When my husband and I officially separated a little more than six years ago, he was for all intents and purposes already out of the house, having accepted a position in Hong Kong two years earlier that brought him back to the United States for a few days every couple of months. So during the week that he announced he was leaving, this time with the intention of divorcing me, he simply packed his suitcase like he normally did after a trip home and walked out the door. Although I was stunned, the logistical effect on our children and myself was minimal. My husband didn’t pack any boxes; he had packed them years earlier. And the stuff he didn’t want, he left behind for me to deal with, which I did.
Although applying the phrase “out of sight, out of mind” to our living situation during the separation period would be harsh, there was some truth to it. I didn’t have to watch my husband pack his belongings and move away or pack my own and do the same. I also didn’t have to live with him while going through the divorce process, which is what more and more couples are choosing to do, or must do, because of financial constraints or familial considerations.
I actually got a taste of what this alternative reality would have been like when my soon-to-be-ex returned to our marital home for a visit early on in our separation. To be clear, we weren’t anywhere near the way the couple was in “War of the Roses.” That said, I could see how couples get there and how it must take a lot of restraint not to. Based on my (very brief) experience staying under the same roof with my ex as well as listening to the accounts of others who have cohabitated with theirs, if you choose to go this route or have no choice except to, I recommend doing the following:
Sounds obvious but, apparently, not for everyone. While out to dinner a few years ago, my date let it slip that he and his estranged wife still sleep in the same bed and don’t touch each other “most nights.” First date, last date. But I digress. Even if you’re living together during the divorce process, keep in mind that in addition to separating legally and financially, you’re also separating emotionally and physically. For some, sleeping alongside another person feels more intimate than sex. Separation is about many things, including learning to live without your spouse. Moving into another bedroom is a good first step toward gaining independence.
Sex with the ex is rarely a good idea, especially if you will have to see him or her later in the day at the mediator’s office. Though it may be convenient, chances are that continuing to have sex with one another will only further complicate the range of emotions you are experiencing as a result of your impending divorce. If you’re not good at compartmentalizing your feelings and most people, particularly women, aren’t, keep your hands (and everything else) to yourself.
As much as possible, you want to stay out of each other’s way. That means if your ex is living in the basement, coincidentally where the washer and dryer are, arrange to do your laundry while your ex is not there. The same goes for meal preparation. The expression “too many cooks in the kitchen” carries a lot more weight when the cooks are going through a divorce.
In a related matter, keep common areas free and clear of clutter. Just as you would if you were rooming with a stranger, respect your ex’s right to use and enjoy common areas of the home. Leave the kitchen, bathroom, and any other room you share exactly as you found them.
Everyone is entitled to privacy, including your soon-to-be-ex. That means staying out of his or her bedroom. Personal possessions, including your ex’s toothbrush (I’ve heard horror stories) and food stash, are equally off limits.
If you are parents, do your best to keep the details of your divorce between you and your soon-to-be-ex while providing age-appropriate explanations for any changes in your household routine. In the same vein, some individuals choose to date during this period. The choice is a personal one. Regardless of how “fine” or “not fine” your spouse says he or she is with it, it’s usually wise not to put on full display the realities of your social life. Be as honest as possible with your spouse and the people you’re dating. You don’t want your soon-to-be-ex answering the door and being on the receiving end of a bouquet of flowers meant for you. Awkward.
Remind yourself as many times as you have to that you’re getting divorced. The landscape may look the same but, like a mirage, can be deceiving. Don’t expect the same perks you had in marriage to continue into your separation merely because you’re living together. Use the comforts of home to summon your strength, keeping in mind that you’re separating so you may move forward. And, in due time, out.
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