She Said, He Said: Can we separate but stay in the same home?
She Said, He Said
Dear Lori and Jeff,
My husband and I have consistently struggled to resolve our marital issues and have been discussing divorce for the last six months. We’ve avoided taking any steps to initiate it in large part because of the exorbitant costs of having separate households. We have two kids in elementary school and both work full time, so the financial strain of separation would significantly impact our lives. Because we don’t have an easy way through, I’ve started to wonder if we just need to make it work. Despite the romantic disconnect and frequent bickering, we do work really well at navigating the day-to-day responsibilities. Regardless of our marriage’s future, we’ve both expressed wanting to stay in our current home and neither wants to have to move. Could it be possible to live under the same roof but have separate lives?
Lori and Jeff: As housing prices increase and families are struggling to make ends meet, we’ve been seeing a lot of couples in your situation. On the one hand, it can create an opportunity for couples to work a bit harder at resolving issues and staying together and give the relationship a better chance that it might not have had otherwise. On the other hand, it can keep couples together who really should be apart and cause more suffering for everyone involved.
Lori: Cohabitation after divorce is a lovely fantasy. Who wouldn’t want to be free from an unfulfilling relationship and still keep all that’s good in life. But the reality is that too many factors prevent post-separation cohabitation from being a healthy permanent solution. That’s not to say it can’t work temporarily under specific conditions as partners put longer-term plans in place.
Successfully living with your ex-love first and foremost requires both partners to be in the same emotionally unattached state. Meaning both partners need to want for the relationship to be over, but without ties of animosity, blame, anger and resentment. If one partner is still in love or wanting to repair the relationship, cohabitating will significantly impact that partner’s ability to grieve and heal. Conversely, persisting anger or blame will create a toxic environment for everyone. In light of the slim chance that your separation is one of mutual uncoupling with care and respect, cohabitation may be possible for the immediate future. However, exes will eventually have to choose between their living situation and evolving. It won’t be easy to expand and explore new parts of yourself while under the observation of your ex, not to mention engaging in new relationships. Even if you and your ex are comfortable with each other dating, new romance is going to be stifled by your daily proximity to each other. (Who wants to be in a relationship with someone who lives with their ex?) So to make a long answer short, can you live together? Maybe. But it’s doubtful either of you could thrive.
Jeff: It sounds like your version of “making it work” is ending your marriage and finding a way to live under the same roof. I would challenge you in exploring the other version, which would be to really try to make the relationship work. What has led you to believe that your marriage is really over? What interventions have you tried that have failed in helping you resolve your issues? You might want to look at your situation as an opportunity to lean in, rather than one that makes you want to give up.
With the divorce rate in the United States hovering around 50%, it is clear that the institution of marriage does not hold the same weight of keeping couples together as it has in the past. That being said, the fear of divorce has created enough incentive for some couples to work a bit harder to create resolution. Couples who have kids are that much more likely to try to find solutions than those who don’t. Now, with the cost of living being so high, couples have even more incentive to stay together. I’m not saying that all relationships can be saved, but in this day of disposable connections with readily available new shiny options, it may be a blessing that ending a marriage is becoming that much more logistically difficult. Before either of you makes a permanent move to the guest room or basement, try to find out what’s at the core of your differences and see if there’s a way to heal.
Jeff and Lori: If you’re going to stay under the same roof for the time being, it’s worth getting professional help to shift the relationship you have. We can’t predict whether you can save the marriage, but for the sake of co-parenting your kids, you’re going to want to create a new way of being with each other. So why not start that process now? If you try to make a go of living together longer term, be aware that alternative relationship structures like cohabitating (along with dynamics like polyamory and open marriages) often come with many unforeseen emotional challenges. To have any chance of being successful, each partner needs to be deeply honest with themselves and each other about their feelings, hopes, boundaries and expectations.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Visit http://www.aspenrelationshipcoaching.com/blog-1 for all previous She Said, He Said columns.
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