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Sex, Love and Security: Accounts of Distance and Commitment in Living Apart Together Relationships

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Abstract

Drawing on a 2011 national survey and 50 semi-structured interviews, we explore the differing ways in which those in living apart together (LAT) relationships discuss and experience notions of commitment. We found that sexual exclusivity in LAT relationships is expected by the large majority, regardless of their reasons for living apart. The majority of the interviewees also expressed a high degree of commitment to their partner in terms of love, care and intimacy, alongside an appreciation of the increased freedom and autonomy that living apart has to offer. Respondents were divided into four groups according to their perceived commitment: 1. Autonomous commitment, 2. Contingent commitment, 3. Ambivalent commitment, and 4. Limited commitment. Despite differing degrees of commitment, however, the overall finding was that the importance of relating and making relational decisions was central, even in the lives of those living in such unconventional relationship styles.
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DOI: 10.1177/0038038515573689
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Sex, Love and Security:
Accounts of Distance and
Commitment in Living Apart
Together Relationships
Julia Carter
Canterbury Christ Church University, UK
Simon Duncan
University of Bradford, UK
Mariya Stoilova
Birkbeck College, University of London, UK
Miranda Phillips
NatCen Social Research, UK
Abstract
Drawing on a 2011 national survey and 50 semi-structured interviews, we explore the differing
ways in which those in living apart together (LAT) relationships discuss and experience notions
of commitment. We found that sexual exclusivity in LAT relationships is expected by the large
majority, regardless of their reasons for living apart. The majority of the interviewees also
expressed a high degree of commitment to their partner in terms of love, care and intimacy,
alongside an appreciation of the increased freedom and autonomy that living apart has to offer.
Respondents were divided into four groups according to their perceived commitment: 1.
Autonomous commitment, 2. Contingent commitment, 3. Ambivalent commitment, and 4. Limited
commitment. Despite differing degrees of commitment, however, the overall finding was that the
importance of relating and making relational decisions was central, even in the lives of those living
in such unconventional relationship styles.
Keywords
Britain, commitment, family, intimacy, LAT, sexual exclusivity
Corresponding author:
Dr Julia Carter, School of Psychology, Politics and Sociology, Canterbury Christ Church University,
Canterbury, CT1 1QU, UK.
Email: julia.carter@canterbury.ac.uk
573689SOC0010.1177/0038038515573689SociologyCarter et al.
research-article2015
Article
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2 Sociology
Commitment and its Literature
This article will explore the extent to which living apart together (LAT) relationships can
provide a ‘litmus test’ to debates surrounding the notion of commitment. The term com-
mitment, like the term ‘family’, has been extensively examined and theorised in socio-
logical literature and, as with ‘family’, commitment has considerable meaning for people
in everyday life (Ribbens McCarthy, 2012). It has also made its way into political dis-
courses on families, creating a re-emphasis on the importance of marriage (heterosexual
and to some extent same-sex) (Carter, 2012). Yet, despite this prevalence, understanding
what commitment means and how it is lived is not straightforward; while some argue
that individuals have become more autonomous, weakening long-term commitment to
partners (Giddens, 1992; Beck and Beck-Gernsheim, 1995; Bauman, 2003), others con-
clude that traditional kinship values remain strong and commitment pivotal to personal
life (Duncan and Phillips, 2008; Smart, 2007; Finch and Mason, 1993). LAT relation-
ships represent a unique situation since time and distance apart allow individuals every-
day autonomy, while at the same time to maintain some desired level of couple intimacy.
Or as Levin (2004) put it in her pioneering study, LAT allows ‘both/and’ – both auton-
omy and intimacy.
Sociological debates on commitment (see Lewis 2001 for an overview) have revolved
around individualisation versus continuity of family forms. Thus some see commitment
as both precarious in modern individualised societies and decreasing in significance for
couples. Giddens’ (1992) ‘pure relationship’ and Bauman’s (2003) ‘liquid love’ are
examples of individualisation stances. According to Giddens, pure relationships are
entered into for their own sake and continued only for as long as each individual within
the relationship is receiving some form of satisfaction (1992: 58). For Bauman this
means that love becomes inadequately represented by commodified short term liaisons
and one night stands. Ideas of reciprocal and lasting commitment are clearly not part of
these visions, which highlight the fragility of intimacy and long term commitment.
In contrast, others point to the continued emphasis on commitment in intimate rela-
tionships (Carter, 2012; Van Hooff, 2013; Mason, 2004). Smart and Stevens (2000) sug-
gest that commitment involves mutual and/or contingent ties, while in her later work
Smart (2007) contends that commitment is inseparable from love. According to Carter
(2012), it is a process that involves different elements, including love, time and invest-
ment. Empirically based research highlights the commitment found in co-residential
couples, whether cohabitating (Van Hooff, 2013; Barlow et al., 2005) or married (Lewis,
2001; Carter, 2012). Barlow et al. suggest that cohabiting relationships can involve a
whole range of levels and types of commitment from no commitment at all to strong
‘marriage-like’ commitment. Both Barlow et al. and Lewis go on to suggest that due to
the lack of binding and formal ties, non-marital couple relationships can even involve
greater degrees of commitment than those who are married, since unmarried relation-
ships are marked by an informality and absence of state control. It is important to note,
however, that it is not the relationship form alone that determines levels of commitment;
even though an absence of marriage contract may enhance a couple’s experience of com-
mitment, ultimately all and any types and/or levels of commitment can be found across
all relationship forms.
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Carter et al. 3
Critics of the notion of individualisation have focused on this lack of congruence
between theoretical claims and empirical research (e.g. Morgan, 1996, 2011 and family
practices; Jamieson, 1998, 2004 and intimacy; Mason, 2004 on kinship and relationality;
Smart, 2007 and personal life; Duncan and Smith, 2006 on social generalisation; more
recently Ribbens McCarthy, 2012; Wilson et al., 2012 and many others). There has, how-
ever, been less in the way of an alternative theoretical construct through which to examine
current intimacies. Currently, the idea of relationality perhaps goes furthest in providing
such an alternative lens through which to understand the ways people make or maintain
connections with one another (Mason, 2004, Smart, 2007). For example in her narrative
accounts, Mason found a range of discourses from ‘relational inclusion’ – involving highly
inclusive but habitual forms of relating – to ‘relational individualism’, where purposeful
agency was much more explicitly present in accounts. Even in this last group, however,
individuals expressed a concern with how their decisions affected those around them:
agency was always exercised with thought to relationships. Ideas of relationality may,
therefore, offer a better way of understanding the fluidity of decisions around personal
relationships; these are very rarely selfish, strategic and ‘individualised’ decisions, but are
more likely to be relational, normative and emotional (see Holmes, 2010; Duncan, 2014).
Carter (2012) has further sought to define the process of being committed. She identi-
fies the following five dimensions in understandings of ‘commitment’:
A lifecourse element: stages in life and life events impact commitment, either
strengthening or weakening ties;
Sexual exclusivity: the expectation of sexual exclusivity in relationships can be
expressed both explicitly and implicitly;
Love and longevity: commitment is bound up with ideas about love, as well as
desires for and experiences of long-term partnerships (i.e. we’ve been together so
long we must be committed);
Moral and social expectations: although more negotiable now (Lewis, 2001),
moral and social pressures remain evident;
Relationship investments: obligations such as having children together or shared
housing and belongings.
