"Friends and Non-Conventional Partnerships"
25-27 January 2002

"Living Apart Together - One Couple, Two Homes"
Irene Levin

(Oslo University)


Draft please do not quote


I love him too much. And therefore I do not want to share home with him.

This is said by a middle aged woman, who is divorced and has met a new man. Most of us are used to think about closeness and love to be grounds for living together, but her reaction is the opposite. She does not want to live together with him since she fears that their love would disappear by everyday routine life.

I will here challenge the idea of couples living together as married or in cohabitanting relationship. Living Apart Together or LAT relationships can be seen as alternatives to common household living arrangements. I will present some quantitative as well as qualitative data about LAT relationships and discuss whether this phenomenon will be a social institution alongside the social institutions of marriage and cohabitation. Thus I will argue that in some countries we have these three phenomena as social institutions in parallel.

Defining lat relationships

Our definition of a LAT relationship is a couple, that does not share household, each of the two lives in his or her own household, in which other persons also might live, they define themselves as a couple and they perceive that their close surrounding also does so.

The term LAT was first known in the Netherlands where a Dutch journalist, Michel Berkiel, wrote an article in the Haagse Post in 1978 about a phenomenon he had observed and in which he lived with the person he loved. While he was writing the article, he asked his colleagues in the morning meeting of the newspaper if they could help him with a good title for thiS article he was writing. Someone suggested to name it after a recent movie shown in the Netherlands at that time: Eva and Frank; Living Apart Together. Living Apart Together was too long a title or a name and therefore he used the acronym: LAT or lat which already was a word in the Netherlands (meaning stick) and which made it also easier to be accepted. The Netherlands is the only country as far as we know where the term LAT or lat is integrated in the everyday language.

In the Scandinavian countries the term særbo in Norwegian and särbo in Swedish has now become known terms; however more in Sweden than in Norway.

Once a phenomenon is given a name, is labelled, the phenomenon becomes visible and thus it will be regarded as existing. Once named, the phenomenon is not only existing but there will also be values connected to the phenomenon, people will classify the phenomenon positively or negatively. When the phenomenon no longer is perceived to be just odd or unusual, quite a few will know persons connected to the phenomenon and the evaluation will rapidly be positive. (cf., for example, Strauss 1959, Stryker 1980, Levin & Trost 1996)

An American woman wrote us telling about her husband with whom she did not share household, being releaved when he read one of our articles where the name 'LAT relation' occured. He was not very much in favour of his wife's wish to live in a saperate home while he stayed with his three minor children. He was a widower and this new living arrangement did not fit his taste - untill he realized that it had a name and everything became more easy.

In France there has been used A different term in a study by Caradec (1996) who uses cohabitation intermittente and cohabitation alternée. With the first term is understood the same as what we label as LAT relationships, i. e., a couple who lives in separate households and are looked upon as a couple by others and by themselves. The latter term, cohabitation alternée, stands for a cohabitation where they alternate between the two dwellings. This study shows that nearly six per cent of the adult population in Paris were living in LAT relationships.

In Germany Schneider (1996) calls iT 'partners with different households' or Partnerschaften mit getrennten Haushalten in German. Included in his study are only LAT relationships that have lasted for at least one year. The study is rather special as it contains of a majority of "young adults who are under education, mainly studying, or are in their early period of gainful employment" (Schneider 1996, p. 96, our translation). More than 10.000 persons aged 18 to 61 were interviewed in 1994, he found that nine per cent of the respondents were LAT relationships. One can say that quite a few of the LAT relationships in Germany are what traditionally would have been labelled as "going steady" (see under Changing Norms).

