How to Break Up When You Live Together: A Step-by-Step Guide

Noemi J. Mullins

It’s not easy to navigate a separation while living together. But spoiler alert, you will survive it. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of unmarried couples living together has nearly tripled over the last two decades. You can see that we all have many relationships, and only one lasts a lifetime. If you add up the numbers, you will find that you are not alone if you break up while living with someone. You can take steps to make your split as amicable as possible.

Steps to take if you live together but have a breakup

Separate the relationship conversation from the logistic conversation

You may be tempted to start a breakup discussion with an announcement of your departure. If you want to avoid a messy breakup, it’s best to start the conversation by focusing on the relationship. You may need to take some time to calm down and then return to the topic. Once you’ve gotten past the shock of the breakup and can talk about logistics, ask your partner to schedule a time for this. You can say that you are willing to stay with family or friends for a couple of days until you have sorted out the details.

Establish a firm move-out date.

You will be able to make other decisions more quickly if you decide to move out immediately. You’re responsible for both the rent if you both signed the lease. Decide which of you will be in a position to pay the entire mortgage or lease payment when one of you leaves. You may decide to split the costs of setting up your new residence and the cost of living expenses.

Involve your landlord here. It’s not the first time that they’ve heard about a cohabiting separation, and they might have options, from a fee for a break of lease to allowing a sublet. (FYI: A landlord would have to approve the new tenant moving into the apartment and taking over your lease or the ex’s). Consider the emotional and financial costs of each option. While a lease termination fee may be costly, you and your partner might decide that it is worth it.

Your new ideas about space are important.

No matter how you decide who will move where you’ll have to live together for a while even if you are separated. Yikes. As much as possible, create a structure to share the space. Discuss things like where people will sleep and how the chores will get done. In this phase, it’s easy to fall into the same routines, such as your ex doing the nightly dishes and you cooking. But continuing in these relationship habits won’t be healthy for you or your partner.

Treat your space as if it were a roommate. You and your ex can discuss specific dates that you both want to invite friends so that each other knows when they will be away. It would be best if you were supportive of each other to help you get through a difficult breakup. It’s better to keep your sanity if you agree not to have romantic dates or endeavors while each other is present.

Finance conversation: Have a detailed one

You may want to consider family mediation if finances seem complicated (it is not only for married couples and those with children). It can be beneficial to have a third party who is objective to help you ask the right questions and provide a voice for reason in an emotionally charged time. The majority of cohabiting couples only require a few sessions to settle finances and logistics.

Money Discussions can range from splitting bank accounts to buying a part of an expensive home item you want to keep (hello, flat screen). Do you have your partner’s insurance? Can they act as your point of contact in an emergency and make medical decisions on your behalf? Do they have any insurance policies that benefit them? These are all questions that need to be discussed and updated as soon as possible.

Divide your possessions fairly.

When in doubt, let go. It will be better for your mental health if you give up that rug rather than fight about it. If you owned something before you started dating, then it belongs to you. You are responsible for debt that is in your name, no matter who purchased it. It can be uncomfortable, but being specific will reduce future arguments. When you say, “he can keep all the kitchen stuff,” he may interpret that as your expensive mixer, even though you only meant to give up the dishes. Make a list of items that are both important to you, and then write down which article is yours.

Take your most valuable personal items (heirloom jewelry or photo albums) to a friend’s house for safekeeping. Even if you are staying in the same place, consider taking your most prized personal valuables to a friend for safekeeping. Likely, you won’t be at home as much as usual. You may have a lot of visitors, including friends, co-workers, and even movers. You can have some peace of mind knowing that important items are no longer in the house.

Set new boundaries

Even under the best circumstances, these conversations are terrible. Both of you are tired, emotional, and worn out from the hard work that is navigating through a breakup. It may seem like a good idea to get back in bed with your ex (literally or metaphorically) on some days. It’s easy to fall back into the “couple routine,” but it will only complicate your life and stop you from moving forward. Find a place in your home that you can dedicate to self-care. This means that casually checking in with text messages or hanging out during the day (even under the guise of “just friends”) can be too personal when you are in breakup mode.

Ask your friends to help you fill out your social calendar.

Keep busy for a variety of reasons. It’s great to have the support of your friends during this time. As a bonus, you’ll get out of that shared space. This is a great time to ask friends for their opinions on logistics that you may not have considered. It’s important to remind yourself of any major purchases or life decisions you may have forgotten about. Did you pay for a vacation that is no longer happening? If you’re returning the apartment in a few months, will there be a security deposit that needs to be divided? You can ask your friends for help in deciding what you need to do “not now.”

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