Published January 31, 2017
Whether they're married or not, more millennials are living together than ever before.
And it's no wonder: With salaries down, student loan debt up, and the median price of one-bedroom apartments in the U.S. currently hovering at $1,140, the rent is simply too damn high for most of us to handle it on our own.
So we shack up. Sometimes for love, sometimes to help pay the bills, sometimes a little of both. In the best case, you manage your expenses well, maybe even save a little money, and end up having a long and happy life together.
The worst case? You get to deal with the emotional and financial train wreck that is living with an ex while trying to figure out who's leaving and who's keeping what.
Co-existing: Together but apart
Maureen Weber, a legal professional in New Albany, OH, once moved all the way from Ohio to Las Vegas to live with a boyfriend.
That lasted about six months before they broke up.
But they both still needed a place to live. So she and her ex immediately shifted their schedules so they had to see each other as little as possible. She worked during the day. He worked nights and weekends. On the occasions they were stuck in the house together, she would stay in the bedroom while he had free rein of the living room.
"I'd go to the gym, shopping, or the pub for a few hours to spend as little time as possible home when he was there," she says. "It was very awkward to say the least. We barely spoke, or even looked at each other."
How to do it better: Actually, that's about the best way to handle things. You don't have to be best friends once you're stuck living together, but there's no reason to provoke each other either, according to relationship expert April Masini of Ask April.
"Whether you share the bedroom, or someone takes the couch, as much fairness and understanding as can possibly be mustered up during a breakup will help you get through the lease term," Masini says. "Try not to bring home a date or have guests who will stir the pot while your soon-to-be ex is living with you."
Dividing up property
After living together for a few years, most couples have accumulated an impressive amount of stuff together.
And the things you've bought together -- such as furniture and electronics -- can get difficult to split up. While you can fight over this stuff and even go to court over it, it's usually easier to just let your ex take whatever he or she wants without a fight.
That's what Kimmie Seely, a hairstylist from Mishawaka, IN, did when she broke up with her boyfriend of six years and he moved out of the house she owned.
"I realized everything was replaceable, and I honestly didn't want a house full of stuff that we had bought together," she says.
How to do it better: The problem with dividing furniture is that sometimes we get an emotional attachment to this stuff because of what happened in the relationship.
"A sofa purchased together may take on significance beyond its replacement cost or even retail value," Masini says. "A sofa that you caught a partner cheating on may be suddenly cheap and you can't give it away fast enough -- or, you don't want that partner to have it because it brought them pleasure. Furniture in a breakup is more than just carpentry, upholstery, and design. It has relationship value."
Her advice? It's always better if one partner can buy the other one out. If that's not possible, try organizing everything into collections and then work out who gets what.
And if there are pets involved in the split, you should remember to do what's best for the animal -- not necessarily what's best for you -- and certainly not what's going to hurt your ex the most.
"This doesn't always happen, but ideally, the pet should go with one person -- the one who's got the time, space, and resources to care for it," she says. "Some couples have visitation with pets that they owned during the relationship, and this is an option as well."
Who stays, and who goes?
Let's say you've agreed to co-exist for a few weeks until one of you finds a new place. But who has to scour rental ads, pick up, and leave? And how do you manage the cost of the lease you left behind? During a breakup, the last thing you probably want to deal with is tough financial decisions.
The easiest option is for one person to just take over the lease and let the other move out. Conversely, the leaving partner can pay a chunk of the upcoming rent, and you can hopefully call things even even if it's not quite everything that is owed if he or she stayed. Maybe you can find a roommate to make up the difference (or even turn a slight profit).
But many leases have restrictions on subletting, so if you need to make an adjustment to your living situation, Masini says it's best to talk to your landlord first to see what you can work out.
"If you have an idea, like wanting to sublet, end the lease early, or take on the lease yourself, always ask or notify your landlord in writing to avoid trouble down the line," she says. "In many cases, it may be easier to ask the landlord if he'd accept a penalty payment in exchange for ending the lease early. He or she may say no, but they may say yes."
Worst case, if you both have to move out and find new places, that might mean cutting your losses by splitting an early termination fee. And hopefully that will be the last thing you have to share -- until your next relationship, that is.