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How to Survive Living Together During Divorce

Women Share How to Survive Living Together During Divorce

Everything about the word “divorce” conjures up images of division, living apart, and not having to see your Ex. But divorce doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s not always a file-and-flee process. And that means that living together during divorce is a very real possibility for most people. Do you know how to make it work if that’s what you have to do?

There are many reasons that it may be necessary to continue living under the same roof with the person you’re divorcing.

If you’re the spouse initiating the split, you may not be ready to announce your intentions. You may be researching the process or waiting for certain life events to be over. This might include kids’ schooling or eldercare, a promotion, or new job to take place.

If this is you, it’s especially important that you care for your emotional health as you prepare for change while coping with your status quo.

Divorce can also be expensive and complicated, making a physical separation impractical or even unfeasible.

Perhaps your divorce is already in process and you have to live together until it’s final.

Whatever reasons you have for living together during divorce, the experience doesn’t have to be a living Purgatory.

But there have to be ground rules and clear boundaries.

(And there have to be rules for dealing with a soon-to-be-ex who may not follow the rules.)

That may sound easy enough if you are parting amicably and cooperatively. But remember, this is divorce. Feelings, intentions, and loyalties have changed, and the arrangement, however necessary, is likely to feel awkward.

You do have choices, though. And this period of living together during divorce can actually set the tone and confidence for what is to come.

This is especially true and important if you have children still living at home. Their lives are about to change forever, and their sensitive radars will pick up on everything.

After all, they will be thinking about and predicting things about their not-so-distant futures if they know about the divorce. And they will be worried about the stability of their futures if they don’t know about the divorce but sense discord between their parents.

Here are some survival tips from us at SAS for Women and women clients we’ve supported in this situation of living together during divorce. We all want you to know that it is possible:

  • Take the roommate approach and establish boundaries. You may be living under the same roof, but you are no longer living as a married couple. You are now “roommates” and coparents. Discuss how your home space will be divided so that you each have privacy while sharing common spaces like the kitchen and living room. Move your things to your room and respect that division.

Josie, a woman enrolled in Annie’s Group suggests the following:

“Move into a separate bedroom and claim your personal space. Set interaction boundaries, especially if you’re working remotely. A closed door is a closed door for a reason. Set household tasks in the shared common areas. It hasn’t worked for me, but it might for you. And don’t do his laundry. This was one of the first things I did.”

Establish your psychological boundaries, too:

Says another SAS client, we’ll call Carla,

“I’ve learned to say no to doing things with my husband, like going to concerts, or watching TV, when they aren’t things that I truly want to do. I am compassionate about how this likely feels to him on the receiving end, and work hard to maintain a civil balance. I use the time I would have spent “doing what he wants” exploring what things I actually like to do, like exercise (which has other, side benefits), reading more books (which I pretty much gave up after having children) and making jewelry (something new).

And build your emotional boundaries.

Says Carla,

“My husband tends to be angry often, and wears this on his sleeve, so to speak. For me, this has translated into constantly being in fight or flight emotionally, and in the past, I’ve often engaged in his anger by trying to calm him or placate him. I’ve worked hard to remind myself that his anger is about him, and not me, and I’ve put a boundary around engaging in his anger.”

This mutual respect of space and energy is imperative. You will both be working on your own parts of the divorce process. And you will also need to begin the separation process, both physically and emotionally.

Depending on your state, adhering to these separation guidelines can actually affect your legal “date of separation.” And that can affect the division of communal property.

  • Have a parenting schedule. Discuss and decide which parent will take care of the kids on what days/nights. This includes preparing dinner, bathing, helping with homework, spending time together. Things that may have always had an uncharted flow now need a calendar.Even though you are all still under the same roof, you and your soon-to-be-Ex are coparents now.Honoring this set-up will show respect for one another while helping your children adjust with confidence to a new family dynamic.It will also give each of you time to leave the house for personal errands or alone time.
  • Just the facts, ma’am. Just because it makes sense to set rules and clear boundaries doesn’t mean you are both equally inclined to follow them. If communicating in person, especially about the kids, proves to be contentious, then consider a business approach.

Recently divorced, but reflecting back on her early co-parenting days, Lucy recommends that you use texts and emails to communicate in an unemotional, necessary-info-only way.

