Thanks to a changing job market and easier international commutes, more and more couples are living apart during the week and reuniting at weekends. But is the 5:2 ratio as successful for relationships as it is for waistlines? Anna Moore investigates
At 6am on a Monday morning Richard Owen says goodbye to his wife Laura, kisses his sleeping children, picks up his suitcase and starts his super-commute to Denmark – a 30-minute drive to Manchester Airport, then a two-hour flight to Copenhagen.
Back at home, Laura will make breakfast, do the school run (their children are aged nine and ten), then head straight to work in Manchester. The next time she sees Richard will be at dinner that night when he clicks on his iPad’s FaceTime from his hotel bar. ‘We have a big screen in the kitchen where his face pops up,’ says Laura, 45. ‘We’ll be doing our thing, he’ll be doing his. He’s there, but he’s not there – a bit like Big Brother!’
And so the week continues – school, work, FaceTime, texts – until Friday, when Laura tidies the house and spruces herself up. For dinner, she takes the children to Pizza Express and Richard swings by straight from the airport. Everyone’s happy – it’s that Friday feeling but better. ‘We eat out every Friday because it’s an occasion each time,’ says Laura. ‘We’re all seated together, no distractions.’ After five days apart, weekends are sacrosanct. Welcome to the 5:2 relationship.
Living apart during the week is on the rise. Cheap flights and high-speed rail have made international weekly commuting viable and far less risky than relocation. Property prices and good schools are also driving couples to live in one place and work in another. For others, the economic climate has left little choice but to go where the work is. Weekly room rental sites such as mondaytofriday.com and fivenights.com are all reporting huge demand and year-on-year growth. It’s no longer unusual to spend five days away from your partner and two together.
‘Three years in, we still look forward to our weekends together’
For Laura, it’s the perfect ratio. She met Richard 15 years ago when they both worked in the spa industry, Laura in marketing, Richard as a business director. ‘We both travelled in the week, so we have never known any different,’ she says. After their first child was born they moved to Miami where Richard was increasingly based. ‘We thought we’d be together all the time, but the 5:2 thing kicked in again as he started working in Los Angeles during the week. I found that, because I was alone, I got so much done.’ Then, during a five-year stint in Singapore, Laura had another child, took on freelance consultancy and studied for an MBA.
When Richard was relocated to Copenhagen it was decided that the family needed to put down some roots; they chose the Northwest of England, partly for Manchester Airport. Laura now juggles a number of marketing contracts, working around the children.
‘If I had a husband at home, I’m not sure I’d be able to do them all,’ she says. ‘I work until school pick-up and start work again when the children have gone to bed. PR, social media – there’s no limit to how much you can do for a business, and knowing I have those hours after 8pm is invaluable. I don’t need to worry about neglecting Richard, there’s no need to ask permission or explain myself. If he was around, not paying him any attention would feel rude. It’s just easier not having to consider anyone else.’
The 5:2 enhances their together time, too. ‘Weekends are precious. We’ve always got something to talk about,’ says Laura. ‘And if the children have an activity, we all go together. Also, there’s less time to build up little resentments, such as who’s emptying the dishwasher.’
Their arrangement receives a mixed response from friends. ‘Some are in similar situations, while others think it’s odd,’ she says. ‘A few wish their husbands would go away from Monday to Friday, too!’
Michelle Bassam, couples therapist with Harley Therapy, agrees there are lots of positives to the 5:2 setup. It keeps us on our toes. ‘In relationships, it’s easy to take one another for granted,’ she says. ‘Daily habits can drive you up the wall. After a while, you don’t bother finding special time for each other because you’re around one another all the time anyway. Couples who are apart in the week tend to appreciate one another more.’
Absence makes the heart grow fonder for Susan and Luke
This has been true for Susan Wylie, 30, and her partner Luke Roberts, 27. When they met three years ago, Luke lived in Stratford upon Avon while Susan, head of PR for MiH Jeans, was based in London. Though they now live together in West London (proximity to the M4 was key) Luke’s job as an operational consultant takes him all over the country, which means he’s staying in hotels from Monday to Friday.
‘Three years in, we still look forward to our weekends together,’ says Susan. ‘We nearly always plan them in advance, but on the rare occasion that we do nothing but read the papers in our pyjamas and chat, it feels like real quality time.’ The weeks are good, too. ‘I love the freedom,’ she says. ‘Monday to Thursday nights are mine, whether I’m seeing friends, working late or having an evening in watching TV.’
