What's Up With The Whole 'Married But Living Apart' Trend?

You just might be surprised by how many married couples are living happily ever after...apart.


I'll just say, off rip, that while we encourage comments on all of our articles, when it comes to this one in particular, when I wouldn't just encourage it; I'd deeply appreciate it. The reason why I say that is because—pause—is it just me, or is traditional marriage becoming more and more taboo these days? Although I totally get, believe and support the fact that, since each marriage consists of two individuals, every union is automatically unique in a variety of ways, it does seem like some things that used to apply to all—or at least most—relationships, simply don't anymore.

The Couple Who Sleeps Apart Stays Together


Take sleeping together, for example. Recently, we published "Larenz Tate On Why Sleeping In Separate Bedrooms Is A Must In His Marriage". I watched the interview that the piece was pulled from (what he says about our people and our community is stellar). From what I remember, Larenz said that he sleeps in another room in a joking kind of way. He also said that it was 1) because his wife is mad fertile and 2) sometimes, after decompressing from a role, the space can be good for their relationship overall. But after he got so much media attention for talking about sleeping in another bedroom, I decided to dig around, just to see how common married couples sleeping in separate beds actually is. You know what? He's not even close to being the only one who does it.

Today published an article last month citing a survey (via a company called Mattress Clarity) of 3,000 Americans.

31 percent said that they are all about getting a "sleep divorce"—you know, remaining married but not sleeping together. Not only that but 1 in 4 couples already sleep in separate bedrooms or beds.

Some of the people interviewed in that article said that it was "cool" because sleeping apart provides the chance to have command of the entire room. Plus, you can get your own space in the process. Then there are the couples who sleep apart because one or both spouses snore. A lot. And loudly. If they are going to remain sane, short of a pillow over their (or their spouse's) head, sleeping apart was the only option for them.

That got me to do some off the cuff interviewing of married couples who I personally know. When I asked a few of them if sleeping apart was ever a consideration, this is what some of them said (I'm leaving real names out on purpose):

*Allison. Married 10 Years. "Trust me, if I could get my husband to consider it, I definitely would. Between us both liking the room a different temperature and him always wanting to cuddle when I'd prefer to sleep without all of that all of the time, I'm sure I'd get a lot more rest."

*Andre. Married Four Years. "Sharing a bed is an adjustment. I mean, as much as I love my wife, there are times when you just want some alone time. We've never talked about sleeping in separate beds, but I can't say that I'd be opposed to it."

*Mark. Married 25 Years. "The Bible doesn't say that 'sex in marriage is undefiled'; it says that 'the marriage bed is undefiled'. There is something intimate and special about sharing a bed with my wife. I've never considered not doing it. Not once." (The Scripture he's referring to is Hebrews 13:4, by the way.)

*Crystal. Married Seven Years. "Why does it seem like folks are looking for more ways to not be married? Your spouse is not someone who comes over for a slumber party. A part of what comes with marriage is sharing a bedroom and a bed. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, if you ask me."

How Many Married Couples Actually Live in Different Homes?


See what I mean? Different people bring different views into the concept of marriage. As far as what Crystal said, although I definitely get why she feels that way, it might trip her—and a lot of other people—out that it has been reported that approximately four million married couples live apart. The reasons vary from conflicting work schedules and personal preference to one partner being incarcerated or in a nursing home. In the article that cited the sleep divorce stat, it featured couples who said they are very happy being married and not sharing a roof. Psychotherapist and author Tina B. Tessina said it works well for so many because, "Couples who are living apart successfully are individuals who like living alone, but still want companionship and the financial benefits of marriage." Soo…it's like dating exclusively but still getting a tax write-off? Interesting.

When I read another article on the topic, a counselor said he does it as a way to keep a couple from divorcing. He has the spouses sign a 120-day contract stating that although they will agree to live apart, physical and emotional affairs were not allowed. According to him, it worked for some of his couples. As a result of being apart, they were more proactive about spending a few nights a week together and "sleeping over" on the weekends.

Yeah. That still sounds like dating to me. I mean, as a marriage life coach who specializes in reconciling divorced couples, I dig the whole married-but-living-apart approach as a last-ditch effort before two people decide to call it quits. But for two people who aren't in marital trouble, doesn't it provide an unrealistic approach to the marital dynamic? Isn't it kind of like "playing house" or being "kinda sorta" married? And as far as what Tina said about couples living apart because they would prefer to be alone, why not just be…single?

Because honestly, a lot of what I've shared about all of this sounds a lot like another article—"More Older Couples Stay Together Because They Live Apart". It was published this past July and it features couples who aren't married but are in committed relationships. Basically, the article gets into the fact that more and more seniors are opting out of getting married or living with someone; instead, they prefer to have dinners with their significant other during the week and sleepovers on the weekend. One of the studies in the article stated that unmarried couples between 57-85 were twice as likely to live apart than together these days. All because they enjoy being together without living together.

I get that. I mean, I personally have no intentions on living with someone prior to saying "I do". But again, that's speaking to single folks and a perk of being single is not having to share your space if you don't want to. But when you're married, is it cool—and more than cool, is it realistic—to have the benefits of marriage without the responsibilities as well? Isn't actually living together a part of the marriage package?

I went back to the four people I interviewed about sleeping vs. not sleeping with their spouse. This is what they had to say on the matter.

*Allison. "Girl, I wish I would tell my husband that we should live in different houses. I think that taking girl and guy trips without your partner sometimes is cool, but living apart sounds like you're separated. It also seems like you're living in a fantasy world. If you're not having to deal with the day-to-day of being with the person you vowed to spend your life with, you're not married in its totality."

*Andre. "I haven't been married five years and already get how awesome this whole concept could be. I also think it can make you think that you're single when you're not. Being married is about sharing more than last names and tax write-offs. It's about sharing your entire world. That's hard to do under two different roofs."

*Mark. "I bet a man came up with this whole 'Hey babe, let's be married but live apart' thing. Sounds like another version of the cow vs. the milk if you ask me. When you live with someone, you really get to know them. It also teaches you a lot about yourself. Marriage isn't for selfish people. If you're down with living apart from your spouse, that sounds pretty convenient…convenient to the point of being really self-absorbed."

*Crystal. "Shellie, do you really have to ask what I think? If you don't want to live with someone, don't get married. It's as simple as that."

If you're curious what I think, I actually have a ton of thoughts on all of this. But the Reader's Digest version would probably be, if you'd be down to not live with your spouse, ask yourself why. The answers could very well reveal if you've truly contemplated all that comes with marriage. Because Allison and Andre are right—if you don't want to share your entire life, if you only want to give access to pieces and parts of it, why get married at all?

But again, I want to hear your thoughts as well; especially if you happen to be a married person who is currently living in a different spot than your spouse (and it's not due to a separation). What are the pros? What are the cons? Do you think it's a wise thing to do or do you advise against it?

Since there are currently millions of married couples who don't live together, if there's one thing that we all can agree on, to a large extent, is there is no one way to be married. Some people are making theirs work and last by choosing to ditch the tradition of living with their partner. Instead, they seem to be more in love than ever by actually choosing to live apart.

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

6 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Ending Your Marriage

10 Things Married Couples Wished They Paid More Attention To While Dating

These 7 Married Men Have Some Marriage Myths They Want To Debunk

I'm Not Your Relationship Goals: A Word To Single Ladies From A Married Woman

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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