by: Toni Coleman, LCSW, CMC

Dear Toni-

About six months ago my husband Tony and I made the decision to separate. Our eight-year marriage has been marked by many highs and lows, and we have tried counseling twice with minimal positive changes resulting.

I think we are just not compatible and neither of us has the desire to fight for the marriage. Our problem is that even though we have taken the steps of legal separation, we are not financially in a place to maintain two households.

Our home is underwater and we get by with our two incomes, but there is nothing left to do more. Therefore, he is living on the lower level, but has to use the household kitchen so we do continue to have some family meals together. We encounter each other daily, are aware of each others comings and goings, and it would be impossible for either of us to pursue friendships and activities or start dating without the other knowing about it. In other words, we are in separation limbo with no end in sight. I have read some things online that tell me this is not a completely unusual situation for couples to find themselves in. However, I have not come across any truly helpful suggestions for how to live in the same house, yet begin to move on. I realize that it wouldn’t be easy, but I’m desperate to get on with a new life that doesn’t include Tony. If you have experience with this or any useful advice, I’d really appreciate it.            

–Almost Single with Strings

Dear Almost Single with Strings-

You are correct that you and Tony are not alone. Many couples find they cannot find a way to divide assets that barely cover the shared life they are trying to move on from. Since the recession began, the number of couples who have remained separated or divorced and still sharing a home, health insurance or other resources has grown significantly- yet no easy solutions have been identified.

If you and Tony both have a strong desire to find a way out of your present living arrangement, you already have one essential element you will need- motivation. This is important, as no solution will be found without compromise and sacrifice of lifestyle comforts, security, savings and investments or anything that is now held in common. These will be the things you will have to look closely at- and then carefully examine if and how they can be divided or relinquished, yet provide each of you with your own home and enough resources to manage adequately.

I recommend that you as a couple meet with a financial planner who can review all your assets and liabilities and offer specific feedback regarding your joint finances and overall financial health. He or she may be able to offer useful ideas on how to deal with your underwater property, how you could split any jointly held debt- and give you clear guidelines on what you will need to consider in order to walk away with an acceptable minimum to live on. This is a paid service but it should reap useful dividends that will make it very worth your investment. Once you have a clear financial picture and some solid suggestions about steps you can take and what they would involve, it will be up to you and Tony to make those decisions. If you can’t do this without going in circles as you both struggle to be the winner.

I would recommend scheduling a few sessions with a counselor or mediator to help you talk them through and work towards a compromise that would allow you both to get what you want- physical separation. If you take these steps and give it your best effort and find that you still can’t afford to separate your household, you may need to decide to sell the house at a loss or stay until the market improves. However, if this worse case scenario results, you should establish new boundaries that will involve how and when you will communicate, how you will handle having friends and family over, who will be responsible for what in the home, and handling it without the other needing to step in or be involved- and how you will handle purchases of food, paper products, cleaning supplies, maintenance- and anything that is part of sharing a home.

You may decide to separate all of these, and that is certainly an option. In other words, you will reestablish your relationship as one of roommates who share physical space- but nothing else. This is how you negotiate the boundaries of a new relationship- and it is a first important step towards being single again.


Toni Coleman is an internationally recognized dating and relationship expert and founder of http://consum-mate.com. Her expertise is sought frequently by local and national publications, top ranked dating and relationship websites. Toni has been a guest on a number of radio and TV programs. She is the featured relationship coach in “The Business And Practice Of Coaching,” (Norton, September 2005); and authored the forward,” Winning Points With The Woman In Your Life, One Touchdown At A Time” (Simon and Schuster, November 2005). Toni's popular relationship articles can be found in several magazines and a number of self- help, personal growth and dating/relationship websites. Toni holds a master’s degree in Clinical Social Work, is a licensed psychotherapist in the state of Virginia, and holds certification in life coaching. She is a member of The International Coach Federation and The National Association of Social Workers. Toni is a contributing expert at http://www.hopeafterdivorce.org HopeAfterDivorce.org, http://www.familyshare.com FamilyShare.com http://www.divorcesupportcenter.com DivorceSupportCenter.com, and LAFamily. Follow her on FB at /www.facebook.com/coachtoni.coleman and Twitter @CoachToni.

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