Living with your ex

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Breaking up with someone is hard enough. So what would induce anyone to carry on living together afterwards?

Living with your ex
The truth is, not many of us can afford to rent or buy alone these days, which is why many people move into together prematurely in the first place.

Paul and Karen realised their marriage had been a mistake after only a few months. Since Paul was due to go away to work, it made good financial sense for them to carry on living together until then. Karen covered the bills while he was away and vacated the house when he returned.

This might sound like a mature, reasonable, solution, but it was incredibly difficult for both of them. Karen explains: "We became more like housemates and got quite hostile towards each other in the end as it was so very hard... It is also impossible to meet other people and move on with your life."

A modern problem with a modern solution

Relationship counsellors Relate spend around 10% of their time helping couples to break up amicably. Relationships counsellor Denise Knowles explains: "Many couples just can't afford to move until they sell their house, or have put so much into their home, that they can't bear to sell it. If there are children involved, there is also the question of both parents having a big enough space for the children." If the split was amicable and mutual, isn't it just easier for your former soulmate to become your housemate?

So how do you do it?

"To live successfully with your ex it has to work on a practical, emotional and sexual level," says Denise. If you are in agreement, you can make it work. Denise counsels a rising number of couples in this situation, always with the same advice: "The most important thing is that you both have to be really strong on where your boundaries are from the word go." These could include setting a time limit to the arrangement, developing a financial and legal plan, perhaps working out time-share and babysitting duties, and deciding if you will still do each other's washing.

After Wendy and her husband divorced, they continued to live together amicably for six months while they paid off the mortgage and he found a new job and flat. While her ex was able to commute to his new girlfriend, however, Wendy found it hard to move on while he was there. It did, at least, allow them to stay friends and kept their relationship out of the bedroom; this can be harder when neither of you has met someone else.

Avoiding sex with your ex

In this situation, sex with your ex is a real possibility. Read any relationship guide and they will tell you that this is a bad idea. Christine Webber, author of How To Mend A Broken Heart, advises you to steer well clear of your ex until you get stronger. Since this is not an option if you're sharing a home, you have to make the bedroom boundary strongest of all.

One good way to do this is to avoid alcohol. Most of us would agree with Karen when she says, "It's very easy to do something you shouldn't when there are a few drinks involved." If you don't want to become teetotal as well as single, you both have to be clear on this. If even one of you still harbours feelings for the other, sleeping together is easy; but it will make the final break all the harder. Spend the booze money on a rampant rabbit vibrator instead.

Meeting someone new

"Ex-couples living together successfully often find it goes wrong when one of them meets someone else," says Denise. Francine Shaw is making a film about the subject, and has found this to be the case: "A couple of years ago I came across a couple in Sheffield who had separate entrances to the house. The tension came when she brought new boyfriends into the house and he would meet them in the mornings in the kitchen."

It is probably wise to meet new flames away from home initially, for everyone's sake. But it is still better to be honest with both parties. I was due to interview a woman still living with her ex-husband, who was dating a male friend of mine. Sadly they split up a few weeks ago; it turns out she hadn't told her ex about him. Yes, ground rules or not, mature adults or not, finding out that your ex is dating can be the real test of whether you can make this work and have really moved on.

Arranging your finances

Not surprisingly, finances can be one of the positive sides of living with your ex - as long as you keep to the plan. By enduring six months of limbo, Wendy ended up with the flat and its contents and Karen had time to get back her independence. If you keep that ultimate goal in mind, living with your ex can be a really positive, but very definitely temporary, arrangement.

You have to move on

Karen also found moving on the biggest problem: "We'd always hoped to be able to remain friends and I guess we did in a way. It was just difficult to stay friendly and very hard to live together as we were both caught in limbo, unable to grieve, until we split."

If you really want to take your life forward, living with your ex can only ever really be a short-term solution. Those who managed it long-term tend to be couples who have been apart for some time and have moved back in together for convenience. A lengthy gap allows you to well and truly move on. Then you can then gain a new, platonic housemate without the hassle of getting to know their faults. Of course, in an even smaller number of cases, it can actually be the start of love second time around. But that is a different story altogether...

If you want some advice on breaking up, living with your ex or any area of your relationship, contact Relate on 0845 456 1310. 

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