Using these dimensions as an exploratory tool, this article will assess the ways in which
individuals who live apart together spoke of and understood commitment and whether
these discussions served to de-prioritise or emphasise relational commitment.
Living apart together relationships have been the focus of increased academic as well
as media attention and currently around 10% of adults in Britain are LAT (Duncan et al.,
2013, 2014). These types of relationships are not new in themselves as they have existed
in other guises across the decades (as ‘dating’ relationships or ‘going steady’, or as con-
strained separation for employment reasons; Duncan and Phillips, 2010). What is new,
perhaps, is their more overt and accepted presence.
In sociology and demography, the major focus has been on attempting to determine
who has LAT relationships and why. Interpretations of LAT reflect these debates: certain
commentators have suggested that some LAT partners choose to live their intimate lives
differently, embodying pioneering and more individualised attitudes towards couple life
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4 Sociology
(e.g. Bawin-Legros and Gauthier, 2001, Roseneil, 2006). Others more conservatively
interpret LAT as simply another step between singledom and cohabitation (Haskey and
Lewis, 2006; Ermisch and Seidler, 2009). However, more recent findings suggest a
diversity of motivations for LAT, involving various mixes of constraint and preference
(Duncan et al., 2013). There is also considerable diversity in terms of length of relation-
ship (Duncan and Phillips, 2010; Liefbroer et al., 2012, Duncan et al., 2013).1
Given the range of characteristics within LAT relationships – from those who have
just met to those who have been together for over 20 years – there will inevitably be a
variety of ideas about commitment. Despite this diversity, Duncan and Phillips (2010),
working from the 2006 British Social Attitudes survey, suggests that LAT couples dis-
play similar levels of commitment to cohabiting and married couples – at least for more
established ‘partner LATs’ (as opposed to the significant minority who were ‘dating
LATs’). LAT relationships ‘were seen by most as good enough for partnering and subject
to the same expectations about commitment, as expressed through fidelity, as marriage
or cohabitation’ (2010: 113–14). By examining how those living apart understand their
relationships and commitment, therefore, we hope to establish the extent to which LAT
does indeed offer a pioneering approach to partnering. In the next section we discuss our
sources and methods used in undertaking this task.
Methods
This article draws on nationally representative survey data of people in LAT relationships
in Britain in 2011,2 and qualitative interviews with LATs carried out in 2011/12. By com-
bining interview and survey data, this article takes a ‘qualitatively driven’ approach to
mixed methods (Mason, 2006). While we seek the depth of understanding of complex
notions in various contexts of social experience, we also recognise the limitation of a
purely qualitative paradigm: particularly the drawbacks of small, case study, research. Using
data from a large scale, quantitative survey has given us a general overview of the practices
and attitudes of those living apart, while the more detailed one-to-one interviews provide
the context, complexities and situations within which these relationships take place.
The survey results presented combine data from three statistically representative gen-
eral population surveys (NatCen’s Omnibus, the British Social Attitudes Survey, and the
ONS Omnibus), which together yielded a total of 572 people in a LAT relationship – 9%
of all respondents across the three surveys.3 In order to distinguish those in a LAT rela-
tionship, the following question was included in all three surveys and was asked of those
not currently married, cohabiting or in a civil partnership:
‘Are you currently in a relationship with someone you are not living with here?’4
This question – with respondents themselves defining the word ‘relationship’ – was
designed to be wide enough in scope to include all types of LAT. These LAT respondents
were then asked a set of questions about their relationship history and plans, their
relationship practices and understandings, and attitudes towards LAT.5 Standard socio-
demographic information for LAT respondents was also collected on each of the three
surveys. These data were then combined into a single LAT survey dataset. The LAT
sample was split evenly in terms of sex and it comprised a younger sample of people than
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Carter et al. 5
that of the general population (61% under age 35 compared to 29% in the general popu-
lation). Around 3% of LAT relationships are same-sex, 85% of those identifying as LAT
are White (similar to the general population) and those in managerial or professional
occupations are slightly underrepresented (29% compared with 35% of the general popu-
lation).6 While this source is extensive and statistically representative, detail and contex-
tualisation is consequently limited.
The second source comprises 50 semi-structured conversational interviews focusing
on reasons for living apart as well as relationship and caring practices and attitudes. The
qualitative sample was drawn using the three national surveys as a sampling frame, pur-
posively selecting interviewees according to the reasons for living apart given in their
responses. These reasons were (1) those who were ‘too early’ or ‘not ready’ in their
relationship to live together, (2) those who were constrained from living together, chiefly
for financial reasons, (3) those who lived apart because of the locational demands of
outside agencies, usually employers, educational establishments or institutions like
prison or care homes, and (4) those who preferred to live apart. The sample approxi-
mately matches LAT respondents from the national surveys in terms of age, occupational
group, sexuality and ethnicity, and in reason for living apart.
The survey data was produced in SPSS and analysis included standard frequency
distribution and cross-tabulation. The statistical significance of associations between
variables was assessed through chi-square tests. The semi-structured interviews were
recorded, transcribed, and coded thematically using NVivo. The analysis process
involved analysing the qualitative and quantitative data separately along certain themes
imposed on and arising from the data. The interview transcripts were also coded for
spontaneous mentions of commitment and sexual exclusivity.
The three national surveys asked identical questions to LAT respondents about their
contact, relationship practices and attitudes towards sexual exclusivity. The latter was
framed by asking whether it was wrong for a person living with their partner, or alterna-
tively living apart together with a partner, to have sex with someone else. Participants
could respond on a five answer Likert scale: ‘not wrong’, ‘rarely wrong’, ‘sometimes
wrong’, ‘mostly wrong’ or ‘always wrong’. Interviewees in the semi-structured inter-
views were asked about their attitudes towards LAT, cohabitation and sexual exclusivity;
they responded to these questions in both personal terms and more generally in regard to
social mores and expectations. Commitment and love were often talked about in response
to these questions.
Put together these two sources provide a fairly detailed overview of understandings of
commitment in living apart together relationships. While the survey data provides an
initial overview of certain aspects of coupledom (contact, and sexual exclusivity for
example), the main focus of this particular article is the interview data as we want to
delve into individuals’ meanings and understandings of their lived experiences of LAT.7
Commitment, Coupledom and Sexual Exclusivity
The Surveys
The vast majority of respondents to the surveys thought of themselves as ‘a couple’ (79%
always or usually did), and felt other people saw them this way too (84%).8 Very few
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6 Sociology
(7%) said they rarely or never saw themselves as a couple. There was no statistically
significant variation in this identification either by age or length of relationship, suggest-
ing that couple identification is present across LAT type and life stage. In addition to
couple identification, contact patterns can also tell us something about closeness and
intimacy between a couple. The results from the surveys reveal that 68% of respondents
saw each other several times a week (21% every day) and only 16% saw their partner less
than once a week. Moreover, 44% of those who lived within 1 mile saw their partners at
least once every day (see Duncan et al., 2013). Similar patterns have been observed in
Australia and France (Reimeidos et al., 2011; Régnier-Loilier et al., 2009). In addition to
regular physical contact, survey respondents also reported frequent contact by phone,
text, email or the internet; 86% contacted each other in this way at least once a day (55%
several times a day). Only 1% contacted each other once a week or less. Indicatively, the
(potentially more intimate) verbal exchange enabled by telephoning or Skype was the
most popular form of contact, followed by email or text messaging (see Duncan et al.,
2013). In terms of personal contact then, few LAT relationships are ‘part-time’ or distant.