In the USA the discussion about LAT relationships are just beginning. There, but also other places use the term commuting marriage/cohabitation interchangeably with dual-household or dual-residence living as by, for example, Winfield (1985). Our distinction between on one side commuting marriage/cohabitation and on the other side LAT relationships is closely connected to the household or domesticity issue. If the two live in one household and one (or both of them) has an overnight or second apartment where he or she stays when away from home for usually work or studies, we are talking about a commuting marital/cohabitational relationship. In order to be a LAT relationship, they need to have two households, meaning two residences.

quantitative study

This research project consists of two different data collection methods. One is a quantitative approach. Another is a qualitative part where we have studied what sorts of LAT relationships there are, and also how persons living in LAT relationships define and perceive their relationships.

Most of our quantitative data comes from Sweden where we have collected data at three different times. The first was in August 1993 where SKOP (Skandinavisk Opinion) included some of our questions in one of its monthly omnibuses, with a probability sample of 1,021 inhabitants in Sweden aged 18 - 74 years. The same questions were asked a probability sample of 2,121 persons of the same age in January/February 1998, again by SKOP.

The 1993-omnibus study in Sweden shows that two percent of the respondents answered positively on the question if they are living in a LAT relationship. This means that the total number was about 30,000 couples, or 60,000 persons. And we are here talking about the summer of 1993. The data collection in 1998 shows that more than four percent of the population aged 18-74 were living in LAT relationships, which means at least 60,000 to 65.000 couples or 125,000 persons. Some of these couples are same gender couples and the majority are opposite gender couples.

In the year 2000 we had a third round of data collection which showed a slight increase since 1998 showing that five percent of the respondents said they were living in a LAT relationship, which means about 150.000 persons or about 75.000 couples.

At the end of January 2002 we will do a similar study in Norway connected to the Norwegian Bureau of Statistics with some of the same questions as in the Swedish study. (Hopefully the results will come before this article will be published)

We have also some data from a rather special population in Norway, those who were divorced in 1992 and 1995 in the Trondheim area and data were collected in 1996, in all 473 respondents, which corresponds to a response rate of 58 per cent. A question about LAT relationships was included. I was participating in this study about children and family forms. The aim is to track the effects of divorce on children. The study was financed by the Norwegian Research Council and the Governmental Department for Children and Families. The study shows that about eight per cent of the respondents in this special population were living in a LAT relationship.

qualitative study

We have also interviewed a number of persons living in LAT relationships; the interviews have been in-dept interviews meaning structured but not standardised, also called just qualitative interviews or informal interviews (cf. Trost 1997). Persons in LAT relationships which we have found but not been able to interview have been given a short questionnaire, semi-standardized, which they have answered and sent back to us.

The sample is a convenience sample and we have found our informants in various ways. At lectures or presentations when we have mentioned LAT relationships some from the audience have approached us. We have been interviewed in both Norwegian and Swedish magazines and newspapers and at the end of the articles people living in LAT relationships have been asked to contact us. When people have asked us about our research and we have mentioned the LAT study some have volunteered for interview and some have told us about parents, children or friends in LAT relationships. The age range of our informants is from about 20 years up to about 80.


The qualitative material is devided in two sub-groups:
1. those who would have lived together if there was not for one reason
2. those who do not wish to live together even if they could and want to remain as a couple.

I will start with the patterns in the first group, those who do not live together for special reasons but would if those reasons were not there.

Would have lived together if it was not for one or more reasons
Responsibility and Care

One pattern of LAT relationships is where responsibility for other persons is of major important. The feeling of responisbilty is so important that they do not want that a relationship to another person should intervene with that. I am here thinking of responsibility and care for children still living at home and for older parents.

If another person moves into the apartment or one moves away to another apartment, major changes will occur. And when it comes to relationships to older parents, one do not want to leave them alone as this can be a way of making them move into an old age home.

For persons in this pattern one is not talking about letting the children or the parents taking over the decition making. One is more looking at the relationship to the new partner unrelated to the relationship they have with their children and their parents. One does not have to move everyone into the same living arrangement.

Persons in this pattern look upon the couple ralationship as an addition to the relationships one already have and not in stead of other relationships. This does not mean that the relationship to a partner can exchange the relationships one have to for instance, the children. These relationships are very different and this is made easier by not creating a stepfamily. By keeping the household as it is, it will also be easier to keep the relationships as they have been.

