Gwyneth Paltrow and her husband live apart and swear by it. Can it work for you?

Can a couple thrive when they’re only sleeping over at one another’s place rather than building a shared space together? It depends.
Image: Brad Falchuk and Gwyneth Paltrow in Hollywood on Dec. 4, 2018.
Brad Falchuk and Gwyneth Paltrow in Hollywood on Dec. 4, 2018.Axelle / Bauer-Griffin / FilmMagic file
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By Nicole Spector

Earlier this week, The Sunday Times published an interview with Gwyneth Paltrow where the actress and founder of lifestyle brand Goop shared that she and new husband Brad Falchuk live apart. Four nights a week, he spends the night at her place and the rest of the time is spent at his own home with his children from a previous marriage.

“Oh, all my married friends say that the way we live sounds ideal and we shouldn't change a thing," Paltrow said.

Paltrow’s promotion of this unorthodox arrangement struck a chord of controversy. On Monday’s episode of “The View”, Meghan McCain dismissed Paltrow’s marriage arrangement as “rich people stuff,” while Whoopi Goldberg avidly defended it.

As a newlywed myself, my immediate reaction was, “Heck yes, living separately a few nights a week sounds awesome.”

While I do adore being with my husband, I also miss the personal space and element of surprise in seeing him that I enjoyed when we lived apart early in our relationship (we moved in together after six months of dating, mainly so we could save money on NYC rents).

As romantic and luxurious as living apart seems, the more I ruminated on it, the more I wondered how it all really works (financial matters aside). Can a couple thrive when they’re only sleeping over at one another’s place rather than building a space together? What are the pros and cons? If a couple does decide to try it, how can they best go about it?

I turned to relationship experts to learn more.

Some therapists think the the cons far outweigh the pros

Some therapists I consulted, including Dr. Fran Walfish and Allen Wagner are fairly adamant in their thoughts that living apart is far from ideal (though they will help clients make it work if they decide on it).

“I do not recommend living apart for the poor or for the rich and famous,” says Walfish, who, based in Beverly Hills, works primarily with high-income earners and celebrities. “I think it nurtures permission for distance and does not foster an environment where folks are pressed to face issues together head on, moment-to-moment with continuity.”

Wagner, who mostly works with “people functioning well financially, but struggling in other areas”, thinks the “cons far outweigh the benefits” of the choice to live separately as a married couple.

“The cons of this decision, are abundant,” says Wagner. “There is the lack of touch, decreased emotional intimacy and connection, decreased sex, increased financial burden and decreased family time.”

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Some therapists see how living separately can work wonders

Other therapists find that living on your own while married can be a wonderful arrangement for people.

“Couples who are living apart successfully are individuals who like living alone, but still want companionship and the financial benefits of marriage [or] couples who have sharp differences in living styles, but get along fine when they’re not sharing space,” says Tina B. Tessina, PhD, LMFT, a psychotherapist and author of “How to Be Happy Partners: Working It Out Together”.

“Not living together can take off some pressure, give volatile couples ‘neutral corners’ to retreat to, accommodate different sleep schedules and style needs,” Tessina continues. “Maybe one person wants to be in a certain place to be close to children from a previous marriage, and the other partner wants the relationship, but not the kids. At certain times, one partner might want to live with an ailing or aging parent, while the other stays in the couple’s home.”

If you do this, make sure it’s a completely mutual decision uninfluenced by others

“I've never recommended that newlyweds live apart, but if this becomes an option, we discuss ways to make it work,” says Shatavia Alexander Thomas, DMFT, LMFT. “My perspective on this is that a mutual decision is ideal, and a timeline makes it an easier pill to swallow. It also helps if the marriage is on solid ground prior to the relocation. Some couples really find a way of spicing things up while apart. Others experience mutual benefits from the decision (i.e., one serving as caregiver or finishing school while the other brings home the bacon). A good rule of thumb is that it is the couple's decision — not the in-law's or the nosy neighbor's.”

You’ll need iron-clad trust and confidence that no one’s feelings are being hurt

The biggest con (again, financial matters aside), is the possible trust issues that can spring up when spouses are spending nights alone.

“Living in separate homes will definitely impact trust,” says Wagner. “Human beings often suffer from trust concerns when their partner is even traveling for work. Asking for a permanent living situation is a clear message that ‘I have difficulty handling too much of you’, or ‘I’d rather you not be here, because I am happier when you are not’. Not good things to feel from a person who is supposed to be the one you rely on.”

Certainly, no monogamous couple should enter into a marriage where they live separately unless they’re 100 percent confident in one another’s fidelity and are both on the same page.

I think that if the couple is happy and comfortable, then everyone wins — even the kids.

Lynn R. Zakeri, a licensed clinical social worker

This might boost your sex life

Though, as Wagner noted, diminished intimacy can be a serious problem resulting from living apart, some couples may actually benefit from only sharing a bedroom a few nights a week (or however frequently they agree upon).

“The anticipation [stemming from separation] can bring up increased sexual desire,” says Kelley Kitley, a licensed clinical social worker.

Thomas adds that “living apart definitely provides an opportunity to see if ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ for couples.”

Communicate daily, use technology and consider a counselor to help

Living apart shouldn’t mean leading totally separate lives while in your own domiciles. You should be in touch with your spouse as often as possible.

“Technology is your friend,” says Thomas. “Explore various forms to see which form of technology helps you feel connected and intimate in spite of distance. Communication is your best tool; use it wisely to express the healthy stuff that keeps folks together: genuine interest, respect, honesty [and] love.”

Dr. Thomas also recommends investing in therapy as a means of working out any possible concerns.

If this works for you — do it and enjoy it

Ultimately, as multiple therapists assert, this is no one’s marriage but yours and your partner’s.

“I think that if the couple is happy and comfortable, then everyone wins — even the kids,” says Lynn R. Zakeri, a licensed clinical social worker. “If anyone feels this is less than ideal, [including the kids] then that should be discussed, [but] people who are dating with kids do this every day.”

If living apart works for your family, go for it — and as Thomas says, “shut the naysayers down.”

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