How To Manage A Breakup When You Live Together


Elle Huerta

How do you heal when you’re still sharing a living space with your ex? How are you supposed to move forward? How do you maintain privacy? How do you avoid fights?  

Besides the breakups happening during lockdown, there are a lot of people around the world who are living with an ex right now because they felt there was no other option.

Many couples who planned to breakup or divorce before coronavirus had to table their plans for moving out because there simply wasn’t enough time to coordinate the logistics before lockdown started. Some couples are now dealing with changing financial situations (maybe one partner lost a job) which may prevent them from moving out and splitting up their household, even after the lockdown ends.

Meanwhile, other couples decided that it was safer to continue living together, so they’re sleeping separately or living in different rooms or parts of the house. Other couples may have hunkered down together because they didn’t have anyone else they could turn to, and this is especially true if one person got sick and needed care. Everyone has their own reasons, but the reality is that there are many “couples” now living together (or living closeby and maintaining a close relationship) when that wasn’t really the plan.

This isn’t just unique to coronavirus though. Many couples have to continue living together after they decide to break up or get divorced, whether it’s because of finances, kids, timing, pets, work or simply logistics.

So how can you manage a breakup when you’re living together (or staying in relatively close contact)?

1. Figure out what feels good to you

What can you do to increase your comfort and feelings of ease at home? Maybe it’s that you don’t want to eat breakfast in the kitchen at the same exact time, so that you have some alone time in the morning to meditate and journal without your ex blending their smoothie. Maybe you could wakeup a tad bit earlier so that you can have this alone time before your ex wakes up. Think about your ideal day and figure out how to get close to that, given the current situation.

Then think about boundaries you may need to set with your ex. Are there any boundaries that would make you feel better, or help you be productive (when you need to be)? Maybe it’s that you need to table any conversations about finances until Saturday afternoons so that you can stay focused during your work from home time during the week. Maybe it’s that you don’t continue to rehash your breakup with them for a few weeks. Just because you’re together all the time doesn’t mean you need to keep talking about things and figuring them out. Give yourself a break.

2. Have a discussion with your ex and practice compassion

Once you’ve figured out what will feel good to you (including what boundaries you might like to set) find a time that works for both of you to have a discussion around these two things. Acknowledge that this is a difficult situation, and that you want to work together to make the best out of it. Share what you’re thinking about doing so that they consider what will feel good for themselves. Ask them if there are any boundaries they’d like to set so that they feel more comfortable. Share what yours are.

If there are any boundaries that conflict, which there probably will be, take the time to figure out what compromise might work for both of you. If you can’t reach a compromise, take turns having your way so it feels more equitable. If emptying the dishwasher is a major point of stress, setup a rotating schedule so that you don’t have to think about who’s going to do it anymore.

3. Reach out for support beyond your ex

Just because your ex is the one who’s there doesn’t mean they are the best support system for you. Remember to reach outside of your immediate lockdown bubble and schedule Facetimes or video calls with your friends and family members. You may also want to consider speaking with a therapist remotely on a regular basis so that you can touch base with them and share how you’re feeling living with your ex. They can also help you problem solve if you’re butting heads. Dealing with a breakup while living together is difficult, and finding someone who can listen to you and provide a sounding board will be helpful.

4. Make sure you’re carving out some space for yourself

If you have any corner of your apartment or home together that you can make just yours, do it. Whether it’s your bathroom, a guest room or your garage, finding some place that you can make yours will be helpful. Keep it clean and organized, and put reminders of things you love there. You can even try to meditate there on a daily basis so that it becomes associated with this ritual. It’s really helpful if this space allows you to physically separate from your ex, even if it’s just for an hour or two, but of course that’s not always possible depending on your living situation.

5. Don’t give up on making plans

It may seem like things are incredibly uncertain right now, but there will be a time when you will no longer be living with your ex. You may not be able to go look at apartments right now, but you can start to do research on neighborhoods and streets you like. You can also look at your finances and figure out your moving budget and what you will need in order to make the move happen. You can monitor real estate sites to see what listings are available and get a rough sense of what your budget will get you. You can also start to go through your things, especially if you have shared items, and get organized so that packing is easier once lockdown ends. Take this extra time to get really clear on what you like about your current living situation, and what you would change. Make wishlists.

The goal is to figure out how you can get yourself through this time and be respectful of the person you’re living with, even if it’s your ex. You may not be a couple anymore, but you are certainly human and can be empathetic to the fact that this is a stressful and uncertain time for everyone. If you’re stuck together, you may as well try to make the best of it.

6. Be gentle with yourself

Living together adds an extra element of difficulty to a breakup or divorce that you can’t control or immediately change. Try to be patient with yourself if you’re struggling with it. It’s not ideal to be living with someone who broke your heart, or someone who cheated on you, or someone you’d rather just avoid altogether. Know that you are not alone – right now there are people all over the world in lockdown with exes – and know that you will come out of this with many lessons about yourself. Try not to be hard on yourself if you’re struggling, and also be gentle with any timelines you may have set for yourself. Once you’re no longer living together, you’ll start to feel the benefits of no longer living together. In the meantime, you’re doing the best you can.

We know that you may feel trapped, but know that you can create mental space using the strategies above. You have the power to make the best of your circumstances. We’re rooting for you and sending you our best wishes for this difficult time.

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