Couples living together, apart

living together
When “picture perfect” doesn’t go beyond a picture – how do you move about life while your ex is still living under the same roof? For some couples, it’s about practicality.

In the world of Instagram or Facebook, it could look like the perfect arrangement: a snapshot of a man and woman, side-by-side in their sunswept, modern family home, seemingly enjoying a peaceful Sunday breakfast.

Just because they’re at the same table having fluffy pancakes and eggs, it doesn’t mean their marriage is sweet and savoury.

Not to be confused with the growing phenomenon of living apart together, living together apart is also on the rise.

Who’s on first? What’s on second?

Well, to explain …

First, you have couples who choose to be married, but live in separate dwellings for whatever reasons (that’s certainly for another article — and people with certain bank accounts). Second, you have couples who choose to separate, but live together for seemingly practical reasons.

So, you’re no longer a couple, just a couple of people living in a house. Sometimes it may be an effort to put the kids first. Sometimes an exercise in economy. But is it an exercise in futility?

If you’re hoping to save money, it could be worthwhile.

Wait until home sold

“Living together while a couple deals with the matrimonial matter is on the rise, at least in the Greater Toronto Area,” says David Frenkel, an associate at Gelman & Associates, an exclusively family law firm. Given Toronto’s real estate market, Frenkel finds the lack of cash flow usually results in the couple having to wait until their home is sold — or until one party buys the other out, before they can live separately and apart.

Of note, according to Gelman & Associates’ website, the decision to move, or to ask your spouse to move, might affect your case.

“Although the Ontario Divorce Act states that couples must live ‘separate and apart,’ this does not necessarily mean that you have to live in different houses. If your relationship has ended, but you remain in the same house as your spouse for any reason (i.e. children, finances, etc.) you can still be deemed to be living ‘separate and apart.’ The important aspect is that you are no longer behaving like a married couple.”

Camille and her now ex-husband didn’t behave like a married couple when they lived together during their separation. But she says the situation wasn’t healthy for her behaviour or her sanity.

“Weekends were especially difficult. When you’re not busy with work, and stuck in the same house together, it drives you crazy.”

But, the times her then-husband wasn’t home, may have been even worse.

“Part of the reason I wanted to separate and divorce is because I didn’t trust him,” Camille says. “So I started going through his drawers or computer history when he wasn’t home. I knew I was right to ask for a divorce. I just didn’t want to literally discover how right I was.”

Evidence of infidelity

After she found evidence of infidelity, she couldn’t continue living in the same home with him.

Camille isn’t alone. While you may hear stories where it worked for couples, there are also many reasons living together while separated can be challenging.

Carolyn Klassen is the founder of Conexus Counselling, and a therapist who specializes in marriage and couples counselling.

“Often it’s difficult to fully grieve when you have to figure out ways to ‘stay strong’ because your former spouse is still in the house,” says Klassen.

Ambiguous loss

“It’s rather like a person on life support, with no brain activity, but still hooked up to machines … There is no chance of survival, but there is no funeral either. It’s a form of ambiguous loss (you can look that term up, it’s a thing). That can be agony.”

She explains, “We end marriages the same way people lived in them.” Meaning marriages that were distant could have that same feel when the couple lives in the same house. Marriages where one spouse always treated the union like it was only about himself or herself will treat the separation the same way. Marriages that had long deteriorated into contempt will continue to do so. And so on …

But, Klassen also says, “Marriages which had partners that, even in the midst of the tensions of a deteriorating marriage, could find ways to apologize for their own nastiness … will continue to negotiate and work things out so that it feels equitable and compassionate.”

She advises to ask for a break when the conversation is too difficult. And to stay civil and find ways to be kind to the other — this compassion could create situations that are less worse.

So, if you choose to live together, apart, it’s important to note you are never alone. Seek the help and support from a lawyer, a therapist and loved ones around you.

You may not be able to post that to Instagram or Facebook, but it will make for a much better reality.

A therapist’s tips on how to get through living together, apart.
How can couples get through this?
  1. Ensure safety. In relationships where there has been violence, be smart. Statistics show the risk of violence increases at the time when a marriage ends. Talk this through with a lawyer and/or therapist if you are unsure.
  2. Remind yourself of who you are, and stick to it. Align your behaviour with your values and ask someone to help remind you to do so. In the moment, it’s very easy to interpret something as painful, and then respond with retribution before you’ve had a chance to think it through.
  3. Keep it business. Treat your former spouse, as much as possible, as a roommate you need to live with. Be civil. Give the benefit of the doubt. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t allow yourself to be poked and goaded into a fight.
  4. Don’t expect it to go well. This is hard. Even if it is necessary for legal/financial reasons, it won’t be easy. Get help and support from friends. Find ways to be kind to yourself. Give yourself permission to have bad days.

Read Carolyn Klaassen’s therapy blog at Conexus Counselling.

A lawyer’s tips on how to choose if living together, apart is for you.
Ask yourself:
  1.  What is my availability to funds in the next six to 12 months?
  2. Can I request a loan from my parents or family members if I would need extra cash flow?
  3. How important is status quo in my matrimonial case for child custody purposes?
  4. Is there a risk that my spouse may call the police to kick me out of the home?
  5. Am I able to control myself under pressure if I need to stay with my spouse until the house is sold?
  6. Will the children be more or less negatively impacted if we stay together in the home while we resolve our legal issues?

Gelman & Associates practises exclusively family law, with 14 lawyers and six offices across the GTA. Find them online here or call 416-665-6888.

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