Could you live under the same roof as your ex? What if you had no choice? We explore the growing phenomenon of couples ‘living together, apart’

Living together, apart (LTA)  happens when an intimate relationship breaks down, but both parties continue to live in the same home. With around 42% of marriages ending in divorce, and legal fees and other related costs averaging £14,561 (and far higher if property is involved), more and more people are having to find new ways of living. And that could mean not being able to sell the roof over their heads.  

Overcoming the tough years  

Ashe, and husband Rob have done just that. The Dublin-based couple, who still run their own design production company, realised that after many years their intimate relationship was over. But they decided against getting divorced.   

Ashe says: “Our marriage was finished, but with a mortgage and our own business to support, we couldn’t afford to split up. So I moved into the spare room as we both tried desperately to keep ourselves sane and functioning.”  

She admits the early years were very tough. She suffered panic attacks and hoped friends wouldn’t ask her about it, so she wouldn’t have to smile and pretend everything was fine. “The shame of failure is a most powerful force,” she says.  

But rather than look back and deal with the breakdown acrimoniously the couple made the decision to assess things on a more practical level.  

Adjusting to new circumstances

The first two years were the hardest as they both slowly adapted: separate bedrooms, divvying up household tasks and being honest with their family about their new circumstances. Ashe says: “We are both totally upfront. We operate on the philosophy that it is better for everything to be out in the open because then the family don’t have to guess or think that they are to blame for anything.”

Ashe and Rob take turns with the shopping and they still always eat together. Friends and family have adapted to their new arrangements, being “supportive and kind”, and neighbours haven’t treated them any differently, she says.

Currently, neither Ashe nor Rob have other partners, but could new relationships create problems in the future? Ashe thinks not. “We discussed the possibility and I can’t see that I would be anything but happy for him, and he has expressed the same about me.”

A new type of relationship  

It’s not all been plain sailing though, and Ashe describes it as still very much a work in progress. “I still have to catch myself sometimes, realising that something I am feeling or needing is no longer something I should expect from him,” she admits. “This is liberating in a lot of ways that I would never have expected. Little things, like him not liking an outfit I’m wearing, doesn’t bother me at all now, whereas they would before we were separated. I guess we don’t look for validation anymore.”   

And it seems that not looking backwards is the key to success. “We seek support from each other, she explains. “We never talk about the past or try to solve those problems that caused the marriage to end in the first place, because it is all irrelevant now.”  

The couple each have their own bank accounts and say they never argue about money. They haven’t signed any legal agreements or applied for a legal separation as it would be costly, and they both feel things are working well currently.   

Ashe says they are not a couple and nor are they roommates, but they have found a new type of friendship. Rob agrees: “We have both worked hard to get to where we are today and it was very difficult in the first couple of years for us both. It now works fine and sometimes it’s a lot easier than if we were living apart when it comes to co-ordinating work.   

“We are friends and we have a lot of trust in one another when it comes to our business. I don’t know what to call our relationship, but it is working for us.”  

Could this work for you? 

 Figures from the ONS show that divorce figures for those aged 65 and over is on the rise. Divorce is costly and can be traumatic, so setting up a LTA arrangement can in many cases make good sense. Particularly where there is little acrimony and a new relationship structure can be agreed.  

For older generations, the risks are more financial. Losing a family home that has taken years of investment, for example. Many older people are finding that together they are greater than the sum of their parts. But it’s not for everyone.  

Ashe advises anyone considering embarking on this new way of living to think first and foremost about yourself. And therefore remove expectations about how someone else should behave.   

“My biggest tip is to ask yourself the question that I kept asking myself (and still do): what sort of person do I want to be? I would ask myself this question and try to base all my behaviour on the answer. This was about me and no one else.  

“I was taking full responsibility, which took a lot of the anger away. This question also makes you think about the life you will be happy to look back on.”  

Although Ashe and Rob have been lucky enough to work this out without intervention, some kind of legal agreement might be advisable in situations like this. The Coop, for example, offers a Separation Agreement for couples getting divorced but planning to continue living together.