Living apart together relationships in later life: Constructing an account of relational maintenance

Jacquelyn Benson, Steffany Kerr, Ashley Ermer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Research on relational maintenance of long-distance or cross-residential romantic relationships is limited. Moreover, relatively little is known about relational maintenance among non-marital intimate partners in later life, many of whom prefer to live-apart-together (LAT) rather than cohabit. This research paper examines how older adults from the United States maintain their romantic relationships across residences. The authors conducted a grounded theory study drawing on interviews collected from 22 older adults in LAT relationships. The data revealed that older LAT partners engage in a process of safeguarding autonomy to maintain their partnerships and relationship satisfaction. Two broad strategies were identified: upholding separateness and reshaping expectations. While safeguarding autonomy was paramount, participants also emphasized the importance of having a flexible mindset about the physical copresence of their relationships. The findings have implications for practice, suggesting that creating an interdependent couple-identity may undermine, or at least have little bearing on, the relationship stability of older LAT couples. Future research is needed to determine how LAT experiences among racially/ethnically or socioeconomically diverse samples might differ.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)193-215
Number of pages23
JournalContemporary Perspectives in Family Research
StatePublished - 2017


  • Older adults
  • Qualitative
  • Relationship maintenance
  • Repartnering


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