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August 8, 2019

LABT – Living Apart, but Together and Other Relationship “Trends”

Photo by Zackary Drucker as part of Broadly's Gender Spectrum Collection. Credit: The Gender Spectrum Collection. Made available to media outlets via Creative Commons. No derivatives, no commercial use. See guidelines here: broadlygenderphotos.vice.com/guidelines

Gwyneth Paltrow has announced that she and her husband, Brad Falchuk, are ready to move together full time after a year of marriage. And while you might not be interested in Paltrow’s love life (I’m know I’m not), her arrangement offers a reminder that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to happy relationships.

Jess joined Carolyn and Jeff to discuss the LABT trend and transitions into blended families on The Morning Show.

Check out the video and notes below.

1. Can you really be married if you’re living apart half of the time?

I sure hope so! I’ve spent years of my marriage in a part-time long-distance relationship and couples across the globe do this out of necessity. Domestic workers come to Canada to raise other people’s kids and they’re forced by financial hardship to leave their own kids and spouses back at home. Two of my friends who work as nannies were just reunited with their husbands and kids in the past few months after years apart. This doesn’t make their marriage less legitimate. Folks in the military make it work and those who travel for work. And research shows that geographically close and long-distance relationships result in similar outcomes in terms of longevity, intimacy, trust and commitment.

2. But unlike those who are forced to live apart, Paltrow and Falchuk have all the resources to make it work. Why would they choose to only live together part time for a full year after marriage?

I can’t speak for them, but the blending of families is a unique challenge and one that can work out to everyone’s advantage. The American Academy of Child and & Adolescent Psychiatry notes that it can take one to two years for families — both parents and kids — to adapt to the new family unit and living arrangements, so easing your kids in might be a reasonable approach.

Many parents create a natural buffer of transition to blended families because they already share custody of their kids. As a child, you might spend only every other weekend with your new step-siblings and for many folks, this works.

3. What about the kids. What does the research say about how to introduce your kids to one another and to the new family unit?

Transition can be stressful, so make space for your child’s stress. Give them permission to feel whatever they’re feeling as opposed to only focusing on the positive. It’s alluring to just say “Oh this is going to be so great! You have a new sister”, but can you also be willing to ask questions to which you may not like the answer: How are you feeling about this move? Is there anything that makes you nervous? Do you feel our relationship has changed since I started dating (insert name)? Do you feel you’re getting enough attention or one-on-one time? What traditions do you want to maintain even as we establish new ones? Ask these questions at age-appropriate levels instead of smiling through the stressful transition.

And keep the conversation going. It’s not a one-shot deal.

When sibling rivalry arises, don’t sweep it under the rug. Talk to your child about how they’re feeling and get them support if you can. Sibling relationships affect our social skills, self-esteem, mental health and even our physical well being, so invest in these new relationships to help your child understand and navigate new feelings and interactions.

More reading:

Bowes et al., “Sibling Bullying and the Risk of Depression, Anxiety, and Self-Harm” (Pediatrics, Sept. 2014)

Dantchev et al., “Sibling Bullying in Middle Childhood and Psychotic Disorder at 18 Years” (Psychological Medicine, Oct. 2018).

4. What about the relationship? Are you really committed if you choose to spend half of your nights apart?

I get this question often – especially for those dating in their 60s and beyond. And the women, in particular (women who date men), love the idea of finding a partner who isn’t entirely dependent upon them. So many women I know in their 60s and 70s don’t want to live with a man full-time because they say they’re treated like a mother, maid or nurse. Our desire for love, companionship, intimacy and sex can exist into our golden years, but we may not want to cater to someone else’s every need; you can have the former without being forced into the latter, and living apart for a few days a week may be just what you need to achieve this balance.

5. Do you recommend waiting a year after marriage to move in full-time?

I suggest you do what works for you and also acknowledge that you don’t really know what works for you until you try it. What works will change over time, so keep an open mind. Don’t let experts tell you what to do and don’t assume that you know what will work best, because you’ll likely be surprised by the ways in which arrangements that you view as alternative serve to benefit you and your relationship.