Sexual exclusivity is often considered a basic element of commitment to a partner
(Duncan and Phillips, 2010; Carter, 2012). Certainly this was reported as paramount for
almost all the respondents in the surveys and interviewees. In the combined national sur-
vey data 87% said that it was ‘always’ or ‘mostly’ wrong for a person in a LAT relation-
ship to have sex with someone else. This is little different from attitudes about those in
co-residential relationships, where 89% of LAT respondents said that sex outside the rela-
tionship was always or mostly wrong (Duncan and Phillips, 2010; Duncan et al., 2013).
Similarly, the vast majority of our interviewees agreed that sex outside their relationship
was wrong, no matter what form the relationship took. Six of the 50 interviewees, however,
did say that while sex outside of any relationship was wrong, sex outside a co-residential
relationship should be taken even more seriously than outside a LAT relationship.
There is evidence that sex does occur outside partner relationships, albeit apparently
less than popularly assumed; the 2010 Natsal 3 survey of sexual attitudes and lifestyles
among 16–74 year olds in Britain found that just 3.3% of married respondents, and 7.1%
of cohabitants, had sex with more than one partner in the last year (private communica-
tion from Natsal team). Moreover, this is usually seen as a serious transgression and
often means the end of the relationship. For example, Wouters (2004) found that the
percentage of young women in Britain who considered an act of sexual infidelity to be
the end of the relationship increased considerably between 1979 and 1993, particularly
among cohabitants, rising from 30% to 65%. Similarly, while British Social Attitudes
surveys show considerable liberalisation around personal behaviour between 1984 –2011
(about pre-marital sex, or same sex relationships for example), there was, in contrast, an
increase from 84% to 89% of those saying that extra-marital sex was ‘always or mostly
wrong’. This is mirrored in the findings from the Natsal surveys which show an increase
in the percentages of both men and women stating that non-exclusivity in marriage is
always wrong, from 1990–1991 (Natsal 1) to 2010–12 (Natsal 3). The stated norms guid-
ing sexual exclusivity, therefore, appear to be becoming ever more strict and widespread
perhaps regardless of actual behaviour.
This normative attitude towards sexual exclusivity would seem to support the sup-
position that LAT is usually experienced in a similar way to other relationship practices.
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Carter et al. 7
Even Bawin-Legros and Gautier (2001) – who see LAT as an individualised, transitory
relationship – note that ‘fidelity is still expected on both sides’ (2001: 45). Sexual fidelity
represents a given level of contingency in all relationships since, as exclusivity is increas-
ingly emphasised, partnerships are more likely than ever to end if this is not maintained.
Overall, the survey results paint a picture of the majority of LAT couples identifying in
relational terms: they see themselves as being part of a couple who are in frequent (often
physical) contact with one another. The response of interview participants was broadly
similar and the next section discusses in more detail how interviewees relied upon hetero-
normative narratives of sexual behaviour in conceptualising notions of commitment.
The Interviews
Many interviewees were emphatic on this point: if their partner had sex with someone else,
their relationship would be over. There were numerous examples: typically Charlotte (age
group 41–50) said, ‘if he were cheating, he’d be out’, Michelle (18–25) commented, ‘if he
slept with somebody else, me and him are over’, and George (51–60) said, ‘there’s no point
in being in a relationship if you’re gonna have somebody else round for whatever’. Sexual
relations outside of their relationships were not to be tolerated. Indeed, a number of partici-
pants recounted stories of previous relationships that ended because of extra-relationship
sexual encounters. Moreover, the vast majority of interviewees also commented that fidel-
ity was to be expected just as much in a LAT relationship as in a co-residential relationship,
reflecting the results of the national surveys. Perhaps with the lack of shared residence in
common, the desire for sexual exclusivity becomes emphasised as an aspect of commit-
ment that can be evidenced through behaviour rather than material possessions.
The link between sex and commitment emerged when interviewees spontaneously
talked about commitment in response to questions about sexual relationships. For exam-
ple, when asked whether infidelity was more serious when a couple were married com-
pared to LAT, Ben (51–60) responded, ‘because there’s no marriage doesn’t mean that
commitment isn’t just as strong … it’s no more serious … the brick of the commitment
– it must be identical’. Wendy (51–60) expressed similar sentiments when she said that
sex outside a LAT relationship and co-residential relationship was ‘equally as serious
because even though you’re living apart I still do feel as though you’re committed to
each other’. Again, Steven (18–25) said, when asked about sex outside of his relation-
ship, ‘if you’re in a committed relationship, if you’re someone’s boyfriend, girlfriend,
partner, you’ve changed your Facebook status, you don’t have sex with anyone else.
Living together or not’. For these interviewees then, a priority of commitment was sex-
ual exclusivity. Interestingly, for Steven, changing one’s status on Facebook to ‘in a
relationship’ may also indicate a certain level of commitment to a relationship. Perhaps
Facebook and other social networking sites that allow individuals to ‘display’ their rela-
tionship status are a new means of performing a level of attachment that would previ-
ously not have been possible prior to cohabitation (see Finch, 2007). It may be that this
public display reinforces, rather than weakens, the fidelity norm – the ‘electronic village’
approaches the ‘traditional village’ rather than moving towards ‘liquid love’. One might
also argue, however, that as relationships are more fluid and less likely to be life-long, it
is more necessary to find a means to display a relationship in public.
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8 Sociology
For most interviewees though, their declaration of sexual exclusivity (whether actu-
ally practised or not) was an explicit sign of commitment, and this was just as expected
in a LAT relationship as in a co-residential relationship. This stated emphasis on sexual
exclusivity aligns with previous findings by Carter (2012) indicating that sexual
monogamy becomes a prerequisite of commitment. Nevertheless, there was a minority
of interviewees (six out of 50) who did say that having sex outside of a cohabiting or
married relationship was more serious than sex outside of a LAT relationship (no one
said that sex outside of a relationship was acceptable). These respondents seemed to
have various reasons for taking this view. Sharon (61–70), for example, had recently
– and generally gladly – separated from her husband after he started a relationship with
another woman. She nonetheless viewed herself as in some sort of continuing relation-
ship with her husband including a remaining obligation to care for him (encompassing
occasional sexual relations). While this aspect of commitment remained, she was also
seeing other men. For Sharon, therefore, once she and her husband had made the deci-
sion to live in separate homes, seeing other men became less problematic for her. Thus,
her movement into married LAT from married cohabitation signalled a decline in some
part of her commitment and a simultaneous lowering in the seriousness of extra-
marital sexual relations.