Even for a parent who is not the custodian of his or her children, to move to another household could be seen as sort of cheating the children, to leave the child's parental home for another adult. An example:

This example is about a couple who were first unmarried LAT and later become married and kept their LAT relationship until both their children had moved out of the households. Fred is 56 years old and Freda 51 at time of the interview. They met ten years ago when Fred's three children lived at home with him under his custody. The children were when the two met 14, 16 and 20 years old. Freda had two children, ten and 14 years old of which she had custody and the ex-husband took care of the children over every second weekend and some holidays. Both Fred and Freda were immediately sure that they should not move in together until the children had grown up and left their parents' homes. During these ten years from they met until they were interviewed they both lived in the same city at a distance of only about 15 minutes by public transportation.

Soon after they met and fell in love with each other they felt as a couple, but it took about a year until they were in a LAT relationship according to their view at the time of the interview. At the beginning of the relationship they stayed over night at each other's home mainly over weekends. To start with they did not tell their children about the true relationship but introduced each other to the children as old and good friends. Neither of them wanted to push the other or to be pushed onto the children. After some time the children on both sides accepted the parent's new relationship.

Two years ago Freda and Fred married and they are still living in a LAT relationship at the time of the interview. We later learned that they now live together after ten years of LAT relationship. Her parents died and they inherited some money which they used to build a house together. At that time all the children were out of the household.

When it comes to caring for elderly parents, LAT relationship can also be a solution where they both continue their responsibility and care and keep the relationship to the new partner. They might have lived in close contact with their parents for many years. They might like it or not, but they have accepted it as a solution until the elderly mother or father dies or becomes severely ill and then there are no other solutions than long term care.

For many to take care of elderly or disabled parents is closely connected to their high standard of responsibility. If they do not do so, they will have guilt feelings for not behaving according to their own standards of responsibility and morals. For some it is a way of "reimbursing" the older generation for what it has done for the child when growing up, perhaps the respondent had received help and support with his or her own children. Thus they might prefer to stay in their usual surroundings, continue their responsibility for the elderly person and in addition keep the LAT relationship with the partner who is living in another household. Otherwise the person would have had to choose between the old parent and the partner. Now they have both.

A feeling of responsibilty and care is in this pattern connected to previous relationships one has had before one meet a new partner. In these two examples they know they are or rather they percieve they are significant others for their children and parents. If they do not follow their feeling of responsibilty, they might get feelings of guilt as a result. Therefore they choose to both live with their children repsectively their parent and keeping the relationship with their partner. For them there is not a situation of either or but both and. Care and responsibility for others are here more important than care and responsibility for oneself or that care for others is a way of caring for oneself.

They work or study in different places

In many ways, the next pattern contains more or less the same way of thinking as the previous one. Persons belonging to this pattern do not want to choose between the partner and the job, therefore they decide to keep both. The consequence is that they live in two households. This might be looked upon as more temporary, according to their own perception since their job situation might change. Both the relationship and the job are important for them and they want to continue with both. If they moved to the partner's site, they know they would not have the same opportunities. This might not be a question of money. Even if the other person can support her or him, they would not accept it. To be independent is looked upon as of high importance. This is what some might call a tendency toward individualisation or individuation. A century ago, and even half a century ago, people could hardly act the same way as they can now. Individuation can be a tendency in mind but it can also be just a nowadays permitted behaviour. Previously the question was more often for one of the couple to chose between the job and the partner. Often it was phrased as a way to show love: "If you love me enough, you have to move to my place." Here the job is in a competing position with the partner. One should choose one of them, Previously, there would have been social expectations on the woman to move to the site of the man, she were to give up her job and her friends. Now it is accepted that she can keep her job and her friends as well as her relationship with children, parents and other relatives and at the same time be in a relationship with a man with separate dwellings.

