I had to live with my ex-husband for two years after we split


After they decided to divorce, Sarah*, 46, a teaching assistant, wanted a fresh start but her ex-husband couldn’t afford to move out – so they were stuck living together, even when he met his new future wife. Now finally, she is happily living alone with their two sons.

Once they'd decided their 16-year marriage was over, continuing to live together was the last thing they wanted. Posed by models. (Getty Images)

Once they’d decided their 16-year marriage was over, continuing to live together was the last thing they wanted. Posed by models. (Getty Images)

I‘d been with my ex-husband for 16 years when we broke up – the last thing I wanted was to see him every day afterwards, but we had no choice other than to carry on living together. I didn’t have a job because I was looking after our two young kids, and he couldn’t afford to move out and pay rent on top of a mortgage.

We’d first met in January 2002 on a rainy night in Soho – and, yes, that was our wedding song when we married five years later. A friend from work invited me to a club and brought his good-looking mate – it was like ‘Oh hello, pheromones’. We went out dancing, I got his number, and that was that.

After we married, we went on a fabulous honeymoon in southeast Asia and our first year of marriage was pretty good, though it didn’t take long for the cracks to show.

I remember the first time I doubted our relationship. It was the day after our first wedding anniversary on holiday with friends. We’d gone out the night before, where he got absolutely battered. The next day he carried on drinking and ended up on his own on the beach, looking like he was on day release. That was the first time I thought, ‘I don’t know if this marriage is going to last forever.’

He had issues with alcohol, which caused a lot of problems. But we also had a lot of good times and, back then, I wanted to be with him more than I didn’t want to be with him.

Changing feelings

I fell pregnant with our first son in 2010, followed by his brother in 2014, and I suppose having a family together helped for a while because it gave us another bond, but he was working long hours and it was just me looking after the kids. He was only really around at the weekend and for years, I’d look forward to the weekend.

Then at some point I started dreading the weekend. I don’t know exactly when that shift happened, but it slowly changed into the feeling that I wanted to be without him more than with him.

He was being really harsh about our youngest son, who was only three at the time, saying he was the ‘thicko of the family’ and showing obvious favouritism towards our eldest.

The beginning of the end happened one night in a wine bar when we got into a heated argument. He was being really harsh about our youngest son, who was only three at the time, saying he was the ‘thicko of the family’ and showing obvious favouritism towards our eldest.

Things came to a head after they got into a heated argument in a bar. Posed by models. (Getty Images)

Things came to a head after they got into a heated argument in a bar. Posed by models. (Getty Images)

I left the bar, went home and texted him to say I thought we needed marriage guidance counselling. The next morning I said, “I don’t think I love you anymore.” It just came out, but it needed to be said.

I knew I’d been unhappy for a few years but saying anything when you’re in that situation, in your late 30s with a family and a mortgage, it changes your entire world. So you put up with it because the alternative is terrifying. Now, I wish I had just done it sooner, but the kids were so young.

An uncertain future

He really didn’t see it coming and was gutted and completely blindsided. I was quite cold about it all – I think I was so relieved that I’d been honest about how I felt that I just shut down. We decided we would go for counselling but it soon became clear that it wasn’t going to work so, on the morning of our 11th wedding anniversary, he said, “Should we just say that’s it?”

He really didn’t see it coming – he was gutted and completely blindsided. I was so relieved that I’d been honest about how I felt.

I agreed and we decided to still have our anniversary meal and, instead, mark the fact we were breaking up – it’s odd but we both love eating out, so any excuse – in fact we did it the following year too to mark the anniversary of our separation.

That night, we discussed what would happen next. He earned decent money but was always claiming to be broke and I’d had to give up work when I had the kids. He gave me enough to cover the bills but not really to cover food or going out or anything else, so I ended up in a debt spiral.

It was a given that, if anyone was moving out, it would be him as I was the kids’ primary carer, but he said, “I don’t want to live in a s***** bed sit,” and he would never have moved into a room in a house share. So we would have to carry on living under the same roof. I don’t know whether he thought the fact we were still living together meant that there might be a chance for us.

