Is it Possible to Divorce and Still Cohabitate?

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Hey Wendy,

Do you think it’s possible to divorce and still live together?

My husband and I have been talking about divorce for about a year. We married young. We both saw red flags but we went through with it anyway. We have two children (thirteen & fifteen), pets, a mortgage and not a lot of extra money. I can’t imagine what a split would look like—we certainly can’t afford two places (we live in the Pacific Northwest). And besides the money, we have a lot of history and shared memories. We like each other, we just don’t think we make great spouses.

Much of the time we don’t want to be together, so we mostly do our own things. There are some problems that have always been in our relationship that just aren’t good. But then we’ll have an occasional good day and fall into bed together. When that high wears off, we both remember all the reasons why we aren’t good together and the cycle repeats.

I find myself in a loop. It starts with wondering if we can separate/divorce but still live together. Then I remember the positives and how much we’ve shared so maybe I shouldn’t want to let go. Then I think maybe if we soldier on together, for the kids, for the finances, maybe this is just married life, and then I’m back to divorce. I’m confused.

We’re both good people, we’re just not the best for each other. What do we do?

Stephanie J.


Hey Stephanie,

You should meet my friend, Janet. She also lives in the Pacific Northwest with her two teen children, mortgage, pets, and husband—she and the latter have been cohabitating while not technically together as a couple for over a decade. They’re doing great. You know what else? There are thousands of families like theirs all around the world.

I can’t tell you what to do. But I can answer the question, “Do you think it’s possible to divorce and still live together?” I do. But only if you decide to. And even a mutually agreed-upon decision doesn’t guarantee it will go as well as Janet’s situation.

That loop you’re stuck in? Yeah, that’s the loop people who are considering divorce deal with. It doesn’t mean you’ll go through with it, but it does mean that the loop is normal, and you’re in good company.

Did you know that when we were growing up you and I were fed a pack of lies? We were told, “One day you’ll meet The One. You’ll marry, love will conquer all, and you’ll overcome all obstacles in your path while the music swells and it all fades to black as the credits roll.

This happens for some people. This doesn’t happen for all people.

There’s also a large segment of the population who might read all the way through to the end of this column feeling really pissed, because, “Marriage is hard, but if you put in enough effort and sacrifice, you should be able to make it work. I mean you’re both good people, right? It should just work. And no one is perfect. I mean you’re no spring chicken either, so you might as well stay. Think of the children.”

This is good advice for some people. This is horrible advice when applied to all people.

I’m not going to tell you that you should leave, and I’m not going to tell you that you should stay. But toughing it out or ripping the family apart are not the black-and-white choices you’ve got here, no matter what society says.

Truth is, today you get to design your relationship any damned way you want. And if you get creative, you can design something that’s good for all four of you—or at least workable given the circumstances when you take all four of you into consideration.

You can split and sort out how you two will live and divide the assets, the kids, the pets etc. If I were choosing that scenario, I’d likely sell the house and rent two apartments in the same building (and in the same school district for the ease and convenience of the kids). Also handy for borrowing a cup of sugar.

You can stay and decide to try to be happy together and work things out the best you can. Tricky, given that there are fundamental things about your relationship that don’t work, but that’s for the two of you to look at and make agreements around.

You can stay and decide to be free individuals who are living your best lives on your own terms under the same roof. Divorce or don’t divorce (however, there are some real benefits to keeping a marriage license on the books with your state—that’s just the facts). You can create your own living quarters (bedrooms) by taking that guest bedroom as yours or his. Or convert the garage into a bedroom for one of you. If you decide to stay as free agents, your own physical space is important. You don’t have a spare bedroom or garage and adding on is not in the budget? Putting up a yurt in your wooded back yard will be less expensive than two separate residences. (In my mind, everyone in the Pacific Northwest has a wooded back yard.)

If you go for option #3, you’re going to have to come up with new relationship rules. I recommend starting with something as simple as “do the right thing and be kind to each other,” but if you think you could use some help with the nitty-gritty here, I can work with you one-on-one and help you decide what’s important—just hit me up.

And while free people get to have outside relationships with whomever they want, there still needs to be general understandings around how it works within the household and out in the world so it doesn’t rock the teens’ world too much.

Once the kids are grown, then you get to decide if you two want to stay in the house as free humans who make great roommates, sell the current house and buy a duplex, or sell the house and go your own ways.

If you two keep sleeping together, the oxytocin hit will be nice, but keep in mind that agreeing to live separate personal lives while still staying married and continuing to sleep together may complicate things more than they’re worth.

Some people get the happily-ever-after marriage. Some people don’t. And some people take the lid off the box, climb outside it, and shape their own version of a happy story.

It’s not wrong to change the rules of the game with the intent of living a more congruent, happy life.

Good luck, and I’m here if you need me.