“Tomorrow is your day with the kids. Natalie has a doctor’s appointment at 12 and Ben has soccer practice after school. I will leave before dinner and return after the kids are in bed.”

  • Be clear about finances. The bills still have to be paid. So be sure that the two of you are scheduling time to plan how the household bills will be paid. Be sure that payments are made on time, as delinquencies will affect both of you. By this point, you should have a financial expert as part of your divorce team. S/he can advise and guide you on matters like mortgage payments and selling or keeping the house.

And “if you have not yet, start your own savings and/or checking account,” counsels Lucy. Moreover, be sure to keep written documentation of everything, as money made and spent during this time will become part of your settlement analysis.

  • Practice and embrace a new normal. Despite the awkwardness of living together during divorce, the arrangement does have its advantages. You have the opportunity to model for your children what you want them to see, feel, and trust in their new lives. If they witness civility and adaptability from their parents who are divorcing, they will be less likely to fear what is coming. You also have some time to “warm up” to changes that will soon be permanent.You have direct access to information that will likely be relevant to your divorce preparation.And you have time (perhaps on your soon-to-be-EX’s day with the kids) to research living arrangements for after the divorce.
  • Take care of yourself. Self-care may seem irrelevant, even impossible, when your life-as-you-know-it is imploding. But, just like being a model of stability for your children, it’s important that you be a model of stability for yourself. Your physical, emotional, professional, and social well-being is essential as you navigate this time of transformation. Join a book club, take a class, get a good workout in several times a week, or just visit with a good friend.

This is also a good time to establish the support you will come to rely on throughout (and after) the divorce process.

Says Patricia:

“Stay occupied with things to do. Carve out a little time each week to journal to maintain a clear head. Keep positive thoughts in your head and love and respect yourself.”

C.C., another SAS client recently separated from her Ex, shares:

“Continue to learn, grow and educate yourself. Articles, websites, and therapy can be critically important to giving you the strength you need to live your best life.”

Says Desiree:

“Find your people, too. Gravitate towards energy that supports you, like Annie’s Group or Paloma’s Group where you’ll learn, connect, vent and stay on track.”

No matter how uncomfortable living together during divorce may be, it doesn’t have to be a negative experience. As C.C. says,

“Always remember your future, your life is within you to live. Take control, hang on tight and you will get to your best YOU someday soon.” 

Agreeing to a dynamic of respect and civility will go a long way toward easing this time of transition and its aftermath.

And sticking to the guidelines of a healthy separation-under-the-same-roof will give you a sense that change is happening… and you have control over it.

Notes

SAS women are those amazing ladies you meet who are entirely committed to navigating divorce—on their own terms. If you are considering or dealing with divorce, you are invited to experience SAS for Women firsthand and schedule your FREE 15-minute consultation. Whether you work further with us or not, we’ll help you understand what your next, black and white steps are for walking into your brave unknown—with compassion and integrity.

Causes of Divorce

The Most Insidious Causes of Divorce: 107 Women Tell Their Truths

Whether you’re considering divorce or working through its aftereffects, it’s normal to fixate on why. What caused this and where did the problems begin? Who or what is to blame? In an effort to uncover the most common causes of divorce, SAS surveyed 107 women about why they are divorcing their husbands*, and some of their responses may actually surprise you.

Infidelity, as one of the most viscerally painful causes of divorce, gets a lot of press as a catalyst for ruining a marriage. What the SAS survey uncovered as the biggest trigger for divorce, however, was something seemingly less explosive and certainly teachable.

Top Causes of Divorce: You’re Not Listening

The leading cause for divorce was “bad communication,” or just a lack of it. Not feeling heard or understood was what 18 percent of women said led them to dissolve their marriages. Add that to the 12 percent who said “constant fighting” was the biggest cause of divorce and the one percent who simply named “silence,” and that means that faulty communication made up 31 percent of women’s reasons for divorce.

That’s a huge portion of divorces: almost one third of the 107 women we surveyed.

In fact, when this writer asked a small group of five people (three women and two men) who describe themselves as “happily married” what their the secrets were, “good communication” was among the top two most important building blocks to their success.

The first answer that two of the “happily married” women gave was simply “Therapy!”

