One of the more obvious issues couples have to resolve when they separate is what happens to the marital home. I’ve talked to women who’ve stayed in the home, women whose husbands stayed and women who agreed with their husbands that the marital home should be sold. A number of the women had marriages that followed more traditional roles with their husbands handling all the finances. For these women, working through the logistics of owning their home was significant.
When I asked author Candace Walsh what she felt was her most significant accomplishment since getting divorced, she said definitely starting to edit anthologies like Ask Me About My Divorce, but also buying and renovating her own house. Here’s Candace:
I’m about to put it on the market but at the time, buying my home felt moving, exciting and fun. I’d never bought a house before on my own. I’d bought homes with my ex, he was the one in the driver’s seat financially though. So when it came to going through the financial process on my own and to be able to do it with my own numbers, that was a big step for me.
It was a three-bedroom and had a backyard. I knew my kids and I could be a family and all hang out together. I wouldn’t be at the mercy of landlords. I was creating this world for us.
In my story in Ask Me About My Divorce, I talk about dreaming about living in a casita that had a Provençal blue front door, a room with thick mud walls painted a rosy pink and warm wood floors and windowsills. The house I bought was a little bigger but it was like the casita because I could define my alone time as an adult.
When I was married, I didn’t really feel like I could have space without coming up against static from my ex. He was very talkative. I need quiet. I think I craved that self-definition and the ability to give myself what I needed without having to fight for it.
Having my own home was like being in the right place in the garden, getting the right amount of sunshine and having the right soil, not just getting by, compromising and negotiating all the time.
Even when I was in the rental, I still had a positive of having quiet time when I could and creating the space around me to reflect how I felt inside, going to yard sales and picking up different funny things for the house, knowing there wouldn’t be a conversation about whether he liked it, whether it fit, what it meant. It was just what it was.
I had to furnish a house that was empty and had a very limited budget. It became this patched together environment in which each piece had meaning. One belonged to my good friend’s mother who’d passed away recently, paintings from her family and other pieces were items I worked on, sanded and painted. My favorite piece is a small sideboard. It’s yellow, from the 50’s I think. It has sliding glass doors and that’s where I put teacups and wine glasses. It’s just fun. It’s useful, a little funky with modern clean lines.
When people came over they would say,
“Hey, this place looks great.”
The house was a symbol of my post-divorced self, it was saying,
“Hey this is me and my ability to thrive and have a complete life on my own.”
I really did blossom as a human being.
The Divorce Coach Says
I like Candace’s analogy to a garden – a home is a place for you to feel nurtured, where you can grow safely and freely. As my marriage was coming to end, my home definitely did not feel like this. It didn’t feel like home. The air was laced with tension even if my ex wasn’t at home, forcing me to confront our problems.
When we separated, the tension disappeared but it still didn’t feel like my home – it was “our” house, it was too big. His possessions were still there and we hadn’t decided on sharing the furniture. I wanted it to be “mine.” That came when I bought my new home. I’d been through the legal and financial part numerous times before so I knew what to expect but this time it was more spiritual and therapeutic than the previous purchases. The house I bought fit me – may be it chose me. It was the cornerstone of my new life, a place where I could relish being alone, a place where we could redefine our family.
Deciding what to do with the marital home, who stays, who goes can be contentious – in my case, neither my ex nor I wanted to keep the house. For another of my interviewees, keeping the farm, she and her husband had was important to her and her husband didn’t fight her on it. Life is so much calmer when you can both agree!
My ex is still in his rental house, not by necessity and that makes me wonder – is “home” more important to women? Was it more important to me because my kids are with me most of the time?