Story your way to a happy marriage | Rachel Terrill | TEDxKirkland
My Husband and I Are Happily Married Because We Live in Separate Homes
This article was written by Hallie Levine and provided by our partners at.
Lise Stoessel, author of, shares how branching out into two households saved her marriage.
I've been married to my husband Emil for 31 years, we have three grown children, and we share basic values, ideals, and beliefs. What we don't share is a house. And we haven't for the last eight years.
You see, the day-to-day mechanics of life have always been out of sync between us. It made for a lot of bickering and a lot of strife, and although we tried counseling, it didn't work. Our relationship would get better for several weeks or even months, and then it would worsen again. Finally, it got so toxic we realized we needed a break.
The most fundamental problem was simply how we viewed our actual living space. Emil is a contractor, and our house and yard reflected that. The living room and dining room gradually became subsumed by his equipment and paperwork. I, on the other hand, am an aesthetically oriented person, and beauty is really important to me. It frustrated me that I could not get him to understand that his clutter was really upsetting, and it gave me real anxiety to live in this space. We also fought a lot about entertaining and houseguests. Emil is territorial and quite introverted, while I'm an extrovert who loves to have people over. When I'd have relatives or friends visit from out of town, he'd be belligerent and unfriendly, to the point where he didn't seem at all like the man I married.
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We'd get into horrible fights over it, and finally, after one battle, I got into my car and started driving around town, looking at other homes, wondering where I could live. But the idea of getting divorced and breaking up our family was really heartbreaking to me. I still loved sitting down to dinner with Emil and spending time with him; it occurred to me that perhaps we both just needed our own space.
I drove home, and when I walked in the door, I told him I couldn't do this anymore. He asked if I wanted a divorce. I said no, I wanted us to stay together, but he deserved to live in a space that worked for him and I deserved to live in a space that worked for me. Then I took a deep breath and said, "I want to try living separately." For the first time in months, we were able to sit down and have a calm, reasonable talk, and the next day he went with me to a few open houses. When I fell in love with a charming townhouse with two extra bedrooms, one that I knew would be perfect for a crafts studio (we're both potters) and the other for guests, he applied for a mortgage on the spot.
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While we were both at peace with the decision, I knew it would be tough to bring it up to the kids. Our two oldest girls were living in the same town, but our youngest was still in college. We asked them to come over for Sunday brunch. We sat out on our deck, on a beautiful June morning, and told them. Our middle daughter, Julie, burst into tears and ran into the bathroom and slammed the door. I went to comfort her, and she said, sobbing, "You said you'd never leave me." (I'm her stepmom.) I comforted her and reassured her that we weren't getting divorced, that this was our way of keeping our family together. By the end of the conversation, all three girls were on board, and they even piled into our car and came to look at my new place. They all realized how troubled our marriage had been, and they were grateful that we were going out on a limb to try and rescue things.
Today, Emil and I live on opposite sides of our small city of Charlottesville, VA, about five miles from each other, but our marriage is closer than ever before. We see each other six days a week, and have overnights four times a week. Most of the time, he comes to my house and I make dinner—we sit in front of the fire or share a meal by candlelight and chat about our day, the kids, the news, everything that couples talk about when they've been married for years. But there's a sense of preciousness to our time—it's dedicated time where we're together, and we honor that. When you live with someone 24/7, it's a lot easier to take that person for granted and stay glued to the TV or iPad. About twice a week, he stays over at my house, and twice a week, I drive with him over to his. (We both have king-size beds).
And yes, he still has his tools and leftover building supplies all over the living room, but I'm fine with it because it's no longer my place. I have my home and my nest, and it doesn't drive me crazy anymore that we can't eat at the dining room table because it's full of piles of papers. I just don't cook at his house, and when I do make something simple, like scrambled eggs, it doesn't bother me that I'm eating them standing at the kitchen window because there's nowhere to sit. It's his space, and he can make it as cluttered and dirty as he wants it to be.
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The main disadvantage to living apart is loss of some disposable income. We agreed that Emil would pay my mortgage, property taxes, and car insurance, and then the rest of my bills—food, utilities, personal—would come out of my salary as a preschool teacher. But I live frugally, and when we do travel (which he still pays for), it's usually low key—long weekends two to three times a year where we rent a cabin and ride bikes and hike trails. It also takes some of the spontaneity out of life, because if I stay over at his house I have to anticipate what I'm doing the next day and pack accordingly. (We do keep things like sleepwear and a change of clothes at one another's houses.)
People sometimes assume that because we live apart, we're in an open marriage, but we are quick to assure them that we're completely monogamous. There was never any question as to whether or not we'd be investigating other relationships. Emil was adamant that the only way for this arrangement to work was for us to be faithful to one another and have a deep foundation of trust. I know that most of the time when I'm not with my husband, he's working.
At the beginning, when we first mentioned our new arrangement to friends, they were agog. My female friends' eyes would get big and dreamy, and I could tell they were a little envious. I know a lot of women can sympathize! The main reason I wrote a book was because I wanted couples to know this was an option that could save their marriage. Sometimes the best way to live happily ever after with someone is to live apart.
Video: Husband and wife love after marriage | Romantic Short Film - Happy Married Life!
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