In One Piece: The In-House Separation

By Cecile Kandl, Ph.D.

separated couple living in same homeAfter sixteen years of marriage and twenty-one years of partnership, my husband is no longer interested in our marriage. He’s checked out, he wants to divorce and yet we can’t afford to separate. The budget is carefully examined and the bills are considered. Daycare is a problem. So, what do we do? We live together for a turbulent nine months in an arrangement called the in-house separation. He has since moved out and our divorce is filed, but those nine months of living together can only be described as devastating. In this article, I will consider some of the following questions: How can you co-exist with your ex-partner in the same space for an indefinite period of time? What does this living situation do to your emotions, your way of life, and the way in which you must now approach the world and each other? How do you navigate the fine line between marriage and divorce? Finally, what does it mean to be separated but yet still inextricably tied together?

The way you co-exist in this situation is you just do. You have no choice. Usually after deciding to separate one person will leave the bedroom and move to another part of the house. In my case, my husband moved into our finished basement for the duration of the separation. This part of the in-house-separation is particularly difficult to witness as you must observe the presence of a person who no longer loves you and yet still exists in your home. You continue to hold discussions with an emotionally-detached person who showers in the upstairs bathroom. You trade information about the kids and yet this person is no longer your partner. This person might also often join you at meals. From the outside things seem “normal.” But somehow beneath this assumed familiarity, is the certainty that this relationship is quickly ending. And so you co-exist as strangers who are becoming increasingly more aware of the relationship’s demise.

The second most apparent issue with an in-house separation is the way your emotions can’t accept the enormity of what is happening. Facing your spouse, who is no longer your spouse, is often excruciating. What are you supposed to say to someone who is leaving as soon as they can afford to do so? Part of you denies the separation by focusing on ordinary tasks, but there is always the realization that your days together are numbered—and that realization is often devastating. The only way to get through it, I think, is to face the inevitable—you are no longer a couple just because you share the same roof. You are strangers forced together for a period of time until you can each break free and move on. Your emotions will reach their breaking point, but if you can accept that this person is no longer your true partner is makes the pain less acute.

Navigating the fine line between being married and being divorced is perhaps the hardest part of an in-house separation because issues will inevitably arise that require you to participate as both a married and a soon-to-be-divorced couple. Truthfully, I never got used to people referring to my husband as my “husband” when I knew we were months or weeks away from a final separation. Relatives, neighbors, teachers, bankers, and service people are just some of the folks who will unknowingly make your life hell when they continue to treat you as a married couple. And you can’t blame them. You look like a married couple. You live together and are probably still attending many of the same functions. It’s hard, yes, but in time people will accept the changes as will you and your ex-spouse—and then you will find that you are moving toward the separate worlds you are now building without the other.

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