We had a little spare box room in our house so I went to the charity shop and bought a small second-hand bed, and my husband moved in there.

At first they decided it was best not to tell their two sons about them splitting up. Posed by models. (Getty Images)

At first they decided it was best not to tell their two sons about them splitting up. Posed by models. (Getty Images)

Protecting the children

We decided not to tell the kids at first, as they were still only seven and four, so we explained this by saying my husband had a neck injury and needed to sleep in a different bed. If they’d have been teenagers it would be a different story but the kids were so young that they just accepted it, no questions asked.

We decided not to tell the kids at first, as they were still only seven and four.

It was all really overwhelming but, day to day, things were ok at first. I’m one of these people that, once I’ve let go of something, I feel like I’ve moved on immediately. Plus, he wouldn’t get home until 9 or 10pm, so he wasn’t there much – I’d already had years of practice as a single mum.

A lot of the time once he got back from work, I’d go out. The local pub was my sanctuary. I know all the regulars and, at the end of the day, to have an hour to just go and have a chat and decompress saved me.

Meeting other people

About two months later, it got more complicated when we started seeing other people. I hate dating apps, the whole scrolling and judging everyone is the worst, but I decided to give it a go. I was in the living room one day looking at Tinder when my ex caught me and so then decided he would do it too. But, whereas I might message someone very occasionally, I never actually went on any dates. He did, though – and, about three dates in, he found his new future wife.

After three dates, he found his new future wife. He was quite giggly and teenage about it… I wasn’t jealous at all though.

He was quite giggly and teenage about it. Of course he couldn’t bring her back to the house, so he would either stay at her place or they’d have to go and get a Premier Inn. I wasn’t jealous at all. I’d gone through all the emotions at that point, plus it was good to see him happier because he had been really miserable. I also started casually seeing a guy I was in a band with, so I’d have to go to my mate’s place after band practice, because he couldn’t come to the house either.

Eventually, it was just too much. His presence was winding me up and we’d both had enough of the situation. We finally told the kids we were separated, which was horrible, and, after that, it all went downhill. It could be that once the kids knew, we relaxed a bit and there were some awful, awful arguments.

Once they started dating other people, things got even more complicated. Posed by models. (Getty Images)

Once they started dating other people, things got even more complicated. Posed by models. (Getty Images)

Mood swings

He had always had a temper and he took it out on the kids, which had been a big part of me wanting to end the relationship in the first place. There was a lot of screaming which made it a really hard time for the boys and I said, “Okay, you’ve got to move out,” and he agreed. Enough was enough.

He had always had a temper and he took it out on the kids, which had been a big part of me wanting to end the relationship in the first place.

He started to make plans to move in with his new partner. Of course, for the first 18 months of this new relationship, he’d been living with me and I don’t know how she felt about that but, after we told the children, I insisted on her coming over for a meal and a chat. That was really important because, once he did move out, she would now be looking after my kids when they stayed with them.

My mum gave me an early inheritance so I could buy him out of the house, and once he left, I’d be able to claim universal credit, so would actually be better off. But then there was a hitch – just before he moved out, lockdown happened. All four of us were trapped at home all day every day together and God, that was terrible. I had nowhere to go, so I would just grab my book and my headphones and sit on the other grass near our house, so I could be away from him.

A fresh start

Six weeks later though, he finally left. It was the first night of the rest of my life. I spent months nesting. I started painting furniture and completely rearranged the house, really making it mine, and both boys got to have their own bedrooms. It just felt amazing. It was a fresh start and, once the pandemic was over, I also started a new career in a local school.

When he finally left, it was the first night of the rest of my life. I spent months nesting. I started painting furniture and completely rearranged the house, really making it mine…

We went through divorce proceedings and I’m not sure that my relationship with my ex has improved. I still find him quite immature. There’s a lot of unnecessary texting that sometimes feels really intrusive – I’m like, ‘Can you ask me questions about the boys when I’m with them, because this is my 36 hours without them?’

It still feels like I’m dealing with three children sometimes and I’m still single, but contentedly so. I believe that the universe will do its work when the time is right, and I’m so much happier than I’ve been in years.

*Names have been changed to protect identities.



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