Photo by Kelly Sikkema
View it as published by The Good Men Project
You got married, it didn’t work, and you’re not living in the marital home anymore. Whatever decisions lead you here, you may have a house to sell, property to divide, and a move to make. It may be over, but this part of the ending can either be done co-operatively, or it can become a nightmare for one or both of you. Here are some tips to help this part go more smoothly.
1 If you’re moving out of the marital home to sell it, there’s an awful lot to deal with. Someone has to clean it, repair anything broken or damaged, and possibly refresh paint on the walls and decks. It was your house too, so whether you moved out yourself, it was a mutual decision, (or you were thrown out) if the house needs to be sold, don’t leave all the work to whichever person stayed in the home. If children are living in the home as well, all that work will add to the significant stress your ex is already experiencing and add to their regular workload, while learning to continue life while taking care of kids. That means more stress on your kids, too, and that’s never a good thing. It will also add to the stress that you’re experiencing, wondering whether your belongings are being sold, thrown out, or given away behind your back. If you’re the one remaining in the marital home, don’t make the break-up even harder by trying to control every step of the process; you don’t have the right to limit your ex’s access to their belongings, and it will contribute to everyone’s stress and will create even more animosity between you. If the house is for sale, and you’re no longer living there, being involved in the sale process may also help you sell your house faster, and you may even sell for more, because you have some control over the condition the house will be in for showings. The home belongs to you, too, and you have the right to be part of the decision-making process of what has to be done, which will influence how it looks when it’s put on the market.
2 When you moved out, you took your clothes, your favorite cd’s (or some of them) and any other personal items, but did you take any of your life with you? Paperwork, books, files, and pictures are often items neglected in the initial exodus from the home, and trust me, your ex probably doesn’t have time, or care much, about going through your marital collection of what I call ‘necessary junk’ alone. You have a right to retrieve all of your belongings. Try to get involved in the process of going through and splitting photos, files, books, and so on. It’s a lot more work than you think to separate these items into yours and theirs, and when you’re involved, you’re more likely to retrieve all of your belongings. Some ex-spouses may go through it on their own, but there may be items in there that are important to you that they may think is junk, or, worse, they may just toss it all out carelessly or maliciously. You may have to get a lawyer involved, but try to keep things neutral and calm while you’re going through the process of teasing your belongings out from theirs, and it’ll be a lot less stressful for you. If you’re the one occupying the marital home, be courteous, and try help the process along by cooperating with your ex while the two of you sort through your belongings.
3 If you left the home with just the items you felt were most important at the time, don’t harass the remaining party constantly with demands for items that you forgot to grab. Don’t let your ex intimidate you, either—you have every right to enter the home to retrieve everything that belongs to you. Try to get along well enough to set a date for you to go through your belongings to retrieve things, and no matter how bad the split-up was, try to do a little schmoozing if you have to, or bring along a neutral party to avoid arguing. Try to keep things neutral; instead of saying “I’d like to come and get some of my stuff,” you can say “when is a good time for me to come help go through the boxes?” We’re talking about an entire household of belongings from two lives. Finding your favorite magazine from the box that’s been stored in the furnace room behind Christmas decorations, mixed in with old newspapers is not your ex’s top priority, and constantly asking for it is only going to inflame the situation.
4 If you want a specific piece of furniture from the home, make arrangements to remove it from the home yourself. Keep in mind that your ex is alone now, and most people will need help moving that furniture out of the house for you to pick up. If you want it, go get it. Be nice. But find a helper and take responsibility for your own belongings. If you move it yourself, it’s also less likely to get damaged, because you care about it more, and you will be the one controlling the manner in which it’s moved.
5 If you brought belongings into the home that you don’t want anymore that your ex has no interest in, don’t leave them behind forever. They’re still your belongings – the marital home is not your personal dumping ground. Leaving stuff behind just because you don’t want it is adding to their burden, may make your home harder to sell, and it’s also your responsibility to help empty the home of your own belongings, whether you want them or not. By the same token, if your ex is continuously giving you boxes full of mystery items, and you unpack them later to discover that you’ve been given a box full of junk that you don’t want or wasn’t even yours in the first place, it will only serve to stress you out more. Try to come to an agreement to go through everything together to decide what belongs to who, what’s giveaway, what can be sold, and what can be thrown out so that you have a say throughout the whole process.
It’s often all too easy for one person in the marriage to walk away and start afresh, leaving the remaining partner with all of the responsibility of separating out their life from yours, but the strain and anxiety, and the huge amount of time and effort that it takes for one person to go through everything is enough to break anyone. If kids are involved, it means that much less time for the remaining parent to spend with the kids, that much more frustration, and that many more tears. If you were the one who left, you may not realize that there are important documents, photos, or books that you may have forgotten about that you’ll be driving yourself crazy looking for months or years later. In some cases, as sad as it is to admit it, an ex may take out their anger or frustration on whatever was left behind. If you were forced out of your home, you have every right to return to the home to go through your things yourself, even if you have to get legal support to make that happen; don’t let your ex intimidate you or try to control the whole process. Half of what was in the marital home was yours, whether you want it or not, and whether they want it or not. Take responsibility, exercise your right to collect what belongs to you, and put the same amount of effort into moving on as you did when you first moved in together.