This pattern also includes students who study in different places. We were somewhat chocked when we recieved answers from students defining themselvs as LAT partners. We, in our old fashion way, saw them more as 'going steady' - a way of seeing the relationship as not so serious and using the traditional system as the model (Trost 1979) However, the students could tell us that if it was not for the studies, they would have lived together, meaning being a cohabiting couple. Since the studies are preventing them from that, they define themselves as LAT partners. Cohabitation as a social phenomenon has changed the definition of the situation for them relative to what would have been the case before cohabitation became a social institution. Our material consists only of persons defining themselves as living in a LAT relationship. This means that we have no access to any data from persons defining themselves as going steady. It would have been interesting to compare those defining themselves as in a LAT relationship with those who do not.

Also for them the LAT situation is a temporary one with their perspective for the future. When they graduate one will move to the other and the two households will merge and hopefully they will find jobs in the same place.

With the technological situation today, the world is getting smaller and smaller. Telephones, faxes, e-mails, air planes, all make it easy to keep in contact with persons living far away. Some of our informants live even on different continents, like one of our couples: she in Norway and he in Malaysia. For some periods she has lived with him in Malaysia and he with her in Oslo. They both define the two homes as theirs in common, but pay the expenses separately.

These couples look upon life as a process that changes all the time. How it will end, is not decided upon. What is sure for them is that they will find a solution. Their decisions are only made for a specified or somewhat unspecified period. When their working situation changes, they might also change their living arrangements. At the same time they are aware of that to move to the partner's home and site might very well mean to loose a lot of the friendships and the social network at home as well as contacts with children and grandchildren.

The next group is of a different kind than the first one. For them the LAT relationship is the prefered living arrangement while for the first group they really do not want to be in a LAT relationship if they could have chosen not to.

Those who do not wish to live together even if they could and still want to remain as a couple.

Don't want to repeat a mistake

The introduction of this article starts with an example of a woman who does not want to live with the man she loves because she is afraid the relationship would not survive. How can one understand this? The pattern consists of persons who choose this way of living as a solution closely connected to their perception of the reason for the break-up of the former marriage or cohabitation. They have all the experience of living for many years as one person in a couple relationship - a living situation that ended in a divorce or separation. If they are going to try again, important will be to arrange the situation in such a way that the same will not happen. When they are to try a new relationship, they use their analysis, either explicitly or implicitly, of what went wrong in the former living arrangement, the marriage or cohabitation. And they will arrange their situation in order to avoid a new separation.

The woman from the start of the article had previously been married for 23 years and had three children in that marriage. When her husband asked for divorce because he had started a relationship with his secretary, her whole world broke into pieces.

However, she managed to pull herself together again, bought an apartment and found meaning in her life as a mother, a grandmother and a professional woman. After a while she started to like her new situation and enjoyed the freedom of being responsible for herself only. Her freedom was not connected to going out to meet new men, but to do want she wanted as she metaphoricaly stated as not having to "prepare potatoes" every day (perhaps also concretly meant). This freedom she used to join her colleagues for a glass of beer after work.

Eventually she met a man whom she fell in love with. He was living half an hour away with car and he wanted that they should be like ordinary couples, meaning living in the same household.

However, she was concerned of not doing the same mistake again. The divorce was such a chock for her that she would do everything an order to avoid that to happen again. Her being negative of living with him again, was not related to lack of love from her side. On the contrary, she says that she does not want to tell him how much she loves him. She says that she rather wants to live alone during the week and meet him during week-ends and spend vacations together. She expresses herself to the extent that she would not "dare" to combine the two households into one during the weeks. The "daring" is connected to her definition of the situation of what happened when her first marriage broke up.

She saw the break up of the first marriage as a result of her not being interesting enough as a woman. Now she is afraid of herself, she explains, referring to the expectations on herself as a woman. He would not express or even expect any demands on her when it comes to cooking and other household tasks, but she knows herself very well and is afraid that she would start to do "female activities", like preparing food for him when he comes from work, being the person in charge of the cosiness of the household and other things like that.

