Splitting up without the separation

Beverly Kemp meets three former couples who haven't parted
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Upstairs, downstairs, with their son in the middle

Billy, 36, has been married to Diana, 45, for five years and their son, Paul, is six. Although their marriage ended nine months ago, Billy and Diana have decided to continue living together for Paul's sake. Each lives in a separate storey of their home in Northamptonshire.

Every day I have reservations about whether we are doing the right thing. At first our main concern was Paul noticing something different but he has yet to ask why Mummy and Daddy don't sleep together anymore. Now he tends to go into his mum's bed instead of mine for a cuddle because they sleep on the same floor. I'm not a man for tears but I do admit to nights in the past nine months when I have cried myself to sleep because of the hopeless situation we're in.

You know the difference between being kissed back and when someone is grudgingly allowing you to kiss them? Diana and I hadn't been getting on for a long time and our sex life had ground to a halt. Both of us agreed our marriage wasn't working but that it would be a disaster for Paul if I left. The last thing I wanted to do was take Paul away from Diana. She is a very good mother. I come from a broken home myself and it still affects me. My own mother never explained why she left us all. I could never put my own son through that.

The most important thing has always been to try and keep the atmosphere in the house friendly for Paul's sake. But that hasn't been easy. It was very hostile at first. We rowed all the time until the day Paul put his hands over his ears and shouted "Shut up!". That was when we realised we had to put our own feelings on hold. On the days now when I cannot bring myself to be civil to Diana, I just keep quiet. But the tension just builds up inside. Some days now I hate the woman and I'm sure she feels the same way about me.

Last week, we took Paul to the pictures but we made sure that he sat in the middle. We try to eat together as a family. If we're watching TV in the lounge, Diana sits on one sofa and I sit on the other. More often than not I'll go up to play with Paul for a couple of hours or into my own room to play my guitar.

The worst thing for me is feeling starved of affection and having no one to share things with. I'm a very physical man and I liked holding my wife's hand when we went out shopping. I miss cuddling up in bed with Diana with Paul sandwiched in the middle. Part of me still doesn't understand why it all went wrong. It just seemed that suddenly there was nothing there any more.

Right now I'm not even bothering to look for a new partner. That would only complicate things even more. While I could accept Diana having a new man in her life, I hate the idea of any other man trying to be a father to Paul. My son doesn't need a new dad because he has a perfectly good one already.

Both of us feel very strongly that we have an obligation to stay together until Paul is grown-up. You have to be strong enough to make it work, however bad it is.

The only one who is happy in this house right now is Paul, but that is all that matters to us.

Billy, Diana and Paul are pseudonyms.

'He eats in front of the TV, I set a table in the caravan'

Ronnie Jupp, 62, was married to Gordon, 75, for 37 years. They separated in 1993. Gordon continues to live in the marital home. Ronnie lives in a caravan in the garden. She has four stepchildren between the ages of 42 and 52, works part-time in a clerical post and lives in Cornwall.

One of the main reasons I decided to leave was that so many members of my family suddenly died of strokes in their sixties. They were all fit and healthy people. I sat down one night and thought to myself, "It's time for me to live my life now before it's too late." I didn't want another man, but I was desperate for a bit of freedom at last. All I can remember is getting angry and shouting "I'm going!" because I'd been thinking about doing it for so long. That night I moved to the caravan and I've been there ever since.

Of course I had doubts. How would Gordon manage without me? I felt dreadfully guilty, even though he is an active man who is perfectly capable of looking after himself.

The first Christmas after I left I went to an animal rescue centre and bought Gordon a dog. He'd probably tell you that the dog is far better company than I was - doesn't growl as much!

Even now I honestly don't know what Gordon felt about me leaving. He finds it impossible to talk about personal matters. Although we'd been together for all those years, in many ways I still don't know him very well. It's not that unusual in marriages of my generation.

Gordon's children didn't grow up with us, and three of them now live in Australia. We have left them and others to draw their own conclusions about how we live. Some of the children send separate Christmas cards now.

Occasionally, I invite Gordon into the caravan for coffee or take a video over to the house to watch together, but we lead very separate lives. Gordon eats in front of the television while I prefer to set a proper table with china and a glass of fruit juice in the caravan. If I buy a sack of potatoes, I pop it under the stairs and we help ourselves. We always did our own laundry anyway. In summer, Gordon potters around gardening of an evening, while I sit in the caravan painting or playing with my computer. In winter, he watches TV in the house and I read novels in the caravan. If he's out of earshot, I might even sing.

Sometimes I do wonder how I would feel if Gordon met someone else. So long as she didn't run off with the remains of his pension I could probably cope with it! But I honestly don't think either of us is interested in new relationships. For a start I'm far too busy, and no one has asked me anyway.

Gordon might not admit it, but I think our arrangement suits him, too. He certainly seems very content and much happier. He can eat what he likes, when he likes. The house is spick and span, the way he always wanted it to be. He hasn't got me nagging him any more.

I'm a totally different person, too. If I want to lie in bed until 7.30am, I can. If I want to paint all night, I can. There's no one else to worry about. At last I can please myself, and I love every minute of it.

It works for us, because although we never really understood each other we are still very good friends. We do things to help each other. Gordon lifts heavy things for me, and I'll walk his dog if he's away.

It was never a question of one person being good and the other bad. I didn't move out to punish Gordon for anything he did. We were just two people who found living under the same roof stressful. Perhaps the best thing to come out of it all is that we have managed to separate yet maintain a tremendous amount of affection and respect for each other.

The equity is negative but the attitude is positive

John and Sarah split up in 1992 after two and half years as partners. Trapped by negative equity, they have continued to live in a small two- bedroomed house. John is 35 and works in the security industry. Sarah is 33 and works for an export company. They have no children and live in London.

When we bought the house we both felt confident that it was a profitable investment. Then the market bottomed out. In a short space of time we both changed jobs and as soon as we settled into a routine, our relationship deteriorated. When it finally ended, we looked at every other option available - staying with friends, renting or finding a new sharer. The bottom line was that neither of us could afford to buy the other out and to sell would have ruined us financially.

Our biggest worry was that continuing to live together would destroy what was still a very close friendship. Although we had drifted apart as partners we hadn't quite reached the plate-throwing stage and both of us felt confident we could adapt to sharing as friends.

At first, it was odd spending so little time in each other's company. I work long hours and Sarah is very sociable so there was little need to bump into each other. If one of us was out, the other might stay in so we could have the place to ourselves for the evening.

Both of us have had other relationships since ours ended, but it has been very hard to conduct them. We discussed whether we felt comfortable with the idea of having new partners to stay, but neither of us felt it was acceptable because this was once our home as a couple. The fact that you live with your ex-partner certainly dominates the conversation on a first date.

But after four years Sarah and I are well past the stage of feeling jealous about the other's new partner. She met my last girlfriend and I've answered the phone to a couple of men she has been out with. If she doesn't come home for a few nights, the only aspect that might cross my mind to worry about would be her personal safety.

Of course we've had our ups and downs, the way normal friends do, but I don't think they've ever equalled the rocky moments we had as a couple. The financial burdens lead to business-like discussions between us, and if we don't resolve things quickly, then a tense atmosphere creeps in to our day-to-day living. But as yet it's never ended up in a screaming row.

Occasionally, I've felt so frustrated that I've contemplated swallowing the financial loss and just moving out. It's a natural desire to want privacy and control over the space you live in. But I never feel resentful about it. The root cause was our joint decision to purchase the house. What's the point in gnashing your teeth about a situation that you are 50 per cent responsible for?

John and Sarah are pseudonyms.

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