Life can feel like suspended animation for those who separated prior to, or during, the Covid lockdowns, and have been caught up in a ‘separated under the one roof’ situation ever since. Money can be tight for those on furlough or reduced hours, and rental accommodation can be hard to come by, creating a strange half-life where, though you’ve called time on your relationship, you are still living together because of the events going on in the world around you. So, how to make a situation dripping in awkwardness, at least bearable? I’ve seen hundreds of clients during the pandemic, and here are the survival tips recounted to me by separated couples who have made it out the other side of this situation.
De-escalate, de-escalate, de-escalate
The old adage is that familiarity breeds contempt. Recognise that, and accept that more effort will be required to get you through this situation. The things that your partner did that irked you during your relationship will probably now irk you even more (and vice versa). However, getting stuck into an argument over those things will only make an awkward situation worse. So let things go through to the keeper whenever you can. While it is frustrating to have to put that milk carton left on the counter back in the fridge, remind yourself that it is short-term only. (And then re-remind yourself).
Make a space that is yours – a spare bedroom, the study – a place to retreat from any anxiety and conflict. Have a rule that you will not enter your partner’s space, and that your space is yours alone. Each of you will need this ‘zone’ for alone time, to cocoon away from the relationship at times. It is absolutely necessary to get out the other side of this situation, so respect the sanctity and privacy of each other’s separate area.
Key to getting through this situation is support. Internalising anxiety and stress makes you a walking powder-keg. Get a professional counsellor or therapist to help you through. They will be able to assist with strategies to manage the situation – to co-exist co-operatively, to de-fuse conflict if and when it raises its head, and to maintain the mental resilience to ‘keep on keeping on’. Have a standing weekly appointment (more, if necessary, at critical times), and make this session your ‘release’, so that you are not unhealthily bottling up that tension.
Keep the legal aspects moving
Get a good family lawyer to help you keep running the bases on the completion of unresolved financial matters (your property settlement). While you might be ‘stuck’ under the one roof, the objective is to get things done so that, as soon as the opportunity to de-couple from each other presents itself, you are both ready and able to take it. So, make sure that you are advancing your negotiations about financial outcomes, and doing all of the legwork necessary to allow those discussions to be productive – complete your financial disclosure, and advance your valuations, promptly. Reaching, and documenting outcomes, about the finances, may be your way out of this situation, so don’t delay, get your house in order, and co-operate together to get an agreement in place.
A little introspection
While you are in this phase, be sure to pause, and think back to your younger days in shared accommodation. You and your partner are effectively ‘room-mates’ now, and a bit of courtesy will go a long way. Ask yourself, if your partner did X, how would you react? Hogging the TV, balancing rubbish atop an already overflowing bin, and putting empty milk cartons back in the fridge, are not things a room-mate would have accepted in your 20s, and so don’t expose your partner to accept it either – take the extra 30 seconds to do the little things. It won’t go unnoticed, and will make a life a bit more peaceful.
Remember also that a delicate touch will be required in relation to the legal matters. Avoid situations where your family lawyer sends a hand grenade in the form of a legal letter to your partner’s lawyer – as the aftermath will be felt in your household (and chances are, with you in the blast zone). Make sure that the instructions you give to your lawyer recognise the underlying situation that you are probably going to see the recipient of that correspondence in person moments after they have received and read it. Getting this wrong can be a real setback, so be thoughtful about how you approach the legal problem solving, and ensure that your lawyer follows your direction on this subject.