According to herself, these demands are her own and related to her perception of herself as a woman. Since she loves him so much, she would not risk the good relationship just to have a common household with all the everyday life which he (or she) might define as boring. She does not want to experience another break up. It is her spontaneous decision to live in a LAT relationship in order to keep the relationship and to learn the lesson from the past experience.

Her answer to the question if she thinks they might move in together one day, is that so will probably happen when she retires, "if he still wants me".

Retired couples

For retired persons the situation is somewhat different from the previous pattern, but with the same result. They do not want to live together even though they have a love relationship. As one or both are not working any more, they would have the possibility to move to the household of the other. If they would decide to move together, they would have to make several sacrifices; for example, who's furniture to bring to the others place, which place to live in, etc. Since they both might have lived in a one-person household for many years, a lot of the things they own are connected to memories of important situations from their previous lives. The things are symbols of experiences and persons, not just dead things as some like to look upon them - the things are important social objects for them and such social importance should not be wasted or left. The things around them are important for their well being as human and social beings.

Another reason for not wanting to include their two households into one common home, is their relationship with children and grandchildren with whom they want to continue the relationships. This can more easily be done if they keep their own household than if they would live together in one household.

One woman told us that she lives 30 km away from her partner and she sees him every week-end and every Wednesday and they travel on vacation together. To move in together has never been discussed as a possibility, because she gets from the relationship what she wants today, and why would or should she change it?

When he is sick, she comes and helps him. However the same is not happening when she is sick. Then she gets help from neighbours and her daughter in law. She likes the situation as it is and it has lasted for 18 years. In the beginning they talked of moving in together. But that is not a question any more. One of the reasons for that is mostly that they both are satisfied with how they have it. Another thing is that she has been increasingly hurt by him not accepting her relationship to her disabled son. The son lives away, but when he comes home, her partner feels that the son is prefered in stead of him. This situation is unacceptable for the woman and she gave him an ultimatium. Now things have cooled down again. And she likes it as it is. One of the good things, she says, are their Sunday dinners where she drives to a neighbouring town and he pays. He is also very generous when it comes to gifts for her - something she appreciates.

From marriage or cohabitation to a LAT relationship

Most of the patterns consist of persons starting as a LAT relationship without deciding if that should last for ever or if the LAT relationship would go over to a cohabiting relationship, either as married or not. For some of our interviewees, the situation has been the other way around. They started as a married or cohabiting couple and the LAT relationship was the solution to a difficulties in their marriage or cohabitation. They have lived together for several years, but have got on each others nerves when it comes to everyday life. At the same time, they love each other and are bound to each other. Therefore a divorce or final separation of the relationship would not be a good solution, not for the couple nor for their children. To move to an apartment close by might therefore be an alternative way of living, an arrangement that might fit their lifestyles for the time being.

An example: Paul and Paula met about 20 years ago. They soon became a couple and started to cohabit. After a couple of years they had their first child and some few years later the second one. During the last few years their relationship has become boring and they feel that they both are finding lots of small and irritating pieces of behaviour with the other one. They still love each other and a year before the interview, they had decided to separate. They sold their house and bought two new apartments just a couple of minutes walk from each other. Their children stay with their mother but they both spend a lot of time with their father, who also spends a lot of time in his ex-cohabitant's apartment, which is bigger than his. This is a way of saving the good relationship, which otherwise would have been destroyed, according to their perspective.

They are still significant others to each other and both want to go on with their relationship but everyday life gives too many situations disturbing the smoothness of their relationship when living together. With the solution of two households they hope to be able to keep the sentiments, to be good parents to their children, and to remain each other's most significant others. Here the LAT relationship is an alternative to divorce. For some this solution could be a calm way to slowly divorce without any abrupt changes for them or their children.

