Marriage separation is a confusing and disorienting time. Not only are you grappling with the emotional whirlwind of a new normal (that maybe you didn’t want); you are also dealing with practical issues like the fate of your home, what to do about finances, and how to parcel the time with the kids. When I talk to couples at the beginning of their separation, one of the most common questions I hear is, “how do we decide who moves out, and what do we do with the house?” In this blog, I’ll do my best to answer these questions. I am not an expert — I’m just a person who went through this messy situation and came out with some wisdom and experience that might be useful to others going through the same thing. So, take my opinion with a grain of salt and do your own soul-searching.
Deciding on the Fate of the House
At the beginning of your marriage separation, you’ll need to decide if you’re going to keep the house during the separation or sell it. Your decision will influence what steps you take next, so in my opinion, it’s the first decision you need to make.
Perhaps the most financially practical thing is to sell the house and split the profits so that both partners can afford to rent temporarily. Many couples I talk to feel uncomfortable with that idea, sharing that it seems like a very permanent choice and one that requires significant effort. Although that is very true, there are plenty of pros and cons to be considered.
The pros of selling
The biggest financial pro is that you don’t have to double your living expenses by sustaining a mortgage and a lease on an apartment. There is also a pretty significant emotional pro that I don’t think many couples think about: it can be extremely healing to be in a new place to process your thoughts and feelings during the separation. My therapist told me, “You can’t heal where you were broken.” It can be very hard for one partner to remain alone in the house with all the memories, the good and the bad, while the other partner gets to heal and process without all those memories hanging over their head. Giving both partners a chance to heal in a fresh environment can, in my opinion, be very transformational. It can also free you both up to do the hard work of thinking and decision-making about what you want out of the relationship going forward.
The cons of selling
The cons are obvious: it’s a lot of work to sell a house, to sign two new leases, to move into two new places. There is also the fear, as I mentioned above, of doing something that feels so permanent — especially if you are hoping to come back together after the separation. If you have children, their well-being must also be considered. They may not want to be displaced, and you might not want to uproot them from their school.
My Personal Thoughts
My husband and I decided to keep our home and for one of us to rent an apartment. This allowed our children to keep their permanent residence the same. Ultimately, when we reconciled, we still decided to find a new place to live. We didn’t like the memories of our old house and felt that we deserved a fresh start. It’s very possible that you’ll feel the same if you decide to reconcile. Something about going back to the house where the worst parts of your marriage unfolded feels wrong when you’re trying to start over. So, if there is a part of you that doesn’t want to sell the house because you think you’ll want to go back to it if you choose to reconcile, consider letting that thinking go. Chances are, you won’t want to go back to that house anyway.
Deciding Who Moves Out
If you decide to keep your home, the next decision is who moves out. It seems like the societal expectation is for the man to move out (if you are in a straight heteronormative relationship). However, I think there are other things to be considered.
Does one partner want the separation, while the other doesn’t? In my opinion, the one who wants the separation should leave. I was the one who wanted to separate; my husband did not want it. I decided to leave, even though most people said my husband should be the one to go. Personally, I think the partner who doesn’t want the separation (if there is one) may do better in the comforts of home, while the partner who wants the separation may do better in someplace new.
Does one partner have traumatic memories from inside the home? If so, that should definitely be the person to leave. If there was a betrayal that was discovered, like infidelity or other types of lies, it may be too painful for the harmed partner to stay in the house. You can’t heal where you were broken. It’s an important thing to remember.
It can be hard to have these conversations when you begin your separation because, of course, everything is very raw. But it’s essential to sort these things out so that you can be in the best position possible for healthy healing when you enter the separation.
What If You Can’t Afford to Separate?
I have many couples raise this question when they talk about beginning a separation. It’s important to remember that there are ways to separate, even if you have to stay under the same roof. In fact, an increasing number of couples decide to stay in the same house while they separate, so that the kids aren’t displaced. Your separation is just as valid if you are under the same roof, sleeping in different rooms or even sleeping in the same bed. Separation is an emotional and mental disconnect just as much as it is a physical one, and taking a breather from the relationship can be just as effective in the same house as in separate houses. So, if it is safe for you to do so, give yourself permission to stay under the same roof. My only recommendation would be to set up guidelines or boundaries with each other so that you can protect your space. This may mean discussing things like: do you have meals together? Do you ever have physical or intimate time? Is kissing allowed? Will you try your best to not cross paths? These are things you can discuss up front to make your same-house separation as functional as possible.
Ultimately, your separation can look however you want it to look. You can choose to do whatever makes the most sense for you and your marriage, even if it’s unconventional. Do what you feel will be the most likely to make the separation successful, and remember that “success” in the separation is whatever you define it to be.
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