What does it mean to live apart — together? An increasing number of older adults are making this modern lifestyle choice as they enjoy close relationships as well as their freedom and independence.
Demographers have coined the term “living apart together” — or LAT — to refer to older adults in committed, romantic relationships who decide not to live together or marry their partner. Instead, older adults in living apart together relationships maintain their own residences even as they spend significant time together. One researcher who has studied the phenomenon describes living apart together as an “emerging form of family.”
Intimate Relationships, Separate Households
While living apart together relationships have yet to become a dominant lifestyle choice among older adults, the numbers are increasing. A 2005 study found that approximately 7 percent of people between the ages of 57 and 85 categorized themselves as living apart together. A recent survey found that “partnered but unmarried” older adults accounted for about 8 percent of the total number of people surveyed. Among the partnered group, just under 40 percent were in living apart together relationships.
In some cases, seniors become involved in living apart together relationships after divorce or the death of a spouse. Rather than remarrying, these newly single adults decide to enjoy the benefits of a relationship without giving up their own households.
LAT relationships have raised a number of questions for researchers, such as the effects on seniors’ overall well-being and health. In addition, researchers wonder how adult children from previous relationships will respond to the couplings. Complications can ensue, for instance, when family members do not recognize or respect the relationship and do not keep partners informed of changes in health status.
Acting as Care Partners
Researchers also wonder what happens in living apart together relationships when one member suffers serious health problems or requires long-term care. While some older adults have previously provided care for ill spouses or parents and wish to avoid the duties of caring for someone else, others are willing to help.
In some cases, partners in the early stages of a living apart together relationship express reluctance to take on the role of a care partner. However, many of those partners offer assistance when medical problems arise. Although partners may decide not to live together or marry, many find themselves unwilling to simply walk away from relationships that become complicated by health concerns.
Implications for Elder Well-Being
How do living apart together relationships affect happiness and overall well-being for older adults? At least two studies have found that individuals in such relationships may receive less support from partners — and may be less happy — than married couples.
Elder Care Alliance remains committed to important research in the field of aging services. We will continue to review and share the emerging data about the effects of living apart together relationships on elders’ quality of life.