changing norms

In the 19th century two major changes happened regarding family situations. One was divorce that became more common and the other was cohabitation. At the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s the marriage rates in most of the Western world started decreasing, in some countries very rapidly, as in Sweden and Denmark followed by Norway and Finland. In England the development was somewhat slower than in the Nordic countries, but not as slow as in, for example, Belgium. At the same time cohabitation started increasing (cf. Trost 1979). Traditionally, i. e., before 1970, four elements were closely connected timewise:
the marriage ceremony, moving in together, having sexual intercourse together, having the first child about a year later. (Trost 1993, 1998, Trost and Levin, 2000)

The traditional system meant that these four elements were connected and they should normatively stick together. With some exemptions, the marriage ceremony and the moving in together occurred at the same time, meaning the same day. This seems to have been true for all Western societies and independent of official ceremony. To start having sex together after the marriage ceremony was also normatively prescribed. In some countries more than in others, premarital sex was prohibited for all, but especially for women. The norm against premarital sex was only an ideal norm and not a behavioural norm. Norway is a good example of this: the ideal norm prescribed chastity before marriage but in practice almost all couples had sex before they married. One indicator of this is that around 1960 one fourth of all brides in Norway were pregnant at time of wedding.

The fourth element about children being born in connection to the wedding meaning around nine to 12 months after the merital ceremony. Preferably and normatively, children should not be born by not married mothers.

These four elements lost their normative power. And to day they are no longer connected to each other. This is related to when cohabitation came and became a social institution - in some countries that power was important, in others mere cosmetics. When cohabitation has become a social institution of the sort we find in, for example, the Scandinavian countries, there is no normative or expected connection between the four elements. In Sweden more than half of all children born and about two thirds of all first born children, are born by a not married mother. In Norway the numbers are a little less, but more or less the same. What previously (and still used in England) was called illegitimate children (In 1981 the children's law was changed from two in Norway into one for all children which before was devided into legitimate and illegitimate children. From that on one talked about if the mother was married.)

As an example of this normative change, is the girl of 20 who met a man 12 years ago and they liked each other so much that she went home with him and stayed over night. Very rapidly she moved in with him. After some years they decided to get married. But some months after the marriage date was fixed, she came to her father and told that the marriage would not take place. Her father became sad since he liked the man and thought he was good for his daughter. He thought that they were breaking up. However, the daughter could reassure the father that they wanted to marry, but at a later stage. Now she was pregnant and did not want to be pregnant at her own wedding. A wedding should be a day of joy where she could drink and dance. Therefore they decided to wait till the child was born. If this had been some 30-40 years ago, a pregnancy would have been a reason to marry as soon as possible so the child would have been born within the marriage.

This couple is an example of the break up of the four elements: they moved in together before they married which meant that they had sex openly and their child was born also before the wedding.

Without the changes in the normative structure connected to these four elements, LAT relationships would not have been as visible as now and not even as many as they are. The couple would then, traditionally, have been defined by themselves as well as by their network as 'going steady', 'engaged to be married' or just 'lovers'. All of these ways to define the relationship as less definite than a LAT relationship indicates. They would not visibly stay over night with each other. With the changes, they now can do so without any sanctions.

Without the change toward cohabitation as a social institution alongside marriage as a social institution, LAT relationships would still not have been visible. And they would not have been as common as they are. With the relatively high divorce and separation rates we have in many Western countries, LAT relationships are common and also visible, especially when cohabitation is a social institution.

Historically, LAT relationships have occurred but certainly not as commonly as now and they have been almost invisible. The higher the divorce and separation rates are, the higher is the likelihood not only for remarriages and recohabitations but also for LAT relationships to be formed. When dealing with the formation of a recohabiting relationship clear is that there is a household change, either one moves in to the other or they both move from separate households to a common household. In most cases of remarriage, traditionally, the same happens but some few remain in separate households.

As we have seen, some couples who have lived together in a marriage or in a cohabiting relationship, separate from a common household to two separate households but they do not separate their relationship; they just form a LAT relationship out of a living together relationship.


