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The Un-Divorce: When Leaving Your Marriage Is Just Too Much Work

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Ira and Joyce, a married couple, lived separate lives until the day Ira died.
Into his 80s, Ira had girlfriends. Joyce had bridge. They should have been the kind of couple who divorced once their children were grown. But they didn't. Ira's father created a multimillion-dollar trust fund that ordered him to stay married in order to receive payment. So they did. Ira seldom stayed in the house he and Joyce built in southern Arkansas, instead preferring hotel penthouses and his girlfriends' apartments. They were both happy in their 50-plus years of marriage even though they didn't stay together often.
These days, "un-divorced" couples like Ira and Joyce are becoming common in an ever-diverse and complicated society.
For many couples, divorcing is simply too painful. Neither partner wants to be the first to pull the plug. In other cases, couples cannot afford the costs associated with divorce. Many times, they have children and don't want to deal with custodial issues or a dirty legal battle, especially if one partner uses drugs or has had an affair. The marriage exists in name only.
And increasingly, couples are opting to remain friends and stay married, long after the thrill is gone, for fiscal reasons. It's cheaper to live together in the same condo or house. Many couples also save money by continuing to file joint tax returns. With health insurance costs escalating, many spouses don't have the heart to divorce and throw their husband or wife off their policy. Separation solves the problem.
According to Jeffrey Landers, founder of Bedrock Divorce Advisors, a divorce-financial-strategy firm in New York City, Social Security also can be an issue for older couples. He says that if a marriage lasts 10 years, often a divorced spouse who has not remarried is entitled, at age 62, to Social Security benefits, either her own, based on her work record, or 50 percent of what her ex-husband is entitled to, based upon his work record. A nice parting gift for an ex.
"Many people that are married for seven or eight years will just separate until they cross that 10-year threshold and then get divorced," Landers says.
Others never do.
Warren Buffett has elevated this threesome marriage into an art form. As Pamela Paul points out in "The New York Times," the billionaire Buffet separated from his wife in the 1970s, but never divorced, and instead lived with his girlfriend. His wife, Susan, died in 1994. He married his girlfriend in 2006. The kicker? The trio sent out holiday cards with all three of their names embossed on them.
Rolling Stone magazine founder Jann Wenner separated from his wife after nearly 30 years of marriage, but they are still married even though he has been involved romantically with a man.
It's not all wine and roses for these couples or for those who chose to get involved in such a ménage trois. Take this case study. One woman who shared her story for this piece said an un-divorce arrangement often makes it very hard to show up on your sweetie's doorstep holding a pint of ice cream and wearing nothing but a rain coat if the wife may answer the door. What's the proper etiquette for that, Miss Manners?
Confused? It's not just the wealthy who do such things.
I know a couple who share a split-level house to take care of their young daughter, but they date other people.
The late mystery writer Robert Parker had a similar arrangement. He and his wife, Joan, separated for two years in the 1980s but reunited. They lived in a large Victorian house with Joan taking one floor, Robert taking the other. They shared a kitchen and monogamy. Affairs were not an option. They simply liked their own spaces.
"It's complicated" is a common term un-divorced couples use to describe their unconventional marriages. Naturally, Facebook has this 21st century option as a relationship choice.
Commonly in the Bible Belt, many couples stay married but indulge in secretive, separate lives because of religious pressure. Sure, they may keep up appearances by taking vacations and attending parties together, but they are anesthetized from desire for each other.
Is the un-divorce trend healthy? Some relationship experts say "no way," regardless of the seeming financial benefits, especially if one party is using the other as a security blanket.
"If you stay (married), you can avoid risk taking, avoid growing up, avoiding having to go to social events and meet new people," says Pamela Garber, a New York psychotherapist.
"You can blame everything on the marriage," she says. "It's a way to put a hold on growing up."
Others disagree, and think the staying-together approach may be better, in some cases, for all involved.
"I don't think it's black or white," says Irina Firstein, a New York City-based psychotherapist. "If it's a decent relationship, a friendship, but the flame is gone, it might be OK. Two people sometimes can be in the same household better off than struggling financially and living alone. Let's face it -- many married couples live very much like roommates. This is more honest and there is a possibility of finding someone new."
Filed Under: Woman Up

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Wealth Builder

It seems that people don't seem to understand that you must work at marriage just as hard as you do taking care of your kids, running a business, or any other worthwhile endeavor. I do understand not divorcing someone when they are sick and need your medical insurance or being older and deciding it is not worth the hassel to divorce.
My mother was married over 25 years to my father and now is married for more than 27 years to my stepfather. Thankfully she instilled in me how important it is to be able to take care of myself and after divorcing, my income has continued to increase almost every year. I do not have a fear that I won't be able to provide for myself or my children. And eventually I may even remarry. Being single is not better than being married, it is just different. I can say that if I remarry and I'm over 60 and it isn't working out, then it will be an undivorce because there is no way I'm divorcing and starting over again. It is easier to start over again when you are young.

August 07 2010 at 1:35 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dc walker

These posts don't day how old they were when they got married. That I think makes a difference. People who marry after the age of 28 or 30 have had time to develop themselves, travel a little, have a careeer, meet lots more people from different walks of life. People who marry young are immature of what they bring to a marriage and what is expected from a spouse. I can't say for sure but I bet all those below who are unhappy married under the age of 25. Just my thought.

