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How to live with an ex as your roommate

Living together with ex

Ending a relationship is hard, to put it lightly (though succinctly). Things become even more complicated if you currently live with the person you just broke up with. Although your first instinct may be to move out immediately, this reaction may not be a great option financially. For that reason, many couples who just split turn out to live with one as roommates — at least for a period of time. 

At first, it may sound like a crazy idea to continue living with your ex after breaking up, but there are several good reasons why you may continue to share a living space. You may have to finish out your current lease agreement. Or maybe you need to find a new roommate first, if you don’t qualify for your rent or an affordable mortgage rate with just your own income.

Knowing how to deal with living with your ex can ease many financial stresses during an already rough time. It may seem tough, but it’s not impossible. To help, we’ve come up with the best reasons to continue living with an ex after a breakup as well as practical tips on how make this work, while looking for a new place while you get back on your feet.

Why you would live with an ex?

Considering cohabitation after breaking up with your ex can be beneficial for many reasons. In many instances, you may be legally or financially obligated to live together — you’re both on the lease or you’re both legally obligated to pay the mortgage.

In other cases, you may choose to live together to try to make things work, especially if there are children involved. Here are the top reasons why you would live with an ex even after the breakup.

1. Finances

living with an ex. Mixed race couple looking stressed over bills

One reason you might decide to live with your ex is to remain financially stable. The expenses that come with owning a house, or even renting, can be too much for you to handle alone right off the bat. Imagine having all the bills and a mortgage payment to cover, all without time to plan and save for the increase in monthly expenses. Perhaps both of your names are on the mortgage, and you aren’t ready to refinance or get the deed changed. If this is something you, or both of you, are unprepared for you may want to stay living together until you are both on your feet.

2. Lease term

It’s a common mistake; you signed a long-term lease, and now you can’t break the contract without pay a large fee that you can’t afford. Check with your landlord regarding their subletting policy and ask whether or not they would let someone else fulfill your half of the lease, or your roommates, to see if you can find an alternative solution that does require you to stay living together. You may find though, that your best and most affordable option is to sit tight for the remainder of your lease.

3. Trying to patch things up

A couple arguing over a table trying to sort things out

Many people don’t break it off right away. A breakup can take several tries to actually stick, and during this time, you may find that you want to make things work and get back on track. You can come to this conclusion for a variety of reasons — children, finances, etc. — but perhaps none other than the simple fact that you still love each other. If you find that the both of you are willing to work on things, it makes no financial sense to move out and then back in with each other.

4. Co-parenting

Staying together for the children is a personal decision that should be taken into account by both parties during the breakup period. If done correctly, co-parenting can help your child grow up in the environment they need to and feel love and affection from both parental figures. However, if you find that your home environment might be toxic to your children, you may want to rethink living with your ex. If both of you can create an amicable setting, your child will benefit from having the two of you in the home, full-time.

How to set healthy boundaries when living with an ex

If one or more of the above apply to you, and if you do decide to continue living together after your breakup, you’ll need to establish some parameters so you can keep things civil. Especially directly after a breakup, feelings are still raw, and processing these feelings is just beginning. Exes living together usually involve residual feelings for each other by one or both parties, or feelings of resentment or even anger. If living with your ex is going to work, boundaries need to be in place. Here are four tips to help set healthy boundaries while living with an ex.

1. Respecting each others’ privacy

daughter whispering in mom's ear

During this time, it is essential to remember that while you are living together, you are no longer in a relationship. Respecting each other’s’ privacy involves giving each other the physical and mental space you need to process feelings and emotions. Immediately following a breakup, it may be best to stay with a family member or at a close friend’s house. Other privacy details to go over are sleeping in separate rooms, locking the door when you are in the bathroom, and when/if you should have friends or even new romantic interests over.

2. What to do about dating

If you aren’t planning on patching things up, dating during this time can be a great way to take your mind off of things and regain some self-confidence. This does not mean, however, that you should flaunt your new romantic interests in the face of your ex. If your ex still has feelings for you, it can be crushing for them to see your new beau around the house. In fact, having your new date over while your ex is home should be avoided. You can and should have the conversation with your ex that you are dating, but to keep things amicable, keep your date life away from your ex.

3. Give each other space

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Giving each other space coincides with respecting each others’ privacy. Respecting your ex’s privacy involves giving them the physical space they need to sort things out. Again, sleeping in the same room is not recommended during a breakup, and if your house has an accessory dwelling unit — known in building industry speak as an ADU — such as a guest house or a mother-in-law suite, one of you might consider moving into your home’s ADU.

A guest house, in-law suite, or any other alternative housing options can be a perfect place for one of you to stay during your break up. While on the same grounds, or even attached to the home, an ADU could provide a sufficient living quarters while splitting the bills.

4. Don’t eat or drink together

If you have no interest in getting back together, the last thing you want to do is fall back into a false sense of intimacy. A romantic setting and a home cooked meal can lull you back into how things used to be. Furthermore, adding alcohol to this mix can only lead to one of two things: a further false sense of intimacy, or a potential argument or fight. Avoiding eating and drinking together will help you process your feelings properly, so you are ready to move out as soon as your finances are in order.

How and when to find a new place

Young man in a wheelchair on laptop looking for an apartment to rent

Naturally, you might want to find a new home as soon as possible. However, you will have to go through a few steps in narrowing down the right place. In many cases, this step can be hindered by factors out of your control, such as the housing market or the vacancy rates, so make sure to do your homework. Here are three steps you need to take when trying to find a new place.

1. Get your finances in order

No matter where you plan to go — renting a room of a friend or family member or living alone — you’ll need to have your money in check to actually move out and pay rent in a new place. That’s why you are living with your ex in the first place, to make things easier on your wallet and to build enough savings to move out. The sooner you can start looking for a new living situation, the better.

2. Line up affordable options

Once you’ve saved up the money, you want to move out as soon as possible, right? Well, consider taking some time on this step to make sure you exhaust all of the methods of finding the right place for you to move on to. Compile a list of doable housing options through websites and social media, and make sure that they are in the area that you want. Consider whether or not a roommate would help alleviate financial pressures, just keep in mind that the overall goal is to find a new home that is both safe and comfortable for you and your kids, if you have kids. Skip this step or act too hastily in your decision to move out and you could be stuck with a decision you regret worse than living with your ex.

3. Moving on

You’ve done it. You’ve successfully lived with your ex, saved up enough money to get your own place and are now ready to move on — both physically and emotionally. During this period, it is you who will cook and clean, pay the bills and otherwise start a new life. It is essential for you to remember that your ex is moving on to a new in their life as well.

You can remain friends and may even have a newfound sense of appreciation for one another when all is said and done. The experience of living with your ex can be challenging to navigate. But, if the two of you are willing to be friendly and logical enough to understand your common goal — to conserve money to put toward moving out — it can take out the added financial stress that adds insult to the injury of a breakup.

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Romana King

Romana King is an award-winning personal finance writer, real estate expert and the current Director of Content at Zolo Homebase. Romana has contributed to business and lifestyle publications including, Toronto Sun, Maclean’s, MoneySense, Globe & Mail Custom Content Team, and The Toronto Star. Among her achievements, Romana won silver for her annual Where to Buy Now real estate package in the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. In 2015, she won a SABEW Business Journalism award. When she was editor of CI Top Broker, Romana helped guide her team to obtain its first KRW Business Journalism nomination, and in 2011, she was part of a small team that helped MoneySense win Magazine of the Year at the 34th annual National Magazine Awards. Her north star is to consistently provide actionable, valuable and accurate information that helps elevate the financial literacy of everyone.