Traditionally, marriage has been the social institution for couples that have been together for a long period. Some decades ago a new social institution appeared in the Western world: non-marital cohabitation, in some countries slower than in others. These two institutions have the common living arrangement in common. However a third way of living by not sharing domesticity as in, Living Apart Together, LAT relationships, is a new phenomenon. This differs from commuting marriages, which have one household in common, couples living in LAT relationships have one household each.

In this study I have showed several different patterns of LAT relationships. Here the couple is given the possibility not to choose between, for example, the responsibility to care for an elderly parent, one's children and one's new partner. The pressure on a common dwelling has decreased and society has opened up for several 'both-and' solutions. Or as Lewis and Meredith (1989) correctly remark, some adult children live together with a parent out of care for the parent but also since they like to spend time with the parent. This is connected to what Finch (1989) calls cumulative responsibilities, responsibility for the parent and responsibility for oneself.

A question frequently asked is if LAT relationships can occur in all classes or if it is only occurring among those who are financially well off. Our studies show that one can find LAT relationships among all sorts of people. This does not mean that a good financial situation makes the living situation easier since certainly long distance LAT relationships require more costs for telephone and travel (a good financial situation also simplifies for those living in the same household). One household is cheaper to maintain than are two. We would not argue against such a statement. However, in most cases of LAT relationships the two already have one household each and already used to their own household expenses.

How come that the number of LAT relationships has increased now and not before? The question requires more than one answer. One factor is the mortality rate. The lower the mortality rate is, the higher the likelihood that only for a person to survive longer but also, for example, to be divorced, separated or widowed and thus also the likelihood, ceteris paribus, for the person to start a LAT relationship as well as any other new relationship. With a high mortality rate the marriages were desolved by the death of one of the spouses. There was not much need of a divorce. An indicator of this can be both the remarriage rate and the need of a new divorce law in Norway as well as in Sweden.

The remarriages decreased depending of the closer we got to the 19th century as the mortality rate decreased. At the same time the divorce rate increased. For example the remarriage rate around middle of 18 hundred was about 20 per cent in Norway while at turn of the century it had decreased to around 15 percent (Eilert Sundt, 1975 (1885)). It continued to decrease as we entered the new century and the lowest ever (as far as we know) was just before the World War II with around eight per cent of remarriages (Levin, 1994). At the same time the divorces increased and we got a new divorce law in 1918 in Norway and in 1916 in Sweden; both fault and no-fault grounds for a divorce became available. And the divorce rate went on increasing

Another reason for the LAT relationships to increase now is that the labour market has changed to a higher degree of specialisation and the educational system has followed the same tendencies. This means that more persons have lower chances to switch jobs and to move to a site somewhere else than where there is a relevant and attractive job for them. This is the case for both men and women and the tradition of women to follow their husbands' to the place where he has a job has changed to a very high extent. The relatively short history of housewives is almost over in many countries and in some clearly just a historical phenomenon. In order to really understand the new structure of relationships such as LAT relationships, one has to look into the processes toward equality and equity between women and men.

With the frequency of travel for vacation or for job related issues lots of people meet others living in other places. Some of these meetings result in couples falling in love. Many of these relationships will last and if one or both cannot or does not want to move they might form a long distance LAT relationship. Travel for leisure or for work will probably increase and not decrease even if the technology for IT communication will develop further. On the contrary, many more couples than now might be formed over IT communication and eventually form LAT relationships. Thus we will probably see an important increase in LAT relationships whether they are married or not.

Previously, the informal social norms prescribed that the two in a couple should live in the same household, to have the same domesticity, which was a sign of being a couple and a married couple. In cases where the two could not live together, taken for granted was that the living arrangements were only temporary. With the high divorce rate, women's gainful employment and the equity process, society and its norms have changed somewhat. Tendencies toward equity in this field have had consequences for intimacy and couple relationships (cf. Giddens 1994).

I have here shown some of the variations we have found in ways of living in a LAT relationship. There are many variations of LAT relationships and the background of the relationship as well as the background of the two living in the relationship varies a lot.

