Sunday, March 29, 2009

Stuck In The House With Ex-Spouse: Tools and Rules To Help You Survive

When divorce is on the horizon how can you co-exist in a house with your soon to be ex-spouse? Is it possible to live separate and apart under one roof without raising it? Once the marriage is declared "over" there may be a period of time that leaves the separated sharing space when they are low on relationship grace. While there are separating spouses  that decide to share the matrimonial  home for an agreed upon period of time, others find themselves in the same predicament for different reasons. Financial limitations, unresolved legal issues, power struggles and difficulty selling the home result in many former life-partners co-existing under one roof involuntarily.

In these particularly challenging economic times, with the matrimonial home often being the couple's largest asset, slow sales, soft markets and a lack of palatable alternatives  may result in "mom's room, dad's room" carrying on for longer than intended. Navigating your way around home base when you no longer want to see your Ex's face is not for the faint of heart. Allocating your time, your boundaries, and your feelings in a way that leaves your sanity in tact and keeps your children from falling through the cracks requires two committed people.

 If you find yourself dividing your heart along with your home, develop a plan to help you share in a way that is fair.  Be intentional, mindful and strategic and consider the following tools and rules to help you handle this overwhelming difficult time.

  1. Beware: LAND MINE AHEAD. Shake hands with reality and be realistic as to the challenges that lay in the fore. Living separate and apart under one roof can be unpredictable, arduous and volatile. Do not pass go without a plan.
  2. Build boundaries. Create separate space especially for the most intimate parts of your day: sleeping, private time in bathrooms and a safe place for your personal belongings that is accessible at all times. Designating and adhering to an agreed upon division of hours and space, taking turns, respecting privacy, and using self-restraint are necessary behaviors. A rule of thumb: Never walk into the other person's territory without express permission. When in doubt, find a new route.
  3. Play the part of Casper the friendly ghost. Develop a temporary schedule that clarifies specific days and times that each parent is in charge and the other is "off duty." The parent in charge is the "go to" parent and the other parent makes themselves scarce. This serves to minimize opportunities for conflict. Note, that this only works if the "off-duty parent" is invisible at best and outside the scope of parenting radar at worst. 
  4. Be your own domestic god/ess. Do your own laundry and prepare your own food. This will eliminate resentment. If your arrangement involves doing things for one and other discuss the details, create a written agreement and review it weekly or monthly to ensure that it is working for both parties. 
  5. Those that no longer sleep together should discuss whether they want to eat together. It may be time to create a new interim meal time tradition. 
  6. If you use it, loose it. Clean up after yourself and put your own things away. Leaving behind soiled dishes, a trail of laundry or garbage for your house mate to deal with is dirty play.
  7. Replace with grace. If you empty the fridge, the gas tank, the toothpaste tube, the kleenex box or anything else that was once there, replenish and restock before you need to talk. 
  8. Let patience and discretion be your guides. Wait to date. Do your best to hold of on a dating kick-off. It will save you from an unwanted fumble or scrimmage.
  9. If you begin to liaise, discuss the terms of this stage. Keep it separate and out of the house.
  10. Don't be an island. Bring in a captain to help you chart the waters, create rules and arrive at an agreement to live by. Meet with a coach or mediator to help you prepare with care.
Living separate and apart under one roof is like traveling to a foreign country. In fact, the language, customs and practices you are familiar with may even result in the opposite effect. In order to prepare for your journey, research the world you are traveling to. A streetwise traveler is informed, packs a map, takes a guide and always has telephone numbers and a "safety plan" in case of emergency. 

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