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October 2011 / Bronx/​Riverdale Family / Brooklyn Family / Long Island Family / Manhattan Family / Queens Family / Staten Island Family

Living together during divorce

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For many couples considering — or in the process of — getting a divorce, a lack of money means one spouse can’t afford to move out of the house they share. Both are forced to stay, which leads to frustration, loneliness, and even fear while they wait it out. They hope that things will improve — that, eventually, a job will be found, a home will regain its value — and that somehow, more money will come in. But how do they manage in the meantime?

It can be terribly difficult.

“It takes a lot of effort to maintain respect, for instance, when passing by one another in the kitchen or other common area,” says Dr. Doris Aptekar, a Roslyn, Long Island-based psychotherapist and certified hypnotherapist. Still, there are ways to alleviate the stress.

What to tell the kids

It is tempting not to say anything, but that can be damaging for the children. If the parents don’t address the subject, kids will create their own explanations for the negativity in the home and often blame themselves. It can be enough to say, “Mom and Dad aren’t getting along so well right now. But that’s grown-up business, and you didn’t do anything wrong. We both love you very much.” Children shouldn’t be told the details of the adult conflict itself.

Aptekar strongly cautions against “bad mouth[ing] the other parent,” and calls dating “a very tender area. If parents date, it is important not to bring a new partner to the children’s home. Maybe parents should say, ‘I’m meeting a friend,’ rather than, ‘I have a date.’ Divorce is hard enough on children. They don’t want to see a parent with someone new.”

Having a schedule helps, as it clarifies expectations for everyone, including children, and keeps parents from having to repeatedly address the same questions.

Even being apart from your spouse briefly can ease the stress. Can you agree that you will stay out until 10 pm on Tuesdays, and your spouse will do the same on Thursdays? Can you split the weekends? Are there two entrances to the house, allowing you two to avoid meeting when coming and going? Can you have access to the kitchen between the hours of “A” and “B,” and your spouse between “B” and “C?”

Staying out can be an opportunity, and many activities are free or inexpensive. Taking a class, attending a support group, visiting family or friends, or pursuing a hobby will ease tension at home, and give you the lift that comes from socializing, being physically active and/or learning something new.

Here are some other things to think about:

A therapist or psychologist. A good one can help you cope with the hurt and the anger that stem from the end of the marriage and the strain of being cooped up together. Recognizing that you may need help — and getting it — is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Divorce coaching. New to most people, “coaching isn’t about giving advice, it’s about empowering [clients] to make changes in their lives,” explains Diane Rivers, a certified life coach in New York City. Rivers says that she helps clients “stay focused on what they want,” often encouraging “small changes” that can be made “right now, to make things more bearable.”

Mediation. A few divorcing couples can speak calmly together. Most can’t. And, once adversarial lawyers get involved, constructive communication usually becomes more difficult, if not impossible. People tend to “dig in.”

But with a mediator sitting with both spouses, the parties are better able to speak and listen to one another. You might be asked, “Now, while you are both still in the marital home, how can you agree to share it in a way you each feel is fair, and that will reduce the stress between you?” You would be encouraged to brainstorm options, and then to discuss and decide among them.

Work on communication skills. Three books that may assist you are: “Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most,” by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen; “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Compassion,” by Marshall B. Rosenberg; and, “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In,” by Roger Fisher, William L. Ury, and Bruce Patton.

At a minimum, improved skills may keep the atmosphere in your home from deteriorating further.

If there is domestic violence in your relationship, know that it tends to escalate. Please, don’t wait for it to get worse. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-7233, or, (800) 787-3224. You can also visit www.thehotline.org.

Lee Chabin, a New York City and Long Island-based divorce mediator and collaborative divorce lawyer, helps clients end their relationships respectfully and without going to court. Contact him at lee_chabin@lc-mediate.com or (718) 229-6149. You can also visit lc-mediate.com/home.

Posted 12:00 am, October 8, 2011
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Reader feedback

Lois from Great Neck says:
This was a good, informative article, with lots of good advice.
Oct. 9, 2011, 5:28 pm
Sylvia from Bayside says:
Excellent article-good advice-very helpful
Oct. 9, 2011, 6:17 pm
Hillel from Baltimore says:
Nice job. I forwarded this to my friend, to whose situation this article speaks.
Oct. 11, 2011, 1:17 pm
Joe from Staten Island says:
Concise, informative with many good suggestions.
Oct. 11, 2011, 2:01 pm
Karen McMahon from Oceanside says:
Great Article Lee. Another excellent book is "Fierce Conversations", by Susan Scott. It really helps your clarify the problem and then create an open dialogue to find the best solution. This book is especially helpful if you tend to avoid speaking your truth because of your spouses reactions.
Oct. 11, 2011, 7:40 pm
Cheryl Lazarus from New York City says:
Excellent article, Lee, with practical and workable advice. Creating schedules, time apart, communicating and finding ways to seek support and reduce stress are crucial while having to reside in the same household. Otherwise, tensions can escalate and spouses feel even more trapped.

I also agree that parents should be careful not to discuss the conflict with their children or bad mouth the other parent. Unfortunately, I hear of many cases when parents don’t follow those guidelines. As a result, children are put in the middle and then feel guilty if they start taking sides.

Alienating a parent is painful in any situation and when it is occurring while still living together, the damage escalates….to both the children and the alienated parent. The repercussions can continue afterward, even for the parent who is being disparaging.
Oct. 15, 2011, 2:34 pm

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