Hannah, Neil and Nicola (all between 30 and 50) had been in previous co-residential
relationships and all saw cohabiting as symbolising more commitment, either
because they hoped to cohabit again in the near future (Hannah and Neil), or because
they were deliberately living apart to avoid commitment (Nicola). These participants
saw the shared investments of property and possessions as a significant element in
their commitment. Since these interviewees placed a high level of significance on
the act of cohabitation, sex outside of cohabitation became more serious than outside
a non-cohabiting relationship. Finally Tina (18–25), still living in the parental home
but soon to leave for university, was in a transitional phase in life. Although she
said that living together did not in itself show more commitment, ‘you’re in a more
awkward situation then because you’re living with them’. For her, it was not the
cohabitation itself that represented a greater degree of commitment but rather the
structures binding cohabiting relationships such as shared finances and housing
(shared investments), which in turn made sexual infidelity more serious in a co-
residential relationship because of the propensity of sexual infidelity to precipitate
relationship breakdown.
For all interviewees then, the sexual exclusivity expected in LAT relationships was a
part of the commitment to their partner. Where sexual infidelity was seen as more serious
in a co-residential relationship (married or otherwise), this was often due to the invest-
ments that cohabitation entails: whether emotional (Philip, Hannah, Neil and Nicola)
or physical (Sharon and Tina). The interview participants made strong and continuous
reference to conventional frames of heteronormativity in their narratives of commitment:
normative assumptions that have prevailed throughout the 20th century. For monogamy
and co-residence remain important reference points for these LATs in making sense of
their own relationships. Perhaps it is not surprising that those in LAT relationships do
sound so conventional; they, after all – like others – have limited access to languages and
discourses about doing relationships differently (Duncan, 2011).
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Carter et al. 9
Commitment and Living Apart Together
The vast majority of interviewees considered their LAT relationship to be committed,
and of these, a large number stated their commitment was high and comprehensive. By
using a close analysis of their accounts, interviewees can be gathered into four groups
based on their stated commitment. Two groups include interviewees who spoke of high
levels of commitment in their relationships (28 out of 50 respondents) while the remain-
ing two groups described certain aspects of commitment missing from their partnerships
(22 respondents).
It can also be noted that these four groups map onto the LAT categories identified by
Duncan et al. (2013); preference, constraint, situational and too early. The commitment
groups with their associated LAT categories are defined as follows:
1. Autonomous commitment: these participants were all preference LATs who pre-
ferred to live apart, either because of previous negative relationship experiences
or a desire for autonomy and they all expressed high levels of commitment in
their relationships (six interviewees).
2. Contingent commitment: these participants were largely constraint or situational
LATs who were prevented from living together for reasons such as finances, fam-
ily or caring obligations, or work or study location. While this group expressed
high levels of commitment in their relationships this was contingent upon living
together in the future (22 interviewees).
3. Ambivalent commitment: respondents in this group were mostly in the too early
LAT group, meaning they were not yet ready to live together, and expressed both
some commitment and a lack of it in their relationships (17 interviewees).
4. Limited commitment: this group contained preference LATs who were living
apart expressly because they said it offered less commitment (five interviewees).
Evidence for commitment was described by the interviewees as embodying: (1) a high
level of intimacy in terms of joint decision making, making meals together, sharing con-
fidences, etc., (2) shared hobbies and interests and, for some, (3) a readiness for cohabi-
tation. Those describing just (1) and (2) above were also likely to express the view that
cohabitation offered no more commitment than living apart together. On the other hand,
those who mentioned (3) said that although cohabitation in general did involve more
commitment, they themselves did not lack any commitment in living apart because they
were ready to live together. For participants whose commitment was ambivalent or lim-
ited in their relationship, they stated that either: (1) they were specifically using living
apart as a means to avoid commitment, or, more likely, (2) that they were waiting to
cohabit to gain a dimension of commitment that they were not yet prepared for.
Where relationships were described as highly and unambiguously committed, these
participants either did not place significant emphasis on relationship investments (such as
shared housing or finances) in their accounts (Carter, 2012) or they stated that these
already existed in their relationships. Those whose commitment was more ambivalent
also placed great emphasis on the shared responsibilities that are involved in cohabitation
and wanted to live apart in order to not take on these responsibilities (yet). The boundaries
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10 Sociology
between these two broad groups are not fixed and it was also evident that interviewees
could hold one view for their own relationship and quite another for relationships in gen-
eral. For example, on a personal level some interviewees reported a strong sense of com-
mitment to their own relationship (perhaps because of other elements to commitment such
as love and longevity (Carter, 2012)) – however, at a public level they saw LAT as lacking
commitment (due to the investments represented by shared housing perhaps).
Moreover, to complicate matters further, even those who saw LAT relationships as
involving less commitment than cohabitation still usually professed high levels of commit-
ment in their own relationships – just not as much commitment as if they were cohabiting.
This complicated picture can be explained using the dimensions of commitment offered by
Carter (2012) outlined earlier. LAT relationships may be perceived as involving a limited
amount of commitment because these relationships often lack the structural relationship
investments of shared housing, finances and possessions. However, this is just one aspect
of commitment and if other aspects are present, such as love, moral obligations or social
expectations, commitment can still be highly significant to those in LAT relationships. The
discussion below focuses on participants’ expressed commitment in their LAT relation-
ships, rather than tackling their attitudes towards LAT and commitment more generally.
Autonomous Commitment
The six interviewees in this group all expressed very high levels of commitment, while
maintaining a desire to remain apart from their partner. Many came from a position of
‘negative preference’ for LAT – co-residence and often marriage remained the ideal but
LAT was practically and emotionally the safer option (Duncan et al., 2013). These inter-
viewees had previous negative experiences in co-residential relationships and had chosen
to live apart as protection against future harm. Charlotte (41–50) explained that given her
history of losing all her possessions in a previous relationship and her partner having simi-
lar experiences, they were committed and determined to live apart: ‘but then again it’s a
fresh approach to commitment’. When asked whether cohabitation would change the rela-
tionship, Charlotte responded: ‘I think personally for me and him it’s probably adding
more pressure, than commitment’. It was the freedom that LAT offered alongside a stable
and committed relationship that appealed to Charlotte. Michelle (21–30) also found it
‘quite hard to be committed … because of [her] insecurities’ following a searing history
of failed and deeply unpleasant cohabitation. Yet Michelle likewise, went on to say that
‘we do look after each other like we’re married, our relationship is no different to any
other relationship really. We still see each other, love each other, commit to each other’.
Wendy (51–60) also appreciated a level of autonomy in her relationship alongside
commitment. She had been with her partner for 13 years and had spent some time living
with him before moving out due to his alcoholic and abusive behaviour. For Wendy
then, ‘[LAT] has given me more freedom to do more things but overall I would say yeah
you could still be just as committed [as living together]’. For individuals with past
or current relationship difficulties, such as Wendy, Michelle and Charlotte, the invest-
ments associated with cohabitation were not wanted or needed for commitment.
