Anna Cullen speaks with Mike Wilkins of the Irish Online Counselling and Psychotherapy Services to discuss the tricky business of moving on when you can't afford to move out.

When you break up with your live-in significant other and decide that you’re definitely not getting back together, the ideal outcome would be for one of you to move out. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible, which leaves you both stuck living under the same roof.

This could be due to several reasons such as financial instability, medical issues, unemployment, the need to support children, or even money disputes. These factors can cause couples to live together even after separating and of course, this creates formidable day-to-day challenges.

It’s not exactly an amazing situation, and if it’s one that you find yourself in, it’s important to note that you’re not alone. In fact, living with an ex is becoming more and more common in Ireland.

Mike Wilkins, who works with the Irish Online Counselling and Psychotherapy Services, has seen a rise in
such cases particularly since the Covid-19 pandemic.

"People seem to continue living together more for financial reasons rather than staying together for the kids," he states.

"In my experience, the relationship tends to break down due to personal reasons but the financial strain keeps them forced together. I think the cost of living crisis, lack of viable options, high rents, and the idea of selling a property, splitting the surplus into two, and then not having enough to buy a property on one's own is influencing or forcing people to stay together".

According to Mike, people who are forced to live together after a break-up feel "powerless and hopeless". They find it hard to find a solution.

The atmosphere of resentment and hurt caused by a separation can be horrific: "I commonly hear feelings of being trapped and feeling helpless in the situation. Feelings of really being stuck, that there is no ability to move on in your life fully, or move on to another relationship".

Moving on without moving out

When you live with an ex, it can stir up a lot of emotions. Ambiguous loss occurs when people can’t achieve full closure and end up in a state of limbo. This means that negative feelings about the relationship rise, instead of being released.

The extremity of this feeling depends on how the relationship ended. For example, if one of you cheated on the other, then there will be a very negative atmosphere. You should treat the healing of your break-up like you would an injury or a cut. Every time you speak or engage with your ex like the old times, you hinder your progress of moving on.

You might not be able to separate physically, but you can do so mentally and so developing your own sense of identity is vital.

"I try to get people to think of how they can make their life better in the short term. Look at hobbies
or interests, self-care, and well-being techniques to have an immediate uplift in mood," Mike states.

Lean on friends and family as much as you can, as you may start to feel isolated after the breakup.
Spend time with people you care about and love. Talking about the breakup with them will help the
healing process.

"Setting boundaries is key"

The relationship with your ex is different now from what it was before, so you need to define what that new relationship looks like. Having an open conversation about this is important, so you can set some rules and boundaries.

Negotiations should focus on money, childcare, and household chores. These can even include smaller issues like leaving a used towel on the bathroom floor, not washing the dishes or taking out the rubbish.

Therefore, it might be wise to create a rota for completing chores and for using certain rooms at certain times. If there are children involved, prepare a co-parenting schedule and try not to fight or argue in front of them.

When it comes to dating other people, the advice is to do it as discreetly as possible. Be respectful and transparent, as this will help avoid conflict. Do not go to events or celebrate occasions together, as you are no longer a couple.

It’s natural to still feel attached to your ex when living under one roof. However, your circumstances have changed and the living arrangements are different now, so do not sleep with each other. It’s also important to maintain separate bank accounts and have a date set for when the living arrangements will end.

While this advice won’t solve all your problems, it might at least make your room-mating waters a lot less cloudy.