The faff of factoring in a ‘proper dinner’ is also removed. When it comes to waistlines, the 5:2 relationship can be as effective as the 5:2 diet. Research shows that women tend to gain weight when they cohabit, as meals become more extravagant and ‘man-sized’. ‘During the week, I may or may not eat beans on toast,’ says Susan, ‘and I have the local sushi delivery service on speed dial.’
Emily, 29, whose husband Nick works in Prague from Monday to Friday, echoes this. ‘When Nick’s here at weekends, we eat out or cook together. However, during the week I can have fish fingers and a yoghurt drink for dinner and it’s not affecting anyone else. Also, if Richard’s around, he will probably open a bottle of wine in the evening, and we will both have a glass or two. I very rarely drink on my own – it’s not the same.’
It’s not always the women being left behind, of course. Former athlete Tanni Grey-Thompson lives in London during the week where she serves as a life peer, while her husband Ian, a coach and research scientist, and their daughter live in County Durham. The arrangement works well for two fiercely independent people. Tanni has commented that Ian’s lack of ‘neediness’ means she always wants to go back to him. Ian also sees the benefits: ‘We are both happy that the other one is doing what they want,’ he says.
Online, there’s much debate on the pros and cons of the 5:2 relationship. On parenting website Netmums, Samantha was the first to respond to a thread headed, ‘Partner working away during the week, how do you cope?’ ‘My husband used to live away Monday to Friday,’ replied the wistful Samantha. ‘I know I sound nasty, but I liked this situation. The children, the dog and I were all in a routine, the house was tidy. The children always went to bed on time. I could go to bed early and not need a reason. We used to have great weekends, too, I’d have a bath ready when he got home on a Friday, candles and everything.’
However, her husband was recently made redundant and found work locally. ‘When he is home, he always wants to know what I am doing – why do I need to go to toddler group, do I really have to see my friends? So I no longer do the things I used to do, the house isn’t as tidy, and because my husband took on walking our dog, I’ve lost my dog-walking friends, too.’
The 5:2 brings its challenges of course. ‘Your relationship must be rock solid for this arrangement to work,’ warns Michelle Bassam. However, once you are firmly in the 5:2 routine, the biggest problem may be reverting to the 24/7.
MAKE THE 5:2 WORK FOR YOU
Couples therapist Michelle Bassam’s dos and don’ts
DO embrace it as a couple. Make sure you’re both happy with the arrangement from the start.
stay in your routine. Negotiate an early finish on Friday if possible,
making sure that when you plan to be together, you make it happen.
DO be truthful. The distance means that an innocent lie could sow the seeds of doubt.
make time to do nothing. It may be tempting to fill your weekends with
plans, but you’ll miss the downtime couples need to relax and recharge.
empathise. Appreciate what it’s like for your partner – there are
sacrifices on both sides, whether it’s the long commute, or added
DON’T give over all your weekday communication to the children. It’s important to have your own conversations, too.
DON’T bring your work home with you. Spending Saturday behind a screen can make the 5:2 unworkable.
DON’T part on a bad note. You need good memories to sustain you through the week.
Share or comment on this article
Share what you think
The comments below have not been moderated.
spain, United Kingdom,
8 hours ago
As a wife who works abroad on contracts for a major part of the year, the 5:2 is easy, what is difficult is when it changes. When I am not away during the week, it can be difficult to fit into my husband’s routine and way of doing things (which is set in stone).
Stratford, United Kingdom,
10 hours ago
Didn’t work for me. When husband came home every Friday he had to try and fit back into wife and 2 kids routine instead of batchelor. Ended up him having an affair. Not recommended this end
11 hours ago
I work in an industry, oil, where men tend to work away from home in far flung, usually, unglamorous, poorer locations where the local pretty 20-something’s see those older 50-something’s as a ticket to riches and passports. Short, bald, fat, smokers, no man is out of bounds. The outcome is never ever happy for the wife left behind raising the kids. And if he doesn’t leave, he has two ‘homes’ in parallel.
I know, DM is trying to glamourise the working-away-from-situation but I have never seen a happy family long term.
New Jersey, USA,
15 hours ago
I say all the time that I’m going to get my own apartment just so I have somewhere that’s te way I like. I actually had a friend that did. It sounds good to me.
The views expressed in the contents above are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of MailOnline.
Who is this week’s top commenter?
Find out now
Rise of the 5:2 relationship: Can you apply this much-talked-about ratio to love?