Richard (age group 61–70) intended to remain apart from his partner partly for inherit-
ance reasons; he commented:
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Carter et al. 11
Our commitment is quite strong to each other, if she turned round and told me she’d gone off
and slept with somebody else, I’d be devastated, I’d feel just as bad as if someone I was married
to told me that.
For Richard then, the account of commitment in his LAT relationship is no different to
that in a marriage. But the investments involved in co-residence were not desired because
he wanted to retain his property and possessions for his children after his death. Living
apart together provided the opportunity for these interviewees to enjoy aspects of com-
mitment not associated with relationship investments with the added benefit of retaining
a desired level of independence and autonomy. Interestingly, it appears that structural
investments such as shared housing do not need to be present in a relationship for com-
mitment to be expressed as extremely important and as equivalent to that within a mar-
ried relationship. This small group represent a desire for both high levels of commitment
and autonomy.
Contingent Commitment
A large number of participants in this group were prevented from living together due to
finances, location or family. This group, therefore, often expressed high levels of com-
mitment and qualified this assertion with the intention of living together in the near
future; around half expected to do so within the following two years. Those separated by
factors such as housing costs or job location, had concrete plans for achieving this. For
some this process would involve a deeper sense of commitment, where LAT and cohabi-
tation were often viewed as stepping stones on the path towards marriage, building up
shared ownership of possessions, and sometimes parenting. But there were also those
who said that their relationships were as committed as a cohabiting relationship because
they planned to cohabit in the future (unlike the previous group discussed) and emotion-
ally, were ready to do so. The above group of autonomously committed interviewees
expressed a commitment to their partner that was independent of relationship type (LAT
or cohabitation) or relationship stage (intention to cohabit or not) because they had cho-
sen to live apart. In contrast, this contingently committed group expressed high levels of
commitment in their LAT relationships because they were prevented from living together
but intended to cohabit in the future and were ready to do so.
Both Tom (31–40) and Rachel (31–40), for example, expressed high levels of com-
mitment in their relationships. Tom said:
I would hypothetically marry [my girlfriend] at the moment, in the future, not obviously now.
But you know what I mean, so I do see I definitely see the same sort of commitment [as in a
co-residential relationship].
Tom likens his commitment in his LAT relationship to that of a marriage. Similarly Geneva
(31–40), who was living apart from her partner to avoid taking on his debt, commented
about her relationship, ‘I don’t think it’s less committed [than cohabitation], it’s how each
individual is committed on a personal level’. Those who had been constrained from cohab-
iting for some length of time viewed their relationship as equivalent to cohabitation in
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12 Sociology
terms of intimacy and commitment. For these respondents then, their narrative of commit-
ment is independent of shared investments which are either ignored (Tom) or actively not
wanted (Geneva). As Geneva’s comment suggests, the more personal aspects of commit-
ment such as love and longevity are prioritised above shared responsibilities.
These personal rather than structural elements to commitment were highlighted by
Stephanie (41–50). She described her commitment in the following way: ‘we talk every-
day on the phone … we sort lots of things out together, you know banking, insurance,
holidays, everything: food, cook- you know, there’s nothing that we don’t probably know
about each other’. For Stephanie the amount they did together as a couple, and the level
of intimacy in their relationship, indicated a high level of commitment. This was similar
to Gemma (31–40) who said:
If anyone was to see me and my partner and not know us, you would think we live together
because we do everything together. We talk about what we’re going to eat, we just do everything,
everything is a joint decision.
For Gemma, the degree of commitment in her LAT relationship is very high: personal ele-
ments of commitment are prioritised above shared accommodation. Moreover, both
Gemma and Stephanie mention in their accounts that they do share responsibilities together
in terms of joint decision making and some combined financial transactions; these demon-
strate highly relational accounts of relationships. Thus, while external, more ‘structural’
factors like shared housing may well entail a part of the complex strands that make up the
messy notion of commitment, more personal aspects of commitment such as intimacy and
love are equally emphasised and expressed through high levels of care and contact (Duncan
et al., 2012) as well as shared decisions and transactions.
A further couple of interviewees who expressed high levels of commitment even asserted
that their relationships were more committed than if they were living together. For example,
Annabel (18–25) commented that her commitment ‘is probably stronger, you know, because
you’re living separately’. George (51–60) related his own experience at length:
You have to put more effort into a relationship where you don’t live in the same [dwelling],
where your lives are separate. You have to work at it. You have to want it. You have to make the
effort. When you’re living in a relationship together in a house together, when you’re married
it’s like you’re lumped together, that’s the way it is … you don’t have to work at anything, it’s
already there. When you do have separate lives, there are difficulties, you do have to make that
extra effort, because you’re taking somebody else’s life into consideration, as well as your own.
According to these interviewees, living apart may require an extra bond of commitment
because of the effort required to maintain a relationship involving separate residences
and separate lives. Since the structural aspect of commitment is missing, the other aspects
are perhaps reinforced (including sexual exclusivity).
Ambivalent Commitment
Not all interviewees, however, expressed such high degrees of commitment. This group
of 22 participants largely involved those who stated they were not ready or it was too
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Carter et al. 13
early in their relationship to live together. It is perhaps understandable then, that these
participants, while on the whole describing some level of commitment, were more
ambivalent about it. Since this group involved a number of respondents who felt it was
too early to live together, many, although not all, had an expectation of greater commit-
ment to follow. Neil (31–40) had strong beliefs about ‘living together and marriage and
that sort of thing’ so for him cohabitation was ‘the next step that just shows that like little
bit of extra commitment’. These ‘strong beliefs’ were given religious sanction for Philip:
‘you are more committed when you are in a permanent situation in house’ because for
him Christian marriage was the only legitimate sexual relationship. For these interview-
ees, cohabitation and the additional aspect of commitment represented by shared struc-
tural investments was something to consider in the future. This highlights the importance
of those shared structural responsibilities for some individuals.
Others in this group viewed LAT relationships as lacking aspects of commitment
beyond shared possessions. Hannah (31–40), who lived over 100 miles away from her
partner, commented ‘you don’t share the day to day experiences with the other person’;
the long distance presented a barrier to intimacy. When talking about cohabitation, Serina
(21–30) said,
I think it [cohabitation] could also make you stronger in the sense that you’re always together,
you have to compromise, you have to face things that you would usually you wouldn’t have to
deal with … and that will cement you more as a partnership because you’re always together and
you feel like you’re more connected to that person.
For these interviewees, LAT lacked a certain amount of ‘intimacy’ that co-residency
appeared to offer in terms of shared experiences, daily contact and facing situations
together. Nevertheless, all participants in this group reported some degree of commitment
to their partner and certain aspects of commitment such as agreed sexual exclusivity and
care were prevalent. Interviewees included in this group may well be in transitional phases
in their relationships, expecting commitment to either grow and become contingent or
autonomous (Hannah and Neil both expressed a preference for cohabitation, they were
just waiting for their relationships to reach that stage) or, on the other hand, diminish to a
limited level (Philip had not been in contact with his girlfriend for a number of weeks and
was waiting to see how the relationship would progress).
