When Financial Troubles Mean Your Ex Moves Back In
A Study of the Effects of Economic Hardships on a Divorced Couple
Several years ago, I came across an article featuring the stories of happily divorced couples who each lived together as roommates in peaceful harmony. Intrigued by what could only occur in the land west of Narnia, I read on and learned all about this new species of non-bitter, super-humans capable of finding common ground to do what’s in the best interests of their children.
Each ex-spouse-turned-housemate claimed to respect the other person’s privacy and dating life. They even took their kids on vacations together!
I filed the fairytale under Yeah-friggin’-Right! and moved on with my life.
The article re-entered my mind one November evening. A friend I’ve known for eight years – who we’ll call Michael – invited me out to catch up. Eager to get away from my (then) three-month-old and carry on a conversation that didn’t include the word, “A-goo,” I happily accepted his invite.
After getting him all caught up on my obligatory family, baby, and cancer stuff, he filled me in on his plans. Paige, his ex-wife (not her real name), had recently fallen on hard times. She lost her job and couldn’t meet her rent. She reached out to Michael for help. He thought about it for a few days and then opened up his new place to his ex-wife, their daughter, and her two sons from a previous marriage.
All of it got me thinking about what could and would happen if his ex moved in with him. Then, the old article came to mind. Could Michael and Paige be as happy as the people in the article were? Intrigued, I asked him if I could follow his story for a case study on failed relationships and financial difficulties. He agreed.
A Little Backstory
No one remembers the Michael/Paige break up like I do. Even though the end of their relationship felt inevitable (at the time), I was still shocked when it happened. They’d been together for well over a decade, and in the back of my mind, I held out hope they could fix their issues.
Michael wasn’t perfect. In fact, he was quite the lothario – a fact Paige hasn’t been made privy to. His attention was locked elsewhere, and the marriage fell apart. She harbors her suspicions, of course. But I don’t think Michael will ever tell her the truth.
During a heated argument, Michael left the home he shared with Paige and moved in with his friend. When Paige moved in, Michael lived alone and said he was now in charge of the lease.
To fit everyone, Michael split the large house into two. Paige, their daughter, and Paige’s two sons would sleep and live downstairs. They’d have custody of the kitchen, the living room, two large bathrooms, the dining room, all the appliances. Paige and their daughter would sleep on Michael’s living room sofa/pull-out couch. Her sons would take spots on the carpet.
Michael would live upstairs. He’d have his bedroom, a closet, and bathroom.
Early on, I learned that when and if your ex moves in, boundaries quickly become imaginary. Michael was a bachelor in every sense of the word. He enjoyed his time to himself. Having his ex there made that difficult.
Paige used her own car for transportation. Which was great because Michael’s work schedule has him working over 100 hours per week.
Length of Stay
The Original Plan
When the original “Ex Moves In” plan was hashed, they agreed several goals would be met with due time. Here are some of them:
- Paige would do her best to follow Michael’s goal to be out on her own within one year
- She was due to have a job within a month
- 20% of her paycheck would go into a savings account to help her save enough money for an apartment
- Michael would continue to make court-ordered child support payments to Paige even though his daughter was technically living with him
- Paige’s sons were of adult age. Michael offered them the choice of either enrolling in community college courses or getting a job
- They agreed to look for work
Michael is a focused, driven guy. He keeps his eye on the prize and doesn’t deviate. He would check in with Paige every few days to check their progress.
What Actually Happened
Michael’s plan didn’t exactly work out the way he intended. Despite doing all he could to help, Paige, their daughter, and her two sons lived on the ground floor of his house for more than two years.
The older of Paige’s sons moved out three months into their second year at Michael’s. Her younger son entered community college after he couldn’t find a job. Upon receiving his associates degree in computer science, he transferred to a major university on a full-ride scholarship. Paige is very proud of her son.
Paige struggled with low-paying, temporary jobs for another year. Finally, she met a man who she fell in love with. They dated for approximately six months before moving in together. Michael likes the guy and even helped Paige and their daughter move from his place into their new one.
I followed the story closely over the three years in which it happened. Both Paige and Michael dealt with challenges. The biggest complaint from everyone in the house was a lack of privacy. Here are other findings:
- Failed to meet any of the goals Michael set out for her
- Daughter on cloud nine living with her dad but was short-lived because of Michael’s schedule
- Living under the same roof caused the adults to work out (some of) their issues after arguing non-stop in the beginning
- Took care of the home as a form of a non-monetary contribution
- Offered to help Michael with his laundry or other effects; he declined her offer
- Went through financial difficulties as a result of supporting all five people on an IT salary but never mentioned it to Paige
- Privacy virtually gone
- Worked additional shifts to make extra money which limited the time he could spend with his daughter
- Forget about dating!
- Lost his girlfriend because of the arrangement
Verdict: Can any couple make this type of living situation work?
After observing the chaos that ensued in the early days of their arrangement, I can say with certainty that this sort of arrangement isn’t for everyone. Despite years having passed from the time they divorced until the day Paige moved back in, it seemed most (if not all) of their issues were still there.
Granted, they were able to work out the worst of them, it wasn’t a pretty sight. That said, Michael changed a lot about himself, about the ways in which he handles stress. The disappointment wasn’t something he let Paige see, but I (as the casual observer) noticed small, subtle nuances in the way he would talk to her.
Would I Recommend It?
When your ex moves in, back into a world and situation, he or she may no longer be used to; everyone suffers initially. If you’re willing to go through the arguing and frustrations that Michael and Paige did, then, it can work.
I would only recommend this if:
- It was necessary,
- if you have the patience of a saint, and
- On the condition that boundaries be better established than they were in Michael’s case
As a casual observer, I applaud Michael for doing something not many people (let alone bachelors) would do. He didn’t expect to sacrifice as much as he did. Privacy, social life, and personal space were things he gave up in favor of doing what he felt was right. He’s not the type of guy to be okay with that.It didn’t last forever, and now he and Paige are closer now than they were before. For the sake of their young daughter, he ditched the pride and bit his tongue. I
It didn’t last forever, and now he and Paige are closer now than they were before. For the sake of their young daughter, he ditched the pride and bit his tongue.