No sugar coating here, navigating a breakup while cohabiting is tough. But spoiler alert: you will live through it. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of unmarried partners living together nearly tripled in the past two decades. If we all have multiple relationships in our lives and one (if that) that lasts a lifetime, you do the math: if you’re going through a breakup while living together, you are not alone. Read on for steps to take that will help make the split as easy (and amicable) as possible.
7 steps to take when you break up but live together:
1. Hold logistic conversations separate from the relationship conversation
It can be tempting to lead a breakup conversation with a dramatic announcement that you’re moving out. While the question of who is going where will naturally surface during a breakup conversation, be sure to do yourself and your partner the service of having your first few discussions about just the relationship. Emotions will be running high, so you might find that you have to take a break and come back to the discussion a few different times if you’re tempted to revert back to your living situation. When you can get to a place past the initial shock of the breakup, ask them to set aside time to specifically discuss logistics. This can be as simple as saying you’re prepared to stay with friends or family for a few days while you start to sort through details.
2. Set a firm move-out date
Make the decision to move out as soon as possible, because it will assist you in keeping momentum for all of your other decisions. If you’re both on the lease, you’re both responsible for the rent, so decide which of you is in a better position to assume the entirety of the lease or mortgage payment as one of you moves out. It may also mean that one of you decides to assist the other with the cost of setting up a small residence elsewhere and you both split the entirety of living expenses for your original residence.
Involve your landlord here. This isn’t the first time they’ve heard of a cohabiting breakup, and they may have options ranging from a lease break fee to being willing to allow a tenant sublet (FYI, a landlord will have to approve a new tenant moving in and taking over the lease with you or your ex). Spend some time mapping out the costs financially (and emotionally) of each option. For example, while a lease break fee might be expensive, you both may decide it’s worth the clean break.
3. Respect your new ideas of space
Regardless of how you square who is ultimately moving where, there will be some stretch of time you’ll be living together broken up. Yikes. Set up as much structure for sharing the space as possible. Address things like who will be sleeping where and how chores will be handled. It can be easy in this stage to assume the same routine, like your ex taking on nightly dishwasher duty and you do the cooking, but remaining in those relationship habits isn’t healthy for either of you.
Your space is now going to become a little more “roommate style,” so treat it as such. Talk through specific days of the week that you or your ex could have friends over, so that the other person can plan to be out. It takes a village to get over a tough breakup, but do your best to honor each other’s own private time in the house to grieve and process. Oh, and if you can agree on no romantic endeavors or dates over while the other is there (or like, ever), it will be better for both of your sanity.
4. Have a detailed finances conversation
If the finances feel complicated, you may consider family mediation (it’s not just for married couples or those with children!). Having an objective third party help you navigate the right questions to ask each other and be a voice of reason during an emotional time can be helpful. Most cohabiting couples would only need a couple of sessions to square away finances and logistics.
Money discussions involve everything from potentially splitting bank accounts to possibly buying out part of a major home item that you’d like to hang on to (hello, flat screen). Are you on your partner’s health insurance? Are they your emergency point of contact and can they make medical decisions for you? Are they the beneficiary of any insurance policies? All of these questions are things to talk through and update as quickly as possible.
5. Divide possessions equitably
Start with the basics, and, when in doubt, just let it go (it will be easier for your own mental health to give up the living room rug than fighting over it out of spite). That said, if you had something before your relationship, it should belong to you. Also, gifts belong to whom it was given, and debt in your name is your responsibility, regardless of who made the purchase. While it can be uncomfortable, being as specific as possible curtails fights down the line. For example, when you say he can keep the “kitchen stuff,” he might take that to mean your fancy mixer, when you were just willing to let go of the dishes. Draw up a list of the items that are important to both of you and write down who is taking what.
Consider taking your most prized personal valuables (heirloom jewelry, journals, photo albums, etc.) to a friend’s house for safekeeping during this time even if you’re the one staying put. You’re likely going to be home much less RN, and a slew of friends, colleagues, and even movers may be making their way in and out of your space more than normal. It’s a bit of peace of mind to know that some important things are out of the house.
6. Set new boundaries
These conversations are awful, even under the best of circumstances. You’re both tired, worn down, and really emotional because navigating a breakup is hard work. Some days it will seem like the perfect solution to crawl back in bed together (literally or figuratively). But falling back into a “couple’s routine” will just complicate unwinding your lives and prevent you both from healing and moving on. Instead, be deliberate with self-care and find a space in the house that you can carve out as your own. Know that this also means that checking in during the day with texts or casually hanging out (even if it’s under the guise as “just friends”) is trending toward too personal if you’re in breakup mode.
7. Fill up your social calendar and ask friends for help
Keeping busy serves a few purposes. Obviously it’s wonderful to have your friends’ support during this time, and as an added bonus, it gets you out of the shared space. You’ll also be able to use this time to check in with friends on their take on any logistics you might not be thinking of. Breakups can be a huge emotional fog and it’s helpful to have friends remind you of major life decisions or purchases you might not be thinking of. For example, did you put down a payment on a shared vacation that’s now not happening? Is there a security deposit for the apartment that will need to be split months from now when it’s returned? Ask your friends to help you think of the “not right now” decisions that need to be made.
And if you absolutely can’t move out…
Miranda and Steve taught us many things, including that breaking up in a big city is absurdly expensive. You and your ex might be staring down a few months of a lease or waiting for a home sale while you’re living together and have no option to live separately. If that’s the case, know that you don’t have to be “friends” at this stage. General respect and respectful distance can go a long way in keeping living conditions cordial. Once you’ve established your own space, work to just go about your routine.
Or if you’re keeping the home…
Do your best to give your space a refresh. You may not be in the mood or financial space to spend a bunch of money on redecoration, but tiny details can make a big difference in moving on. Even rearranging your furniture or buying new sheets can make it feel like a new environment. While you already know to take down pictures and souvenirs the two of you shared, take a beat before going scorched earth policy and throwing them all away. Consider tucking a few in a box out of sight. They’re still a landmark of this time and space in your life and you may find that looking back on them a few years from now reminds you of how much strength you had getting through this rough time.