Limited Commitment
Finally, just five interviewees specifically chose to live apart because of the limited com-
mitment this relationship style was perceived to represent: they wanted to eschew the
elements of commitment associated with cohabitation. This often dovetailed with their
motivation for living apart – chiefly ‘negative preference’ or a desire for autonomy.
Nicola (41–50), for example, lived apart from her partner because of previous bad expe-
riences with her ex-husband (including both heavy financial loss and physical violence)
and because both her and her new partner already owned their own separate properties.
Nicola commented about her relationship: ‘it’s more serious if you live together because
you’re committing to everything together, obviously if you’re living apart you have got
your own little bit of separate life’.
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14 Sociology
Andrew (51–60) similarly chose to live apart because he did not want to progress his
relationship and ‘make it seem as though it’s a permanent … relationship’; indeed Andrew
went on to say, ‘I don’t love [my partner] enough to move in with her’ (indicating he
lacked a desire for both the structural and personal aspects of commitment). For these
interviewees living apart was a mechanism through which they could maintain an element
of separateness from their partner, while continuing a relationship that suited their needs.
This was often a question of combining safety, autonomy and intimacy rather than the
more optimistic vision of allowing simply intimacy and autonomy (Levin, 2004).
Mark gave an account that indicated a relatively limited amount of commitment to his
own LAT relationship; he commented, ‘I think in some ways, if she was to find some-
body who could give her more, then I think I’d actually be quite happy for her’. Mark
went on to say that ‘I don’t think [LAT is] any more or less [committed] just because of
the living arrangements, it’s more to do with the individual I think’. Thus commitment
for Mark is about personal rather than structural elements, which means that the basis for
commitment in his relationships has little to do with residence. As Mark demonstrates,
the simple fact of living apart, therefore, does not necessarily indicate a lack of commit-
ment in the relationship.
Nevertheless, even those interviewees – who used LAT as a tool to keep distance from
their partners – still expressed a degree of commitment in their relationships, minimally
that they would not have sex with anyone else. In this way LAT relationships can involve
a very complicated picture of distance and commitment: both separateness from their
partner and a level of commitment. It is possible that with the lack of structuring respon-
sibilities such as shared housing, other elements of commitment, such as love and caring,
become the main determinants for commitment. If even these elements are missing (e.g.
Andrew above), it comes down to an expression of sexual exclusivity alone.
Conclusion
Possibly the greatest physical difference between LAT and co-residential relationships is
shared material investments: one lacks the shared accommodation that the other, by defi-
nition, encompasses. Using the dimensions of commitment identified in section 1 can
help us to understand the complicated picture of commitment in LAT relationships. LAT
rarely involves shared structural investments, such as housing (although other shared
possessions or shared finances were often present); it was participants’ responses to this
‘missing’ aspect of commitment that determined their overall position on commitment.
Reported levels of commitment in LAT can therefore depend upon relationship stage and
reason for living apart: those who are still dating and living apart may report less com-
mitment in their relationships than those who are more established but have chosen to
live separately for various reasons.
Despite the fluidity that living apart can offer a couple, LAT was not often experi-
enced as an opportunity to avoid commitment; rather it was described by participants as
an opportunity to experience many aspects of commitment while ensuring a level of
independence (e.g. maintaining personal space, or not surrendering personal possessions
and investments). In fact, perhaps LAT relationships can represent the strongest type of
commitment since the couple are not only not bound by legal contract, they are also not
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Carter et al. 15
tied by shared housing or responsibilities. The only thing keeping them together is their
desire to stay together – their shared commitment to the relationship and the other per-
son. Moreover, another common feature of participants’ accounts was their emphasis on
connections with others: whether this was taken-for-granted assumptions of sexual
exclusivity; decisions based on considerations of children and other relationships; or
relationships with others actually constraining decisions about living arrangements (par-
ents’ objections, for example). The importance of connecting with others, whether a
consciously made decision or unconscious, remained paramount.
It is clear that family life is extremely important to the individuals in this study; the
importance of relational decisions is evident in explanations for living apart involving
concerns over protecting children and the individual’s desire to be in a relationship with
another despite various obstacles. Relating to others, no matter the format this takes,
remains a central and key component of personal life; and the centrality of traditional
values continues, despite the unconventional appearance of LAT. The significant
emphasis on sexual exclusivity highlights the liminality of all relationships, including
LAT, as they sit in this ambiguous position between popular notions of individuality and
evidenced experiences of traditionality. For LAT though, sexual exclusivity may be
especially pivotal as some other aspects of commitment, such as shared housing are
missing.
It might be tempting to conclude that intimate relationships are becoming more
diverse and complex over time, with the increased visibility of LAT as a leading exam-
ple. In contrast, these accounts of LAT show that relating to others, normative traditions,
and commitment remain important features of people’s relationship experiences. While
there may be change in terms of how people are able to live their lives, there remains a
considerable amount of continuity in how they do live their lives.
Acknowledgements
Thank you to Sasha Roseneil and anonymous reviewers for their comments on previous drafts.
Funding
This research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), grant number
RES-062-23-2213.
Notes
1. There is limited data on LAT relationships, particularly time-series data, given only recent
interest in them. Thus trends in the proportion of relationships that are LAT cannot be
ascertained.
2. This was part of the ESRC funded project ‘Living apart together: a multi-scale analysis’
(RES-062-23-2213). See http://www.bradford.ac.uk/research/rkt-centres/applied-social-
research/projects/current-projects/living-apart-together/#d.en.125078
3. There is a very small chance of respondent overlap in the three surveys.
4. On two of the three surveys (BSA and NatCen Omnibus), we also checked whether respondents
who were married, cohabiting or in a civil partnership were living with their spouse/partner.
5. A small number of questions were simplified or omitted for the ONS survey (which was con-
ducted last), where responses to the two previous surveys had shown little variation.
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16 Sociology
6. For more information on these demographic distinctions see Phillips et al. (2013). Interestingly,
there was little significant variation in LAT relationship practices and attitudes by gender or
class. In contrast, there was some significant variation by age (Duncan, 2014).
7. The survey data has been explored in more depth in Duncan et al. (2014) and Phillips et al.
(2013).
8. ‘Do you personally think of yourselves as “a couple”?’ and ‘Do other people think of you as
“a couple”?’.
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Julia Carter is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Canterbury Christ Church University. Her research
interests include marriage and relationships, families and personal life, and gender and sexuality. She
is particularly interested in intimate relationships and the role these play in an ever-changing social
context. Previous publications have focused on marriage and narratives of love, sexuality, and com-
mitment and, more recently, LAT relationships. Her wider interests include gender and popular cul-
ture and she has recently undertaken some research into the practices and experiences of weddings
and the role of agency in understanding these processes (in collaboration with Simon Duncan).
Simon Duncan is Emeritus Professor of Comparative Social Policy at the University of Bradford.