The same two followed that up by saying that they went to therapy in large part to learn how to communicate better, and that good communication was hugely important in keeping their partnerships functional and strong.

One of the “happily marrieds”, a woman in her early 50s, has been married for 17 years. She owns and runs a successful business with her husband and was previously married. The other, in her early 30s, was also married once before and has been with her current husband for 11 years. Both of them have children from both marriages and work in and outside the home.

“If I say to him, ‘you’re this’ or ‘you did that,’ he shuts down, but if I say ‘It’s hurtful when this happens,’ he’ll listen,” said Makenzi.

Darby said therapy taught her to process first and come back to the conversation later, to pick her battles, and to breathe through her own reactions before speaking.

Dancing in the Sheets and Dating Your Husband

“Someone asked me why we’re so happy together if we fight so often,” said Darby, laughing. “I said ‘Well, the sex is phenomenal.’”

The SAS survey rooted out 7 percent of women naming a “lack of intimacy or connection” and another 7 percent identifying “infidelity” as the leading causes of divorce. They did not disclose whether the extramarital affairs were their own or their husband’s. On that note, though, women of the millennial and baby boomer generations are upending the old stereotype of the hubby coming home with lipstick on his collar. In fact, millennial women are running neck and neck with men for cheating on their respective spouses.

Sexual expression is a foundational part of connection, trust, joy and loving actively. It is an important indicator of good mental and emotional health for a lot of people. Happier couples identify sexual compatibility and having sex at least once a week as one of their important indicators of happiness.

Child-Free Life

Ironically, while regular and enthusiastic sex is part of a happy marriage, the product that can come of this activity is not. Despite how fulfilling it is to raise children, they are a significant stress factor. It may not be a popular perspective, but remaining sexually active yet child-free is often a mark of a vibrant, less taxed marriage.

Of the five people I interviewed, three named sexual compatibility among their top three priorities. Both Darby and Makenzi said that having regular date nights and staying sexually connected are critical to their own happiness and the health of their marriages.

After all, if a marriage is more of a family business or a merger, then it leaves out a foundational, biologically inscribed part of what it means to be human.

If you’re both not interested in sex, fantastic. But if only one of you is uninterested, perhaps it’s time to let the one who is still sexually percolating have a boyfriend or a girlfriend. Because, otherwise, isn’t it a little selfish and withholding?

Paul, a 49-year-old father of two who has been married for more than 20 years to the same woman, put it most succinctly.

“Sex I don’t have to fight for,” was his off-the-cuff description of what makes a good marriage.

Working Together

If marriage is a bicycle, the wheels do need to roll in the same direction. When one partner spins off on a new life path, as often happens with dynamic, self-actualized human beings, the other partner can’t carry the whole thing forward alone. If both people can’t work in tandem, one of them inevitably breaks off. Understandably, this inability to work together is one of the top causes of divorce.

A good marriage takes into account not only the journey of the couple, but the individual experience of each person.

“You have to have time to yourself and with each other,” said Sherry, who has been happily married to her husband for 53 years. They married when he was 18 and she was a pregnant 16-year-old. They have two daughters, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. They’ve also made it through her husband’s personality-changing stroke.

Hallmarks of a True Partnership

She and her husband play Mr. and Mrs. Claus together every Christmas, but Sherry’s individual activity is a lot less fluffy: she’s been doing cardio kickboxing classes for years. And incidentally, working together was her first rule of thumb for a good marriage, but good communication was the second. After all, how would you work together if you’re not talking and listening to each other about what and how well you’re doing it?


Thinking about divorce? But too scared to take a step, because any step could be one you’d regret?

Breathe. Then read “36 Things to Do If You are Thinking About Divorce.

 


Sherry’s comments touched on a few other catalysts for divorce that the SAS survey unearthed. Among them? Growing apart or evolving in different directions. Women also cited “Empty Nesting,” as one of the main causes of divorce because it makes a couple realize their kids kept them together as their only common ground.

Additionally, sometimes a union suffers too many traumas. Sherry and her husband climbed some steep hills right out of the gates, which primed them for challenges. But had they both sustained a life-altering illness, for example, or a career change turned the partnership into a long-distance one, it may have taxed the elasticity of their marriage too much.

“Sometimes when illness happens, you have to re-learn each other, and that can be challenging, but all of us change every five years or so,” she said.

