It’s not unusual these days for divorcing couples to have to continue living together. That can make redefining your new relationship more challenging because it may be harder to draw new, clear boundaries. There can however be unexpected benefits.
My current guest, Sandy and her husband stayed living together for three years because of financial constraints. They’d been married for over twenty years and communication had always been a struggle. Amazingly, during their “separate but living together” phase they learned to communicate. Here’s Sandy:
The divorce process took place over three years. We were living together, upstairs, downstairs at the time and during that time we learned to talk to each other. It was actually a really miraculous time in our marriage where we learned to communicate for the first time ever.
It started out really stressful, because he accused me of having an affair and every day was like triage.
He moved upstairs and the main thing that kept us married was finances, as it always usually is. Most of our finances were tied up into our home and we had another building that was gifted in the marriage that was a rental property. So, he had to sell that property and that took time and I was really tethered to the house until I had the funds to move out.
That’s why I stayed.
In the beginning it was hell, because of the whole affair accusation. He traced this guy down. He was calling him and threatening him with death. He called his wife. Everyday I didn’t know what was going to be. It felt unsafe in the beginning and then he started to go for help.
He started to learn how to communicate, which was something that I had been speaking to him about for twenty years.
What I’d say is a lot of men like this, they get it with the anvil on the head, they don’t do well with subtlety. You have to really speak with conviction about the things that are important to you in a marriage, because otherwise, men who are really shut down, they don’t move forward unless there’s a real threat to the marriage. I threatened divorce so many times, but never had the guts to follow through, because of my friend’s words in the back of my mind, “This is not good for the kids.”
I don’t remember who helped him to find out about non-violent communication, but what was great about it was it’s a formula. It’s very formulaic and that’s how he processes, so it was easy for him to plug into, “Oh I make an observation, I identify my feelings from a whole list of feelings, so now I can articulate them. Oh, I’m feeling this, because there is a need that is not being met and I can understand that and now I can make a request.”
The problem became that it was so formulaic. He never really could do it organically, but it still really made a difference because he wasn’t raging, he was talking. Or he wasn’t stonewalling. He had those two ways of being, but he had no idea of how to talk. When I would ask him something and it felt confrontational, he’d walk away. Even if we were taking a walk, he would just leave me in the middle!
We started walking and talking for three years. We walked pretty much daily for about an hour a day and we were able to talk out all the things that were going on and it was very civilized. It was really a miracle.
That being said I still knew this marriage was over and had been for a very long time. There was no hope of reconciliation for me, because my heart was just not there. I couldn’t love this man.
I kept saying to him, “All the things that you’re doing, just realize that you’re doing them for you. Don’t do them with the hope of getting back to me, but these are wonderful things for you to do for you.”
We were eating meals together. We did everything together. We were going to movies together. My kids were really confused. They were like, “Why are you getting divorced? You’re getting along really well.”
I said, “Yeah we can get along really well. It’s actually really good for you guys that we get along really well.” That was my answer all the time , that we were trying to work things through so that we when we were divorced, we could continue to be the best parents we can be.
That was my goal all along, “Let’s make peace.” All I wanted was peace.
I think a lot of women just want peace and that’s why they give up and they lose themselves in the process, but nothing is worth giving up yourself for.
I just love Sandy’s perspective here about wanting to be the best parents. Many people don’t realize that this separation phase isn’t just about pulling apart. If you have children then truly, the phase is more about rearranging your relationship (as author Judy Osborne describes it) because your children will likely connect you to your STBX until one of you dies.
That being said, it’s not an easy place to get to, and you and your STBX aren’t likely to arrive there at the same time. Sandy, being the one who initiated the divorce was likely there long before her husband. She was already well along her grieving path when her husband discovered her emotional affair. It would be hard for him to focus on being the best parent he could be while he’s still reeling with the finality of Sandy wanting a divorce. It’s helpful for both parties to recognize this difference in timing and to give each other some space.
There’s also much to be said for ‘talking and walking.’ It seems that it could be much less threatening than sitting across from the table at each other and it’s less stressful because you are moving. And, either of you can always walk away if the discussion gets too intense or unproductive.
Are you separated but living together? What changes have you made to make it work? Is it confusing for your children?
Sandy Weiner is a dating coach at Last First Date where she blogs about dating and offers coaching services for completing your online dating profile. You can also sign up for her free report: Top 3 Mistakes Midlife Daters Make.
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