He has particular research interests in families, relationships, and personal life. Recent research
considers living apart together (LAT), agency and bricolage, the changing nature of personal life
between the 1950s and today, and the gap between assumptions and the realities of teenage mother-
hood. He is currently undertaking research on weddings, together with Julia Carter. He has previ-
ously researched on European, regional and local gender geographies, on local social relations and
the local state, and on comparative housing provision in Europe.
Mariya Stoilova is a Lecturer in Sociology and Psychosocial Studies at Birkbeck, University of
London, UK. Her research on intimacy, family transformations, and gendered citizenship focuses
on UK and Eastern European dynamics, policy implications, and practice development. Her recent
publications include ‘Mind the gap: The changing face of gender (in)equality in Bulgaria after
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18 Sociology
1989’ (in Ramen and Hassenstab, eds, Palgrave, forthcoming), ‘Living Apart Relationships
in Contemporary Europe: Accounts of Togetherness and Apartness’ (Sociology, 2014, 48(6)
1075–1091 with Roseneil et al.), ‘Why do people live apart together?’ (Families, Relationships
and Societies 2(3): 323–338, with Duncan et al., 2013), Citizenship and Reproduction/Reproducing
Citizens (special issue of Citizenship Studies, ed. with Roseneil et al., 2013) and the co-authored
book The Tenacity of the Couple Norm (Palgrave, forthcoming).
Miranda Phillips is a Research Director at NatCen Social Research – Britain’s largest independent
social research agency. She is Co-Director of British Social Attitudes and an editor of the British
Social Attitudes Report series. Her particular research interests include attitudinal research in gen-
eral, and specifically views about living apart together (LAT), couples and families, and the wel-
fare state. Miranda works on a wide range of research projects and social surveys, including cross-
sectional and panel studies, and has an extensive publication list.
Date submitted October 2013
Date accepted December 2014
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There is limited understanding of how the aspects of sex and relationship quality are related to decisions on whether to move in together, separate or continue dating among living-apart together (LAT) couples. This paper focuses on sexual and relationship satisfaction in understanding LAT relationship transitions into coresidence or separation in Germany. The longitudinal prospective design of the German Panel Analysis of Intimate Relationships and Family Dynamics data (pairfam, waves 1-9) is used. Discrete-time competing risk hazard models on LAT relationship outcomes to coresidence or separation are estimated. The results underline the fact that sexual satisfaction is not related to LAT partners’ decision to move in together; however, higher levels of relationship satisfaction are positively related to the decision of moving in with a partner. The models reveal that low sexual and relationship satisfaction are associated with breaking-up relative to still living apart. This study highlights the importance of considering sexual satisfaction in understanding better the risk of separation from a LAT partner, in addition to the global indicator of relationship satisfaction.
... 4 I use the term living-together-apart in order to show that a relationship and being together can happen while living in two separate places. The more common term in social sciences is living-apart-together -the term refers to the couples living in the same city and not sharing a household(Levin and Trost 1999;Carter 2015;Jamieson and Simpson 2013). ...
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... While love, trust, and communication are positive contributors to relationship outcomes, mutual understanding of the situation serves to reassure the couples about the integrity of relationship despite the experienced paucities of sexual encounters. That is hardly unimaginable as the level of commitment secures the relationship even among partners living apart (Carter et al., 2016). ...
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The study aims to examine the experiences of premarital , non-cohabiting partners while coping with the Covid-19-induced lock-down. With specific focus on sexual intimacies, our interest is to investigate the degree or extent by which the pandemic has constrained people's sexual interests and expressions with the intention to determine whether or not the overall relationship would be negatively affected by the paucity of sexual encounters. Findings drawn from online interviews involving 28 participants reveal that the pandemic has indeed affected sexual intimacy aspirations among partners, with some participants calling these times as "dry season." For this very reason, the pandemic has also emerged as a sexual issue. Further results reveal that partners employ technology-based strategies in order to satisfy their sexual desires during these times when restrictions in movement are in place. Trust, love, communication and understanding serve also to assure partners of the integrity of the relationship. The study suggests that the loss of physical sexual encounters during lockdowns is not sufficient to result in negative relationship outcomes. ARTICLE HISTORY
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Understanding the impact of social change on personal relationships and family lives has become one of the key concerns of sociology. In contemporary Chinese society, there is a growing diversity in family patterns accompanied by a marked decline in traditional pre-existing structures in relation to the patriarchal and patrilocal family system. Through the lens of ‘living apart together’ (LAT) relationships, this book seeks to examine how gender and heterosexuality structure the lived experiences of people in non-conventional partnerships. To this end, this chapter briefly discuss why the issue of LAT matters in China, followed by existing Western studies on LAT relationships. I will then shift my focus to map out the feminist methodological frameworks of this study.
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Building on D. Morgan’s concept of ‘family practices’ as I discussed in Chap. 4, this chapter is primarily concerned with the ‘practices of intimacy’, with the aim of understanding how people experience intimacy and build a sense of closeness. The activities that ‘doing’ family and disclosing intimacy involve when intimate couples are split geographically are contextually varied and, in this regard, three dimensions of practices of family and intimacy are teased out: practices of mobile intimacy, emotion and caring. The narratives emerging from using WeChat indicate how the use of Information and Communication Technologies can both create opportunities for people to enhance existing relational bonds, while decentring love and commitment. While many of the studies on the practices approach emphasise ‘doing’, this research provides insight on how acts of not doing (emotion) can also be articulated as a way of maintaining a sense of intimacy and constructing a family life. I conclude the chapter with an analysis of practices associated with filial piety in the Chinese context. It is argued that by focusing on the practices of intimacy, families can be experienced and constructed differently, while also being informed by cultural discourses and social institutions of family and gender.
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This study examines the underexplored relationship between union type and mental health for married, cohabiting, and living apart together (“LAT”) individuals. Further, we assess whether gender and age moderate (separately and jointly) this relationship. Using data from Wave 1 of the Generations and Gender Survey ( N = 34,833), results suggest that cohabitors and LATs have worse mental health than married individuals. The negative effects of cohabiting or living apart on mental health are stronger for women than men. Young and middle-aged female LATs (to an equal magnitude) have worse mental health than married women of the same ages, while there are no such differences among older women. Middle-aged and older male LATs have worse mental health than married men of the same ages (with the larger effect found for middle-aged men), but there are no such differences among younger men. Thus, we highlight previously undocumented gender and life course dynamics of union type and mental health.
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There is an ongoing debate over whether living apart together (LAT) relationships are simply long-term relationships or alternatives to cohabitation or marriage. This study examined cohabitation and marriage expectations among older adults who LAT in the United States to address the debate. The analyses also compared the marriage expectations of older adults who LAT and cohabitors. Using data from the 2011 Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (WLS), we examined the union expectations of 250 individuals who LAT and 234 cohabitors. After providing a demographic portrait of older adults who LAT, we used ordered logistic regression models to predict their cohabitation and marriage expectations. Additional models predicted marriage expectations for older adults who LAT versus cohabitors. Older adults who LAT were unlikely to expect to formalize their unions. Adults who LAT were less likely to expect marriage than cohabitors. LAT relationships appear to be long-term partnerships in the United States.