Some decades ago, marriage was the sole social institution for couples to organise their living. Then cohabitation came as a "deviant" phenomenon or a new possibility and soon became a social institution alongside marriage, another variety, not an alternative to marriage.

If cohabitation would not have come and become a social institution LAT relationships would not have come either. One could say that cohabitation as a social institution is a prerequisite to LAT relationships since had the four elements mentioned above, still been connected to each other as a social system, LAT relationships could not exist socially. With the acceptance of the term and with the frequent couples in LAT relationships this form or variation of living as a couple might soon be labelled a social institution in many more countries.

There are many reasons to predict LAT relationships to be more common in the near future. The labour market will probably not return to the relatively simple structure it had some few decades ago; specialisation will likely be even more common than now. People will probably not decrease their travel for vacation and job related issues even if IT will be more important than previously. In fact, IT might become more common as a way for people to meet new partners. Same gender couples might come out of the closets even more and form cohabiting as well as LAT relationships more visibly and more frequently. Divorce and separation rates will probably not decrease and thus lots of people will meet new partners. LAT relationships might be a solution to a difficult marriage or cohabitation. The mortality rate will probably decrease in most countries making people live longer and be more healthy and thus more prone to find new partners. More married and cohabiting couples will probably try to save their relationships by separating and thus to form LAT relationships out of shaky marriages or cohabitation.


This project is partially financially supported by SKOP and the Swedish Social Research Council, and Magn. Bergwall's Foundation.


Befolkningsförändringar 1968. Befolkningsförändringar (Population changes). Stockholm: Statistiska Centralbyrån.

Befolkningsstatistik 1995. Befolkningsstatistik (Population statistics). Stockholm: Statistiska Centralbyrån.

Caradec, V., 1996. Les Formes de la vie comjugale des "jeunes" couple "âgés". Population, 51, 897-928.

Finch, J. 1989. Family Obligations and Social Change. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Giddens, A. 1994. Intimitetens forandring (Intimacy in change). København: Hans Reitzels forlag.

Historisk statistik 1967. Stockholm: Statistiska Centralbyrån.

Levin, I. 1994. Stefamilien - variasjon og mangfold. Oslo: Aventura.

Levin, I. & Trost J. 1996. Å forstå hverdagen - med et symbolsk interaksjonistisk perspektiv (To understand everyday life - with a symbolic interactionist perspective). Oslo: Tano Aschehoug.

Lewis, J. & Meredith B. 1989. Daughters who Care. London: Routledge.

Schneider, N. F. 1966. Partnerschaften mit getrennten Haushalten in den neuen und alten Bundesländern. In W. Bien (ed.): Familie an der Schwelle zum neuen Jahrtausend, Opladen: Leske + Budrich. 88-97.

Sundt, E., 1975 (1985). Om giftermaal i Norge. Oslo: Gyldendal norsk forlag.

Strauss, A. L., 1959
Mirrors and Masks, Glencoe: The Free Press.

Stryker, S. 1980. Symbolic Interaction: A Social-Structural Version. Menlo Park, CA: Cummings.

Trost, J., 1999. LAT Relationships Now and in the Future, in Koen Matthijs (ed.): The Family. Contemporary Perspectives and Challenges; Festschrift in honor of Wilfried Dumon, Leuven: Leuven University Press.

Trost, J. 1997. Kvalitativa intervjuer (Qualitative interviews), second edition, Lund: Studentlitteratur.

Trost, J. 1995. Ehen und andere dyadische Beziehungen. In B. Nauck & C. Onnen-Isemann (eds.). Familie im Brennpunkt von Wissenschaft und Forschung. 343-356 Berlin: Luchterhand.

Trost, J. 1993. Familjen i Sverige (The family in Sweden), Stockholm: Liber.

Trost, J. 1979. Unmarried Cohabitation. Västerås: International Library.

Trost, J. And I. Levin. 2000. Särbo - ett par två houshold, Lund: Studentlitteratur.

Winfield, F. E. 1985. Commuter Marriage; Living Together, Apart. New York: Columbia University Press.