[In the first part of this 2-part series about new research on couples who live apart and how they differ from those who live together, I described the significance of women’s wishes about how to live. In this second part, I explain what’s so important about what men want.]
Where men’s preferences mattered more was in the quality of the couples’ relationships. When men said explicitly that they liked their time alone, but lived with their partners, both they and their partners reported more conflicts in their relationship and less satisfaction. On the average, the couples living apart said they had more conflicts than the couples living together, but when men scored as intensely interested in their independence, both on the direct and the indirect measures, then there tended to be even more conflict in the couples living together than in those living apart.
To find out how the wish for time alone mattered in their day-to-day lives, the authors invited couples who were still in the same living arrangement a year later to participate in a second study. For each of 12 days, 106 couples (48 who lived together and 58 who lived apart) reported how much time they spent together, how much time they had to themselves (on a scale ranging from not enough to too much), and how satisfied they were with their relationship that day.
On the average, the couples who spent more time together on a given day also said they felt more satisfied with their relationship that day. That was not so, though, for the men or the women who lived with their partner and felt that they did not get enough time to themselves that day. They were not so satisfied with their relationships.
One of the women I interviewed for How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century tried living with her partner, broke up, then got back together and lived apart from him. She explained it this way: “some people ask me, what’s the point of being with someone if you don’t want to live with him? For me, it’s not that I don’t want to be with him – I do (if I didn’t I’d have stayed gone!); I just like my space…If we lived together in a traditional way, we’d kill each other.”
One of the hallmarks of 21st century living is choice. More than ever before, we can choose to live in ways that best suit us as individuals. For some, the traditional ways of doing things, such as living together when you are married, still work best. Others, though, take the road less traveled, and that makes all the difference.
Man thinking about home photo available from Shutterstock