After our split, my ex and I had some big decisions to make, chief among them, who was going to keep the house. Rather than make a sudden move and make our son transition multiple times we decided to stay in the house together-but-separated until we could figure out the logistics of who was going to stay and who was going to go.

I lobbied to stay. I was the stay-at-home-mom. I had built our home, tended to it, and loved it. My ex wanted to stay as well. It was the first and biggest issue on the table in our first mediation session, and it heated up fast.

But because we were no longer locked in the dynamic of each of us trying to get our emotional needs met by the other person, because we had now taken our marriage off the table, my ex and I were (weirdly) no longer fighting. We were having respectful dialogues about issues that needed addressing. I think to a certain degree, he had newfound respect for the woman who had finally stood up to him and said “enough.” And I had found a voice inside myself that wasn’t angry or combative. Suddenly, after ten years, we were two adults coming to the table to solve a problem side-by-side, rather than raging and screaming over it.

(And yes, for a minute we considered whether we should try to get back together and bring this to our marriage, but it became very clear, very quickly that the reason we were able to do this was because we were separating.)

And so, in our first mediation session, after we’d been living together, separated, for six months, when things started to get heated over the house, I asked my husband if we could employ one of the communication techniques we’d learned in therapy to discuss it.

I asked for an Imago Dialogue.

Imago therapy was created by Harville Hendrix in his landmark book, Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples. My husband and I had been in Imago Therapy for about 3 years when we separated, and while the process didn’t work to save our marriage, we decided to give it a try in our divorce.

An Imago Dialogue is a very controlled way of communicating hot-button issues; it contains a lot of direct mirroring, summarizing and empathic listening. It can seem stilted and odd, but is also one of the most powerful forms of communication I’ve ever seen.

So, in the middle of our first mediation session, I ask for an Imago Dialogue about the house.

I tell my husband that as I am the stay-at-home-mom, I am the person our son spends most of his time with, and that if we want to keep consistency for him, I should be the one to stay in the house, so that his life is disrupted as little as possible. My husband mirrors me word for word, summarizing my feelings and point of view.

He then asks me for an Imago Dialogue. I accept, and he expresses his point of view. He tells me that since I am the stay-at-home-mom, in essence wherever I am is home to our son. He says that as the working parent who is often not home in time for dinner, he already feels disenfranchised, and that if he moves into a new house, everything about it will feel uncomfortable and new for our son. He tells me that he’s scared of always feeling one step away from home with our son, and that if he stays in the house, at least one thing will be familiar and grounding to our child.

When I summarized his dialogue, I cried. I had never even considered his point of view. When I turned to the mediator to tell him that my husband would be keeping the house, his mouth was wide open. He stared at us, aghast, and said he’d never seen anything like what he’d just witnessed.

My husband turned to him and said, “Look, we tried like hell to make our marriage work; by God we’re going to make this divorce work.”

In the end I moved to a rental house, on the “wrong” side of the street (read: poorer, cheaper) that had peeling paint and an astroturf porch. Gone were my granite countertops, perfectly manicured lawn, and the status of living on the “right” side of the main thoroughfare.

But here’s what I got:

  1. I got to start over. This is no small thing. When my friends would come to my house after my separation they all commented on the energy. Fresh, happy, vibrant energy. They also commented on the dark energy at my ex’s house. It wasn’t his fault, he was just left with all that leftover…crud.
  2. I got financial peace. In my podcast episode with Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, Christina Lynn, Christina tells us that the biggest financial mistake women make after divorce is keeping the house. Bottom line: no way would I have been able to afford that mortgage. Literally, no way. When I was standing at the beginning of that road, I figured I’d be fine. Ten years later and I can say with absolute certainty that keeping that house would have been the biggest mistake I’d ever made.

The landlord eventually painted the house, and the neighborhood has improved. I now live in one of the most desirable neighborhoods in Los Angeles, and I’ve been in this house for so long that my rent is about half of market value. 🤷🏼‍♀️

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