, have lived together since 2017 and married in 2021. Gonzalez has had her woman cave since 2019, and her wife followed suit in 2022.
“We both have jobs that cause us to come home and need a minute. I work in the emergency room; my spouse is in law enforcement. Our spaces give us space to take a breather, rethink and come back to the common and primary spaces a better person,” she explains.
For those wondering what the negative implications of separate living arrangements may be, the International Housewares Association survey found 31 percent of the couples said sleeping apart has no impact on their relationship. Another 21 percent of couples surveyed said it actually enhanced their relationship quality.
Living apart together (LAT), when you live in separate homes entirely, is also something many couples do nowadays. In 2021, 3.89 million Americans lived apart from their spouses, and that number doesn’t include those separated or headed for divorce. It does include military couples, however.
This setup is a dream for some, as you could get the best of both worlds—an elongated honeymoon phase without the mundane things that sometimes cause conflict. However, one of the downsides can be the financial implication of having to run to separate households and distance negatively impacting the relationship.
I suppose the summary is that separate living arrangements can enhance your relationship. Still, it’s all about your needs individually, your needs as a couple, and your motivation for the space. Separate rooms or homes may not fix deep-rooted issues in your relationship that call for talking, healing, or therapy.
Smith says the key to successful separate living arrangements is communication, expressing your needs, and doing what works best for your relationship.
“I think we need to give people permission to relate and “relationship” in ways that work for them, and I think if couples can find time to come together and connect outside of slumber and sleep, it can work.”