By Marianne Beach, GalTime.com
A few years back, two of my married family members decided to end their relationship. But they chose not to end their marriage. They stayed on the same health insurance plan and, though they lived in two separate houses, they attended family functions together. He mowed her lawn, she visited his elderly mother. They remained, in a sense, best friends and legal spouses, even though they were technically very much apart.
It seemed strange to me at the time, but now I've learned it's actually becoming quite a common trend. Many people these days see no reason to go through the headache and expense of a traditional divorce. After all, they don't hate their ex-partners. They just want to live separate lives--with no clear cut end to their official marriage in sight.
Why are people breaking up--but staying together? Marriage and Family therapist Jennifer Gauvain, co-author of How Not to Marry the Wrong Guy: Is He the One or Should You Run? (www.coldfeetpress.com) says it may be partially a sign of the troubled economic times.
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"Insurance, pension, mutual funds, etc. In light of the current economy, many people don’t want to dissolve their assets—particularly real estate. They want to wait around for a more favorable time to sell," she says. "The high cost of individual health insurance—particularly with a pre-existing condition—can make it impossible for the non-working spouse to get coverage. There are tax benefits and, of course, if you don’t divorce, you don’t spend any money on attorney’s fees."
But there are also emotional issues that come into play in these sort of situations as well, says Gauvain. "The fear of being alone or perhaps 'cast adrift' drives many people to remain entangled in a relationship that is no longer working," she explains. "Even though they may be living under a separate roof than their spouse, they are drawing some sense of security by remaining 'married.'"
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Problem is, if there are kids involved, they may be feeling less secure with the ambiguity of a non-divorce. "If mom and dad are separated for five years, the children may still hang on to the hope that they might reconcile," she says. "An ambiguous situation is more unsettling for the children—no matter what their age. It may also affect their understanding of marriage and the way they approach relationships in the future."
So, what does Gauvain suggest? Well, first, try to figure out the reasons you're shying away from divorce in the first place. Are they simply financial? Or are there more emotional issues holding you back? It may be worth going to couples or individual counseling to figure this out.