Sav was 24 when she met her boyfriend Steve, 29, at a gym back in 2019. Although they had been dating for less than a year when COVID-19 hit, the couple decided to move in together so they could spend time with one another during lockdown.
But after a year of living with Steve and his son, who stayed with them for half the week, Sav found herself struggling. "I'm very naturally a server," she tells Refinery29. "I tend to go along with what people want me to do. I've been brought up that way, especially as the firstborn of an Indian household."
"I was quite naturally doing that for Steven and our stepson, and I wasn’t putting myself first. I literally couldn't get out of bed for weeks. I was getting so down. I couldn’t talk, I was crying a lot and I was really struggling to eat. It was just because I was doing everything for them and no one was doing anything for me anymore."
They were like, 'Well, obviously you're gonna break up.' And that was never my intention at all. My intention was always just to put myself first.
This was when Sav realised that she needed to start putting herself first. She decided she needed to move out and get her own flat in London.
Meanwhile Louise was 29 when she officially began dating her partner, Shaun, 32, in September 2019. By December 2019, they were looking for places to live together. "It was just a natural step. He was living in a shared house in Milton Keynes and the end of his lease was coming up. He didn't know whether to stay there or move in with me," says Louise. "It just made sense for us to move in together. I was living at home with my dad at the time."
But the excitement quickly wore off. Shaun and Louise soon found themselves spending most of their money on rent for their cottage, with little left over to do anything else. Then in March 2020, the UK entered the first COVID-19 lockdown.
These factors put a significant amount of stress on Louise and Shaun’s new relationship and Shaun began to feel the pressure. After going back and forth on his decision for two months, he finally told Louise that he wanted to move out. Louise was shocked. "I told him, 'If you don’t want to live with me, I don’t want to be with you because it just seems like a huge step backwards,'" she says.
In addition to managing her own feelings, Louise struggled to deal with the stigma of moving apart from her partner. Many of her friends told her that Shaun was messing her around. "From the outside, people can be quite judgemental," she says. Fortunately, her family was more supportive. "They were like, 'You did rush into things by moving in together.'"
Sav says that the people closest to her had a similar reaction when she decided to stop living with Steve. "They were like, 'Well, obviously you're gonna break up.' And that was never my intention at all. My intention was always just to put myself first," she says.
Relationship and intimacy coach Jodie Milton says that it is not uncommon for couples to start living together before they’re ready and then want to move out. "Situations like a loss of income, an abrupt end to a rental contract or relocating to a new city can lead couples to move in together prematurely," she says.
Moving in too quickly isn’t the only reason why couples decide to live apart. Jodie explains that some couples simply decide they want to live in different areas due to personal interests and tastes, and that living apart allows them each to have what they want.
"For some couples, living together can make their relationship feel stale. Changing their living arrangement can breathe a new sense of appreciation and eroticism into the relationship," she says. "Over time, some couples lose their sense of self while in their relationship and living apart is a way for them to reprioritise themselves."
In the end, Shaun and Louise gave up their flat. Shaun moved back in with his parents and Louise moved back in with her dad, where she lived in a small room. The experience took a significant toll on her mental health. "I wasn’t happy," she says.
Sav says that the transition was difficult for Steve and she admits that she could have communicated her needs to him more effectively. "I wasn't really thinking about his feelings," she says. "I was very much in my own head. I was like, 'Oh, fuck it, I've gotta leave.'"
Jodie says that hearing that your partner wants to stop living with you can be difficult. She emphasises that it is important for the person initiating the change to reassure their partner that this is not an attempt to end the relationship or a reflection of how they feel about them.
"Be sure to ask your partner how they feel about what you’ve shared and if they have any fears that come up. Listen compassionately to their fears and work out a plan together for how you can make sure those fears aren't realised," she says. "Be open to revisiting the conversation a few times, rather than expecting it to be resolved in one conversation. Your partner might need time to process and work out how they feel about it."
For other couples like Chloe, 26, and her partner, Alex, 27, deciding to move out of a shared home is much more of a mutual decision. After living together in their final year of university in their early 20s, they both decided to live separately for financial reasons. "It made sense that I lived with my parents just to get myself back on my feet and save," says Chloe.
In addition to helping Chloe to save money, living separately also allowed her and Alex to prioritise going on dates and spending more quality time with one another. "When you live with someone, it becomes the norm to see them day to day. You don’t go out as much," she says. "It was nice to go and see each other again and get excited."
After living apart for three years, Chloe and Alex decided to move in with one another again in November 2019. "I was a lot more stable with my job," she says. "There was a lot of time being on our own throughout lockdown, which was really nice. It fell at a good time."
Louise explains that once things calmed down and she and Shaun knew where they stood with one another, they also began to see the decision as a good thing. "We could go on dates again and have time apart. We looked forward to seeing each other again and having our own space."
A few months ago, Louise and Shaun decided that they were ready to move in together again. They have now been together for over three and a half years and Louise says that their relationship is "a lot more secure".
"Our communication has improved. If he’s worried about things, we can work through them together, like a team," she says. "People should be open if they need space or if they need to take a step back. Sometimes that is the healthier option and there’s nothing wrong with it. Sometimes it works out for the better."
While Sav and Steve are still living apart, their relationship remains strong. "He gets the ambitious side of me. He just gets this whole new, confident girlfriend that he didn't have when I was living next to him," she says. "I'm really happy to find who I am outside of living together. Now we talk about even getting engaged now and staying like this longer."
"Putting the relationship above you isn't putting you or your partner first. It's putting the idea of this relationship above you both, which makes no sense," she says. "So be selfish and decide what you wanna do, but still communicate that."