The day-to-day challenges for a couple who are forced to continue living together following a separation can be formidable.
Being separated but living under the same roof can give rise to severe tension — so mediators will often focus on ‘trigger behaviours’ which cause upset and make for an acrimonious atmosphere.
“This gets down very much to the nitty-gritty,” says mediator Majella Foley-Friel.|She says negotiations can even focus on the annoyance caused by somebody’s habit|of leaving used towels thrown on the|bathroom floor.
It’s about hammering out agreement on acceptable rules of day-to-day living, says Martina Newe, a parenting coach and mediator with The Mediators’ Institute of Ireland.
“For example, it would be agreed that between 6pm and 8pm the kitchen is available to Person A. Person B will have agreed to be gone from the kitchen at that time.
“Sometimes, there’d also be a rota for the living room and the telly.”
Foley-Friel recalls one case in which a man who had moved into the guest room strongly objected to his former partner’s habit of leaving notes on the table detailing the tasks she had carried out that day. This included, for example, doing homework with the children.
“From her perspective, she was simply giving information but he thought she was trying to press his buttons.
“She, in turn, was furious because he was scrunching up her notes,” she recalls. “Tiny, silly things can cause people to get very stressed out and antagonistic.”
Martina Newe recalls a couple in their thirties who paid a huge price for their home during the boom but are now in negative equity and unable to sell.
“The man moved into the spare room and shared the kitchen and living room and bathroom.”
In mediation, specific routines were hammered out.
“We agreed that by 6pm each evening his wife, who was a housewife, would make sure the dinner was over.”
The kids ate with the mother but when the father came in she would go to the living-room, after which she would move to her bedroom to watch TV, allowing him the family sitting-room.
“The children were in primary school. The difficulty for them was that they were unsure when dad came in whether they should leave him alone in the kitchen, or leave their mum alone watching TV?”
The atmosphere of resentment and hurt caused by a separation will leave a residue. There is always one partner who is the leaver, and the other who has been abandoned.
“There is one person who has called the end and the other who is often in a state of huge shock. They are under each other’s feet,” Newe says.
Often an agreement will have to be put in place banning any further discussion of the reasons for the breakdown.
Children can find it very hard to cope with the new living arrangements — particularly when the atmosphere in the house is tense, says Newe.
Little ones can feel guilty about spending time with dad in the sitting-room while leaving mum alone in the bedroom. “Children are fully aware of the tension and the antagonism,”|she says.