Separated yet living together in self-isolation …or ‘One time in your life you could really do with some social distance’

Thanks to a tweet from Annie and Lucy I had a sudden shudderingly awful recollection. Living together when you’re separated is horrible. So what about now when you’re having to self-isolate? It’s bad enough living in the same space for 14 solid days when you love people, and now you’re having to do that with someone you used to love and who used to love you. Or maybe you do still love them, or they you, but the feeling isn’t mutual anymore. Either way it’s not an easy time for many different reasons.

In Surviving Separation and Divorce (a great opportunity to support your local independent bookshop in these trying times, and a shameless plug for myself) I cover this topic of how to live together when you’re no longer in the same relationship that you were. I explain that ‘Separation does not simply mean you are physically apart. It can mean detaching your life from the life of your spouse through non-communication, refusal to engage in any proactive work around the marriage, or avoiding physical intimacy…‘ So how can we live like this when we’re forced in close quarters?

Reiterate responsibilities

So this is no-one’s ideal scenario, yet here you are. And things need doing to keep other things going… or in a butchered version of a more classic saying, ‘if someone doesn’t do it, no-one will’.

Write down what sort of things need to happen within the home to keep it a habitable and physically pleasant place to live. You might like to do this together. Decide whether it would be more helpful for each person to have allocated tasks, or days of the week. Think about the practical aspects like shopping too. Who will pay for it? Will one of you go out? Beware of a scenario which turns into a parent/child relationship, where one of you ends up doing for the other (unless this is necessary due to disability or illness) . Instead write down and agree your decisions, if they are not stuck to, the document can be referred to.

Make deliberate choices

Because life has forced you into this situation, it is helpful to remember we can make choices too. Perhaps consider these questions:

  • Will you spend any time together?
  • What would that look like or be spent doing?
  • Will you eat meals together or cook for one another?
  • Is there a TV programme you have always enjoyed watching together that would mean you could spend time together in a non-stressful way?

You might decided to cook separately, or to have particular times that you will have the living room to yourselves. Making choices is empowering and lessens the impact of life happening to you, which it probably feels like is happening all too much right now.

Sort out sleep and space

The physical space is a major challenge in this scenario. If you have enough bedrooms then it might not make things as complicated if you have chosen to sleep apart. However if one of you is on the sofa, how will this work? Are you going to take it in turns? Is there an understanding that if one of you gets ill they will be able to have the bed to sleep in? If you have one TV and that is in the living room what are the arrangements for having your own physical space to watch it and relax? It might not be possible to have your own room for this time that the other person does not go into, so work out together how you might allocate the space between you. This might look like an actual schedule to ensure arguments are kept to a minimum.

Communicate carefully

Is this a helpful space to work out what went on in your marriage or relationship? Think about the sorts of topics you want to talk about. Remember that you can’t just walk out the house and go and see a friend. It might be that you need to park some issues for now, because they’re simply too big for the two of you in the space. Starting an argument about someone’s behaviour or actions that will be left festering while you try to co-exist in the space is unlikely to help anyone.

Start a diary if it helps to write things down, or do some exercise to help you work through any anger you may be feeling towards them. Have a friend you can moan to via text or some music to listen to with headphones. Choosing which topics are off the table for the time you are self-isolating or social distancing may make life considerably more bearable.

Initiating intimacy

Yes, sex… and everything else in between kissing and actual sex. Only you as a couple will know if this is helpful. It may be that you both want your marriage to work, and that physically intimacy is a way of maintaining closeness and love for one another. But if you are in a situation where you are not together or working towards a shared goal of reconciliation, intimacy can really muddy the waters. I’m not saying it’s not great or fun, but after the initial glow fades, the emotional confusion and complexities begin. Deliberately choosing to say no, or not to entice the other person into this situation, isn’t easy. It’s nice to feel wanted and close and loved. But is that really what’s being said here? If you’re at all unsure, it might be best to close that proverbial door and not complicate the living arrangements further. Consider what you think would be being said, and if it’s not ‘I love you and I’m committed to you’, then is it worth the heartache?

Explain expectations

While you live together, what are your expectations of behaviour for yourself and your ex? If they have had an affair and you are still living together, it may be that you don’t want to hear phone calls being made during that time. Perhaps the volume of the television is an issue, what they’re watching or how they leave things after they’ve used them. These are all key conversations to have. Even better, I’d suggest thinking about how you behave first, and working out what you will be doing in order to try and live helpfully so that you can use these as a baseline for suggestions.

This is not an easy time for anyone, but if you’re at loggerheads with the person you live with it’s even worse, hopefully these ideas make this time a little less trying. If you are in danger with this person, despite the social distancing and isolation, it is still paramount to leave, and the National Domestic Violence Helpline is here: 0808 2000 247.

If you have any other suggestions, drop them below – or if you are in this situation and need a listening ear, then theentiretyoflife@gmail.com is open for emails.

book cover

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