“You have to know who you are so you can grow together, and so—when the kids leave the house and all the dust settles–you’re not staring at each other across the table, thinking, ‘I don’t know you… and I’m not sure I like you.’”

We Don’t Want the Same Things

A lot of factors identified in the SAS survey break down a couple’s ability to function as a team. Eight percent of respondents said a “disconnect in the value system” was their cause of divorce. That term covers a lot of ground. It could be just another way to describe sexual incompatibility.

“I still think monogamy is the answer to most people’s need for physical and emotional connection,” said Sam, a 49-year-old therapist and a divorced father of a teen.

“But it’s still a hard expectation for one person to meet all those needs.”

Needs don’t just refer to sexual ones. Value system changes also incorporate midlife crises in women and men; giving too much weight to the opinions of extended family members; addictions that one or both partners refuse to surrender; not seeing eye to eye on how to raise the children, and money problems. These causes of divorce can run the gamut from shopping or gambling addiction, hiding credit card debt, underemployment, or not telling your spouse about an investment or business venture that fails. Or, perhaps one spouse supports the other during advanced college courses but never sees the financial reward because the newly degreed trades them in for a new model.

Value Imbalance in the Household

Value imbalances are some of the top causes of divorce. One type of this imbalance involves the “second shift,” the housework that women almost always shoulder when they finish their day job.

Housekeeping is essentially a second, part-time, unpaid job and it is often ignored by male spouses. Women often feel like the maid or hired help. Men may prefer having clean clothes in the closet, not tripping over Legos in the living room, or being able to see the bottom of the kitchen sink, but not enough to actually contribute to the labor. They will even feign ignorance of how to perform a household chore (such as “I didn’t know which part of the dishwasher this went in.”) Right.

Couples who communicate about their housekeeping expectations, define their jobs clearly and then do them without their spouse having to ask or remind them are the ones creating marriages defined as “happy.”

Abuse

It’s frightening how many women who SAS surveyed named domestic abuse as the reason for their divorces: 15 percent. Abuse can be physical, emotional, or psychological. Women are more likely to encounter physical abuse, but men are coming forward with stories of psychological abuse by their wives, such as lying, verbal abuse, and manipulation.

Abuse often stems from a loss of control or a need for power. Sometimes abuse stems from physical illnesses that affect the brain, such as MS or stroke, but in other cases, personality disorders and other mental illnesses are a factor.

ADHD and anger management issues can be managed very well, but only if the individual is willing to unlearn behaviors. Abusers must take responsibility for the damage they’re doing to the people around them. Abuse is frequently exacerbated by drinking, drugs and other addictions.

Four percent of SAS surveyed-women identified narcissism as the final straw for divorcing their husbands. Narcissism is defined by an inflated sense of importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a total lack of empathy for others. Narcissistic traits such as gaslighting, lying, redirection, taking no responsibility for self, having no empathy or regard for other people’s feelings are subtle and hard to spot at first. If your gut is telling you something is wrong, don’t discount it. Talk to a professional and get help getting out.

Loveless Marriage

He may even just come right out and say it: I don’t love you anymore. There are few things that will hurt as badly. At the end of the day, there is no way to salvage a marriage where love doesn’t live in both people. Sometimes, he won’t say it but you know anyway. We can tell when we’ve become invisible to our spouse or when we are no longer cherished.

Monogamy and marriage take tenacity, imagination and an ability to see each other as the new beings we become over the years. Comfort is one thing but too much laziness in a marriage will starve it.

As Sherry said, “You have to remember why you first fell in love.”

 

Notes

Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer, former print journalist, and feature writer living on the West Coast. Nicknamed Verbose at a young age, she loves word craft but has to keep a short leash on her fondness for the profane. Jennifer enjoys compelling content and the liberty to write about interesting contributors and innovative ideas. Connect with Jennifer at verbosej@hotmail.com.

 

Whether you are navigating the experience of divorce or rebuilding your life post-divorce, the most important decision you can make is to not do it alone. Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner them through the emotional, financial, and complicated experience of divorce and reinvention. SAS offers all women six free months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you. Join our tribe and stay connected.

*At SAS, we support same sex marriage. We may refer to your Ex as “he” or “husband” for the sake of ease.