Can living apart really be the answer to a happier marriage?

Gwyneth Paltrow and her fiancé, Brad Falchuk, on the cover of Goop magazine’s second issue.
Gwyneth Paltrow and her fiancé, Brad Falchuk, on the cover of Goop magazine’s second issue. Photo: Archive

'Our marriage would have failed if we'd lived together. It would have been too much stress." Judith Newman's recipe for the success of her 25-year union with her late husband sounds somewhat counter-intuitive.

But the writer and mother of two, 58, is one of those who favour some variation on the theme of living apart together, or LAT, as it has been dubbed.

Last weekend, Gwyneth Paltrow revealed that she and husband Brad Falchuk live in separate houses; he stays with her four nights a week. According to her intimacy teacher (yes, really), it helps keep a relationship fresh.

Newman would tend to agree. Her arrangement with her husband, John, began as a matter of practical good sense, since both had apartments in New York, which neither wanted to give up, but they came to prefer it.

"[John] couldn't stand any kind of break from routine. He was fastidious. I didn't mind noise and clutter," says Newman, author of the 2017 memoir To Siri, With Love.

Incompatibility as housemates is only one reason some couples choose to keep their own dwellings. Others are simply too wedded to their own independence, or too fond of their personal space. And Paltrow is not the only famous example. Before her there was Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton; Dame Margaret Drabble and Sir Michael Holroyd; Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre.

Not everyone does it by choice though. One friend in his thirties spends two nights a week away from his wife for his work. "I miss her more than I thought I would," he says. "But it makes the time when we do see each other really nice, because we both get a lot of our life admin sorted out when we're apart. I think it's quite good for the relationship because it makes you really value each other."

Clinical psychologist Linda Blair says living apart together is becoming increasingly popular. "Nowadays we're living longer and are fit and able for longer. So there's a huge amount of noise in the system of a relationship that there wasn't before, and space and trust are your two best ingredients," she says. "I think it works incredibly well, especially for older couples who have been married a long time."

But, as you'd expect, there are caveats. If the couple has young children, the partner they live with will end up doing more of the childcare, and resentment can kick in, Blair warns.

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Seven years into Newman's marriage, when she was 40 and her husband, a retired opera singer from Durham, was 70, their twin sons were born. But the couple continued to live apart, seeing each other every day.

"He was a very responsible person but the chaos was too much for him. It didn't bother me," says Newman. "He did stay overnight when [our sons] were younger but I don't think he ever fed [them] or changed a diaper."

Instead she employed someone to help. "I spent a fortune because I wanted to work but couldn't leave my children with my old, grumpy husband," she says. "I would make John dinner and he would go home. I don't think the children stayed at his."

She doesn't feel she missed out in any way. "People make a lot of assumptions: that you're not having sex, you're not really intimate; and that's not true," she says. "Living together is also sometimes itself an impediment to intimacy, particularly when you have small kids."

Yet while intimacy, both emotional and sexual, is still possible for LAT couples, it is also possible they will find it outside of the relationship, warns Blair. It is therefore important to agree on boundaries before entering this kind of arrangement.

Simone Bose, a relationship counsellor with Relate, says living separately "can be a good thing, if [both] are on the same page". It does not work, however, if one partner craves more attachment than the other - or "if it's a step to try to separate, and one person doesn't realise that".

So could those of us conventional types benefit from more time apart from our spouses? Blair thinks so. She recommends three or four times a year we take a weekend break and go and spend time with friends, or at least take half a day each week to enjoy our own time, apart.

Newman's advice is more blunt. "Everyone should at least have two bathrooms!" she insists. "I don't get couples who don't have boundaries. I don't see that as romantic."

A year ago, Newman's husband died. She has recently contemplated dating again, but is unsure how to tell a new partner about her preference for living apart. "How do you say: 'I want everything, but I don't want to live under the same roof as you'? I'm still figuring it out."

The Sunday Telegraph, London