Housing

Single and stuck: Cost of living crisis forcing exes to live together after breaking up

Single people who have recently broken up with their partner are being forced to continue cohabitating, thanks to the cost of living crisis

There is no ideal way to separate from a partner. Over the years, romcoms have portrayed breakup scenarios in various ways and come to the same conclusion: exes need physical and emotional space from each other when they become single. But what happens when you can’t achieve that?  

Living with an ex-partner is not just a consequence of Covid lockdown. Rising rents, soaring mortgage interest rates and a cost of living crisis have left many unable to afford to move out and move on when their relationship ends. According to a study by Direct Line around nine million people in the UK have, at some point, been forced to live with their exes post-breakup. Former partners will typically find themselves living together for an average of four months until they have the means to secure new housing. 

Tash*, a 28-year-old teacher from Leicester, has twice continued to live with exes post breakup. The first time was six years ago, when she and her ex were sharing a one-bed flat. She began searching for a new place to live, but her ex-partner’s financial position was precarious and he struggled to find something.

They made the decision to keep living together until both had found a new place. Continuing to share a bed in a small flat wasn’t easy, but they made it work.   

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In contrast, Tash now lives in a four-bedroom house with her most recent ex, where she has sole use of the top floor. Unlike the last time, both could afford to move out if they wanted to. However, as Tash is starting a new job where accommodation will be provided, they’ve decided to stay in their rented house until Christmas.

Luckily, they get on. Whether they want to discuss how “odd” the situation is, or to simply offload after a long day at work, they have found they are able to emotionally support each other. 

Marian O’Connor, a psychotherapist from counselling service Tavistock Relationships, says agreeing on strict rules is vital. She highlights the importance of organising separate time and space for using the kitchen to cook meals or watching television. When you’re ready to move on to new relationships, she recommends doing this outside of the shared home, to be as respectful as possible.   

Tash says it’s “awkward to tell a new partner that you live with an ex”. That’s why she hasn’t contemplated dating someone new in her current living situation, feeling it would be too uncomfortable for all parties.  

Olivia’s* ex-boyfriend did not give her the same courtesy: one of the most difficult aspects of her breakup, she says, was being able to “hear him” with a new partner.   

Student and optical adviser Olivia’s relationship ended during her first year at university. She was 19 and had been with her boyfriend for two and a half years. A signed tenancy agreement and financial constraints meant they couldn’t relocate, so she dragged a spare mattress into the living room of their shared house and set up camp.

Giving up their room for him was not ideal, but she felt obligated because she had initiated the breakup. Naturally drifting apart, they had become more like friends than partners.  

“I felt sad the relationship had ended, but it was nice that we didn’t disappear without any closure,” she says. Their housemate helped defuse the tension. “We would make jokes about being a divorced couple and that she was our daughter. It made the situation a lot easier to handle.”   

Although Olivia found support through friends and informed her university, there wasn’t much financially that could have been done: “If things had been really difficult between us, I may have been able to reach out for support but I’m not sure if I would have been granted,” she says. 

With adequate housing support in place, people would be free to end relationships, regardless of financial concerns. This is even more critical for those facing dangerous living situations. According to a report published by Women’s Aid in July 2022, 60% of women who share housing and finances with their abuser said that the rising cost of living had prevented them from leaving. 

The cost of living is also making it difficult for those with aspirations of home ownership. Tash managed to save money for a deposit but, because she is no longer in her relationship, she can’t afford a house on her own. “The world isn’t designed for you to live on your own, it’s designed for couples.”  

She’s not alone. A recent study from Ocean Finance suggests that single individuals in the UK are spending an average of £7,564.50 more annually compared to their partnered peers. Often referred to as the ‘single tax’, it plays a significant role in the UK’s housing crisis, putting home ownership further out of reach for those looking to buy on their own.  

Cohabiting ex-couples are challenging traditional norms of separation. While the concerns of unaffordable housing options persist, individuals struggle with the reality of limited choices. If stuck with an ex, O’Connor advises to allocate time away to be with family and friends, even if it’s just for one night each week. This offers a break from your ex, but also grants them the same opportunity for personal space.  

Amelia Braddick is a member of The Big Issue Breakthrough programme, designed to help young people begin a career in the media industry.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy!

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