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Contents List of Tables 3 1. The project: Living Apart Together: a multi-method analysis 4 2. Methodology 5 3. Socio-demographic description of LAT: Britain 2011 6 3.1. Prevalence 6 3.2. Regional distribution 6 3.3 Gender and age 6 3.4 Marital / civil status 7 3.5 Sexuality and relationship 7 3.6 Ethnicity 8 3.7 Household type 8 3.8 Education and socio-economic status 9 3.9 Housing Tenure 10 3.10 Health 10 3.11 Religiousness 10 4. Status of LAT relationship 12 4.1. Length of LAT relationship 12 4.2. Previously living with current LAT partner 12 4.3. Likelihood of living with current LAT partner in future 13 4.4. Describing LAT partners 13 4.5. LAT as a couple 15 5. Attitudes about LAT 16 5.1. LAT and sexual exclusivity 16 5.2. Attitudes about LAT as a relationship 16 5.3. The ideal relationship 17 6. LAT Relationship practices 19 6.1. Distance living apart 19 6.2. Frequency of face to face contact 19 6.3. Frequency of telephone and electronic contact 20 6.4. Ways of keeping in touch when apart 20 6.5. Ease or difficulty in making practical arrangements 21 6.6. Care when ill or troubled 22 7. Reason for living apart 24 Project publications 26
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Interpretations of living apart together (LAT) have typically counter-posed 'new family form' versus 'continuist' perspectives. Recent surveys, however, construct LAT as a heterogeneous category that supports a 'qualified continuist' position – most people live apart as a response to practical circumstances or as a modern version of 'boy/girlfriend', although a minority represents something new in preferring to live apart more permanently. This article interrogates this conclusion by examining in depth why people live apart together, using a nationally representative survey from Britain and interview accounts from 2011. Our analysis shows that LAT as a category contains different sorts of relationship, with different needs and desires. While overall coupledom remains pivotal and cohabitation remains the goal for most, LAT allows people flexibility and room to manoeuvre in adapting couple intimacy to the demands of contemporary life. Hence, we suggest, LAT is both 'new' and a 'continuation'.
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This paper examines how people living apart together (LATs) maintain their relationships, and describes how they view this living arrangement. It draws on a 2011 survey on LAT in Britain, supplemented by qualitative interviewing. Most LATs in Britain live close to their partners, and have frequent contact with them. At the same time most see LAT in terms of a monogamous, committed couple, where marriage remains a strong normative reference point, and see living apart as not much different from co-residence in terms of risk, emotional security or closeness. Many see themselves living together in the future. However, LAT does appear to make difference to patterns of care between partners. In addition, LATs report advantages in terms of autonomy and flexibility. The paper concludes that LAT allows individuals some freedom to manoeuvre in balancing the demands of life circumstances and personal needs with those of an intimate relationship, but that practices of LAT do not, in general, represent a radical departure from the norms of contemporary coupledom, except for that which expects couples to cohabit.
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The Original Argument Locating Practices Locating Practices: Alternatives Developments and Difficulties Time, Space and Family Practices The Body and Family Practices Emotions and Family Practices The Ethical Turn in Family Studies Work/Family Articulation Conclusion
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As a result of increased life expectancy, high divorce rates, and declining marriage and remarriage rates, older adults have experienced remarkable changes in norms surrounding patterns of partnering and family formation. The family lives of older adults now demonstrate greater heterogeneity and complexity than did those of earlier cohorts. New ways of “doing family” have become more prevalent, particularly in terms of how romantic partnerships are enacted and maintained. Although cohabitation is on the rise, another form of partnering is gaining visibility in Western societies—living apart together (LAT). These relationships are often defined as committed, monogamous intimate partnerships between unmarried individuals who live in separate homes but identify themselves as a couple. This entry provides an overview of LAT relationships in older adulthood including prevalence rates, explanations as to why older adults choose to LAT, and the benefits and disadvantages of LAT in later life.
Article
Have heterosexual relationships become more intimate and equal over the past forty years? Simply put, this is the central question underpinning this book. Within the context of late modern social processes, including most notably individualization and detraditionalization, authors such as Giddens, Beck and Beck-Gernsheim, and Bauman have come to focus on a posited transformation of personal relationships. This has culminated in a sociological debate over the nature of contemporary relationships, with proponents of change celebrating the emergence of an intimacy based on personal satisfaction rather than traditional obligations. Detractors reject this interpretation and instead lament what they consider to be the destruction of commitment and the demoralisation of personal relationships by the rise of individualism and consumerism. While these two entrenched positions have dominated the debate, a third, marginalised perspective has emerged, which questions the extent to which contemporary relationships have become detraditionalized, and emphasises evidence of continuing gender inequalities. This book is essentially a qualitative empirical investigation of the changes and continuities posited within the debate, which evaluates existing work and details the findings of van Hooff's research into the relationships of two generations of heterosexual couples. It provides the reader with a grounded interpretation of the evidence, questioning to what extent lived reality has matched the rhetoric within contemporary relationships.
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Commitment is a widely acknowledged concern among the general public as well as among academics and scholars. What commitment actually constitutes, however, is not easily defined. This article explores existing theories of commitment and how these fit in with the responses I found among young heterosexual women when asked what commitment meant to them. During the summer of 2008 I interviewed 23 women between the ages of 19 and 30 to discover their views regarding relationships, marriage and intimate commitment. Throughout discussions, certain defining features emerged as the most significant components to commitment in a romantic relationship. These include fidelity, love, longevity, social expectations and investments that are made within a relationship. In developing an account of commitment, it became apparent that certain of these factors pulled individuals into a relationship, while other factors pushed individuals together.
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Recent research suggests that women can use living apart together (LAT) for a reflexive and strategic undoing of the gendered norms of cohabitation. In this article we examine this assertion empirically, using a representative survey from Britain in 2011 and follow-up interviews. First, we find little gender differentiation in practices, expectations, or attitudes about LAT, or reasons for LAT. This does not fit in with ideas of undoing gender. Secondly, in examining how women talk about LAT in relation to gender, we distinguish three groups of ‘constrained’, ‘strategic’ and ‘vulnerable’ female interviewees. All valued the extra space and time that LAT could bring, many welcomed some release from traditional divisions of labour, and some were glad to escape unpleasant situations created by partnership with men. However, for the constrained and vulnerable groups LAT was second best, and any relaxation of gendered norms was seen as incidental and inconsequential to their major aim, or ideal, of the ‘proper family’ with cohabitation and marriage. Rather, their agency in achieving this was limited by more powerful agents, or was a reaction to perceived vulnerability. While the strategic group showed more purposeful behaviour in avoiding male authority, agency remained relational and bonded. Overall we find that women, at least in Britain, seldom use LAT to purposefully or reflexively undo gender. Equally, LAT sometimes involves a reaffirmation of gendered norms. LAT is a multi-faceted adaption to circumstances where new autonomies can at the same time incorporate old subordinations, and new arrangements can herald conventional family forms.