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Scandinavia

Living Apart Together

All known societies are built upon some sort of marriage—and some have also constructed non-marital cohabitation as a social institution. In the 1970s, the concept of Living Apart Together (LAT) relationships appeared in some countries. This was first identified in the Netherlands. The term LAT relatie first appeared in a newspaper article in 1978 (Levin and Trost 1999) and has since become the international term in English.

An LAT relationship is a couple, same or opposite gender, who lives together but does not share the same home. The two are defined by their social standing as a couple and treated in the same manner as married or cohabiting couples. They have two separate homes and households in which other persons may live, such as children or parents. The phenomenon of LAT relationships is clearly different from commuting marriages/cohabitation—the latter have a common home, whereas the LAT couples have one each.

One can ask what the difference is between couples going steady and the LAT couples. In countries such as Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, the phenomenon of a going-steady couple is more or less outdated. The difference is that, traditionally, the going-steady couple did not share a bed at anytime (at least not openly). LAT couples are allowed to do so.

Of course, LAT couples have always existed, as have cohabiting couples: but they were deviant cases. LAT couples tended to be among the more affluent, such as Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre (Rodman 1966; Trost 1980).

In the early twenty-first century, LAT relationships could hardly exist had not nonmarital cohabitation come in existence along with the weakening of traditional prohibitions against nonmarital sex. Because the four elements mentioned above lost their connection, cohabitation and LAT relationships (somewhat later) became possible.

Information about the frequency of LAT relationships is limited. A 1993 study in Sweden showed that approximately 2 percent of the FIGURE 3 Swedes ages eighteen to seventy-four (35,000 couples or 70,000 individuals) were living in LAT relationships. By 2001 this had increased to over 5 percent (75,000 couples/150,000 individuals). For the purposes of comparison, if the percentages were the same in the United States, there would be four to five million people living in LAT relationships.

What are the reasons for couples not to follow the old norm that one should live together under such circumstances?

First, there are couples living relatively far from each other who have jobs at their respective locales. To quit a good job in order to take a job at the other place might be impossible or too risky. Many of these couples look forward to the time when one of them retires so that they can move in together. However, when that time comes, they might not move in together for various other reasons.

Next are those couples who have children at home—from a previous relationship—and who do not want to live in a stepfamily household (Levin 1994). Concerns about the children's well-being may preempt other desires. If individuals care for both their children and the new relationship, and are reluctant to risk either, they may decide to stay apart but together. Both persons in the LAT relationship might have children at home and if they move in together the children of one of them would be forced to deal with various changes, such as the move itself, changing school, or missing friends and playmates. Couples in this situation might have elderly parents to care for and cannot, or do not wish to, move.

A third situation concerns those who have had bad experiences from previous cohabitation (e.g., a traumatic divorce or separation), and they do not wish to make the same mistake they made in a previous relationship. One woman remarked: "He found a younger and more attractive woman after we had been married for 25 years. I had become too boring and taken for granted. I don't want to run that risk again. This way with living apart we have more fun and might be able to keep the relationship alive in a positive way."

Finally, retired couples may prefer an LAT relationship. There can be various reasons for this. As mentioned above, it may have to do with the perceived risk of falling into a boring routine if they cohabit. Alternatively, one or both members of the couple may have children and/or grandchildren nearby, and they may wish to remain close to FIGURE 4 them, especially if the other member of the couple lives far away. For others there can be questions about which of one's belonging should be brought to a new home. Such decisions can be so difficult that the decision is to remain as a couple in an LAT relationship.


Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsScandinavia - Marriage, Living Apart Together, Divorce