"Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow." -Swedish Proverb
People leaving drug or alcohol addiction treatment have the option to go into what's called "transitional housing." A "sober living environment (SLE)," is designed to help those who have been through in-patient treatment and away from life's stresses and temptations reintegrate into family and society. Also called halfway houses, they mark the midway point back to normalcy.
I have often dreamed of buying a property and converting it into transitional housing for people who are divorcing -- a "DLE" if you will. After all, this group of adults is in perhaps the greatest transition of their lives, with financial well-being at the forefront of concern. Most divorcing people have no idea what the future holds or what the settlement figures will mean once all the papers are signed. How many non-divorcing people could comfortably commit to signing a year -- or even six-month -- lease when finances are uncertain?
Although many people are forced to find new housing in a marital separation or dissolution, the truth is that when you're in the middle of such emotional, financial and familial turmoil, there is no worse time to try to decide on anything. Why not make temporary housing available to these folks?
Those with children in tow have an even greater challenge, especially when trying to remain in a particular school district for the sake of their kids. Or when they don't want to (or can't) pay a thousand dollars or more a month for an extra apartment or hotel room.
A DLE seems like the perfect and, frankly, obvious solution to a problem that has been around for decades. Why has no one thought of this before?
In my research on the subject, I came across many types of transitional living settings in the United States, but none was specific to divorce. There were dozens of addiction-related housing programs, homeless shelters and facilities for those in crisis (usually related to domestic violence). But I found nothing specific to displaced soon-to-be-exes.
Hard financial times tend to make us all think a bit more creatively for solutions. They also force us to rely more on one other. Since 2007, the number of shared households has risen from 19.7 million households to 22.0 million -- not including adults who are romantically involved and cohabiting.
Social historian and and author Stephanie Coontz said of this statistic: "These differences suggest that it is individual economic insecurity that drives many of these people into shared households, and that sharing does indeed reduce that insecurity."
For someone divorcing during a recession -- which many economists say is nowhere near over -- it makes sense to join resources with a friend or other divorcing folks and go in together on housing in some way.
I worked with a woman whose husband left her several years ago for a young neighbor he got to know on the ferry to work. Soon after he moved in with the other woman, he became a victim of the Great Recession and he lost his job. He was fortunate enough to have a roof over his head, but his ex was literally left out in the cold since she had been a stay-at-home mom.
If it hadn't been for the kindness of friends, she and her two daughters would have been out on the streets. What was supposed to be a short-term living solution until she found something more permanent lasted three and a half years, when her ex became gainfully employed again. Although that chapter of her life had many uphill battles, having friends nearby kept her spirits up long enough for her to get on the other side.
"Happy," a Roko Belic film that was released in 2011, examines cultures from around the world in terms of their happiness. According to the film, Denmark is considered to be the happiest country in the world. Danes have a higher number of people living in co-housing communities than any other country. Co-housing consists of multiple families living together on a plot of land or even in the same building.
The Danish woman interviewed in the movie, Anne Bechsgaard, said that she lives in a shared housing environment with 19 other families. She stated that following her divorce, she needed to find new housing and she knew that she would sink into a depression if she were to live on her own because she would be too isolated. Bechsgaard found a co-housing situation in which all the adults share responsibility for the children, for the meals and for the chores. One advantage of living together? She need only cook dinner once or twice a month rather than every day -- a two to three hour-per-day time savings. Life is not only easier physically, financially and socially, but her emotional needs are taken care of as well in that she has a sense of safety, well-being and of community.
Although couch surfing is a fine temporary solution to being displaced, I'd love to see Divorce Living Environments become mainstream so that the divorcing population of this country can have a situationally-appropriate, safe, low-cost, community-building option.
Perhaps if our culture embraced the fact that divorce happens, there might be more resources such as the one I've suggested here.
Susan Pease Gadoua and Vicki Larson are working on an exciting project about the many ways that marriage -- and divorce -- can be changed to make them more practical for who we are today as a marrying and divorcing culture. Follow what's happening with "The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Cynics, Commitaphobes and Connubial DIYers" and participate in the conversation on Facebook.
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