May 10, 2013

The downside of living separate lives under one roof

When relationships break down it is natural – and even desirable – that both parties look beyond the immediate break up to a future life which is fulfilling and happy.

The idea of ‘moving on’ from an unhappy partnership implies that the couple will no longer live under the same roof, nor would they choose to do so.

Little wonder then that celebrity watchers were jolted when The Real Housewives of Atlanta star, Porsha Stewart revealed she was continuing to live with her husband of two years, despite the divorce proceedings he had initiated.

While this particular case was caused largely by the fact that one party was finding it hard to absorb a new reality, it is not unusual for ordinary separating couples to live under the same roof.

Financial pressures – exacerbated by the current economic climate – may lead people to believe that building separate lives whilst sticking it out in the family home is the best and only option. So with the best of intentions one partner moves into the spare room and the couple attempts to live separate lives until house prices rise and the economy improves.

What may appear a practical solution is rarely workable in my experience. In fact, this domestic arrangement can have a detrimental and lasting impact on children.

When both parents feel trapped, children will pick up on any hostility, anger or resentment. A collaborative, non-confrontational approach that puts children first in a divorce is lost in the inevitable enmity. Such an arrangement, which parents may see as pragmatic and ‘grown up’, may also give children false hope that mum and dad are staying together after all.

In the short term, living separate lives under the same roof may save money but the long term emotional cost may be high. If you do have to stay together for just a short time here are some tips to help everyone in the family cope.

  • Set yourself a realistic timeframe for one partner moving out.  Consider temporary arrangements whether returning to parents or renting a flat
  • If you are struggling to sell your home take advice from your estate agent. Should you drop the price for a quick sale – and what are the financial implications?
  • Sort out your finances and take professional advice – what does each party need to live an independent life and to ensure that children are provided for?
  • Agree arrangements for how you will live together under one roof – set some ground rules about sharing space, who minds the children and how you divide bills
  • Aim to keep the peace and avoid arguments in front of the children
  • If one partner is in a new relationship it can be particularly challenging for a couple to live together in the marital home. Be sensitive to the feelings of your partner and children and avoid bringing your new romance into their lives
  • Take legal advice so that both parties know the options available for divorcing as amicably as possible.  Family lawyers will also be able to help with referrals to family therapists and counsellors if you need extra support in particularly challenging circumstances.