August 04 2010 at 2:01 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

This article is a breath of fresh air! After 34 years of marriage some of us are exactly that, just roommates! And this I believe will happen only to those marriages that have been unfaithful and if there was any type of abuse in their relationship with each other. Whether physical, verbal, drug or alcohol related. Of course people will fall out of love with each other when they constantly abuse each other, and or lie to each other. At this point in life, after time and time again, we must face reality and our true options. Divorce or just stay and accept life as it was, as it is and as it will be, unless we can find the means, the support and mainly the financial ability to leave an such an unworthy partner (person)

August 04 2010 at 7:28 AM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply

This has been a very interesting topic and I have read all the responses. There are so many who live separate lives after many years of marriage for all the reasons mentioned and many more. Is it what we believe will happen when we marry? No. But life is an adjustment on a daily basis and this is just one we humans have made. My fifty years have been crazy - some good, some bad, some fair. Each of us must make the decision that we can live with in relative peace and continue with a life that makes a positive statement while we are on this earth. Take care - be good to others and yourself.

August 04 2010 at 5:52 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

As an un-divorced person and I find it works out well for us. We are still a family, our kids still have both parents full-time. We worked hard and built our mini-empire together and continue to enjoy it as we always have. It would be ashamed to have it all chopped up in a nasty divorce. At times it is difficult and not something that is possible for everyone. However we still have love and trust in each other, and will always take care one another no matter what as with any member of the family. We remain best friends, good working partners, and play as a family. But yet we also have this part of life that is our own. I attribute this doable situation to both of us striving to put the children first, good communication, honesty, and respect for one another. If there was constant fighting, control issues, or abuse, then continued living together would be out of the question. Almost every person I know has at some point cheated or continues to cheat, then masquerades as this overly perfect couple in public. Makes me ill..especially to know the truth behind the scenes. In the majority of couples, I think that honesty is the best policy. Put all the cards out on the table and work from there. More than likely someone will suffer some serious hurt and will heal, but certainly not like the kind of damage that's inflicted with the betrayal, anger, embarrassment, and mistrust which occurs when a cheater is caught. Most importantly I do not want my children to learn that marriage is a institution of secrets and lies. Children are smart, they usually know what's up, and in turn tend to take on the burden of carrying the secrets and lies of the parents, left to deal with it alone taking its toll on their emotional health. I know what that's like, I was one of those unfortunate children. Besides why get divorced.. how many of us would really want to remarry again?? What's the odds of something that lasts forever and still remains over-the-top?

August 04 2010 at 4:18 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
Hi Ed

In my case my wife and I only share an address and a bank acct. There is no feelings left on either side. When my wife heard the label "alcoholic" applied to me by a therapist, she later explained to me that in her Sicilian culture there is no intimacy permitted between a wife and an alcoholic husband. Even though I have not had a drink in 23 years and go to meetings and work a program of recovery there has been no intimacy of any kind in all that time. I mean no sex,kissing, or petting and almost no touching. Since we're both Catholic I'm stuck in this dead relationship until one of us dies. I'm 63 and hope I don't see my next birthday. I don't talk about it with my wife, but the depression is sometimes overwhelming. I don't know why I even post this comment except the subject of the article is so relevant. Thanks for listening.

August 04 2010 at 2:00 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

I may live and be alone, but at least I am not spending my precious time with somebody that I don't truly wish to be with. I may not reap the benefits that I know marriage has to offer to a couple, but at least I earn enough money on my own, as a single person. I used to think prostitutes were a necessary evil - however, if I had to choose, I'd prefer being a well-treated escort who charges a fee, as opposed to a poorly-treated wife who works for free, if you get my drift. The people we love, are supposed to be the ones that we spend our money on and time with. Life is harsh, but I still believe that I will find true love, because I have come to the realization that I am worthy of being loved. Many of you in unhappy situations, truly feel that you don't deserve to be loved. This is untrue. You just have to keep an open mind, folks.

August 04 2010 at 12:46 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

In many states, an arrangement called "Separate Maintainance" can be used for couples who do not wish to legally divorce. Unless one or both choose to re-marry, there is no need for a legal divorce. The benefits of marriage are tremendous: Social Security checks after death. Pension Plan beneficiaries after death. Life Insurance beneficiaries. Real Property ownership as joint tenants with right of survivorship. Even the right to run for congressional seat as a surviving spouse. There must be more advantages too numerous to mention.

August 04 2010 at 12:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My great grandparents had an un-divorce, I believe at my great grandmother's request. They were both Catholic Italians and divorce was looked down upon, although my great grandma's sister divorced and remarried more than once. I suppose she was more open to change, though, because at 90 she's still feisty as ever.

August 03 2010 at 11:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to natalie's comment

I am in a situation sort of like this. I moved out in 1998. My husband and I are the best of friends. He lives in the house we own, he can not afford to buy me out. I have adopted 3 children and bought a house. My health went downhill, I am on his insurance. We benefit each other. He helps me, I help him. And we love each other, but as friends. It works for us.

August 03 2010 at 11:29 PM Report abuse +10 rate up rate down Reply

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