Do Significant Others Have to Live Together?

man and a woman talking

It’s no mystery why relationship problems emerge from the woodwork when partners suddenly find themselves under the same roof. The discovery of odd habits, incompatible approaches to clutter, and the simple struggle to meld daily routines can shine a spotlight on certain differences that never seemed to be a problem before. The details of these dilemmas may change with time and often indicate deeper issues, which can and should be discussed in therapy, but we should remember that there is no written rule that every couple must cohabitate, and there’s nothing wrong with recognizing the benefits that separate spaces offer when it comes to maintaining sense of self, sanity, and “spark.”

Take these celebs for example — hectic schedules aren’t the only reason they’ve struck a balance with these unconventional living arrangements. Goop founder Gwyneth Paltrow and TV producer Brad Falchuck married in the fall of 2019, but nine months into their marriage, each of them maintained separate homes with their respective children, with Brad spending four nights out of the week at Gwyneth’s. Questionable wellness advice aside, Paltrow swears by the arrangement, claiming her married friends say it’s ideal and they shouldn’t change a thing.

Always on Vacation

Drag queen extraordinaire RuPaul Charles and husband Georges LeBar’s arrangement is even more extreme — LeBar’s homebase is an expansive ranch in Wyoming, while Ru lives and works in LA, bounces over to NYC and London frequently, and visits the ranch to escape the grind. The time they do spend together is centered around ranchy relaxation and extravagant vacations, largely eliminating friction many couples face as they struggle to separate day-to-day stress from quality time.

Living Together, Yet Apart

Perhaps you don’t have the means to maintain numerous homes across the country and around the globe — understandable. The dream scenario for many is having separate spaces within the same home. How separate is up to you, but one striking example that comes to mind is the separate quarters connected by a footbridge in the duplex structure shared by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. The door leading to Frida’s space was often locked from the inside, which points to the lack of trust (or intermittent disgust with one another) resulting from their many ups, downs and tumultuous times. If you relate to that aspect of their relationship, there is plenty that couples therapy can help you resolve and explore — but the architectural arrangement itself is one that would certainly entice introverts, artists, writers, musicians, crafters, carpenters and tinkerers whose relationships suffer when their beloved significant other interrupts them amidst a flow state of inspired productivity, which may be difficult to recapture.

Man Caves, She Sheds and Coming Home Crabby

That brings us to the notion of the “Man Cave” and “She Shed,” cute concepts that culture has created to allow for significant others to preserve a piece of themselves and peace of mind when close quarters can cause partners to step on each other’s toes, or simply mess with one another’s mood. However, we don’t need separate homes, footbridge connected duplexes, or unnecessarily gendered clubhouses to keep things copacetic. If you’re Carrie Bradshaw, all you need is a curtain.

Coming home crabby after work is common, but it’s no excuse for berating your partner who innocently chirps, “ What’s shakin? How was your day?” as Aiden, her sensitive furniture-crafting beau, often did. Carrie’s solution was to recognize this isolated hour in the day as one where she simply couldn’t be cordial, and so, made this request before closing the room-dividing curtain in her open-concept apartment: “I need you to do something,” she says to Aiden, already conditioned to be quietly reading a book. “ I’ve never lived with anyone before you, so I don’t know how to say this correctly, but I need you to not talk to me for one whole hour. I know that sounds pretty selfish, but, it’s just what I need, is that OK?”

And although her delivery was slightly annoying, all was well after that. So, if you find that close quarters, or new cohabitation is causing strained communication, irritation, or unnecessary squabbles, try to isolate which scenarios or times of day are delivering friction, carve out some alone time or create your own space, then work on communicating your need in a constructive way. If you run into any complications, therapy is here to help.