‘Wasband and werewife’: Why this separated New Zealand couple decided to stay in the same home
Couple say they were ‘grumpy and hostile’ before divorce but save more than US$1,000 a week from choosing to still live together and it’s no big deal to the kids
It could be the housing crisis or it could be the natural evolution in relationships but there’s a new type of family emerging in New Zealand, behind closed doors.
Laurel and Geoff McLay’s marriage ended two years ago but the couple didn’t want to give up their home in Auckland in New Zealand so they decided that, instead of moving into different houses, they’d just move into different rooms.
“We love our neighbourhood but we couldn’t afford to both stay here, in separate homes,” Laurel explains.
They estimate they save about NZ$1500 (US$1075) a week by living together but say that’s far from the only benefit.
It all started two years ago when the couple realised that, despite being committed to each other and to raising their children, they were often “grumpy and hostile”.
Realising their marriage was no longer working but they were still good friends, the couple decided to keep their companionship.
“Firstly, we moved into separate rooms. Next, we drew up and agreed a handful of guidelines around child care, finances, holidays, Christmas, socialising and dating other people. That all happened without drama,” she says.
“Then we both got on with living our ‘separate but together’ lives, and over time, it just became ‘what we do’. And now, nearly two years down the track we make pretty good flatmates and co-parents. The energy in the house is way better than it was, and that’s because neither of us are trying to make this something that it’s not.”
The couple’s two children - two boys aged five and eight - have coped wonderfully with the change, the proud mum says.
“It is no big deal for them, they now have two beds to climb into.”
And as for the relationship between what she now refers to as “wasband” and “werewife”, she says things could not be better.
“Geoff is my rock, still my biggest supporter, the most amazing father to my children, but he is not my husband, he is my ‘wasband’,” Laurel wrote in a blog post about the change in the family.
“We still argue but now we have freedom,” she explains, adding that they are now “better friends” than they were while married.
“I think society has a long way to go in broadening the definition of marriage or relationships. It still seems pretty much defined as boyfriend/girlfriend, defacto, married, separated, divorced or widowed,” she says.
“And as someone who was transitioning from married to separated, I immediately assumed that one of us had to move out of the beloved family home and set up a second house for the kids.”
The couple looked options such as “bird-nesting”, “where instead of the kids moving between two houses, both Geoff and I would do the switching, while the kids continued to live at home” but quickly realised that would not be viable in the long run.
Laurel says that ever since speaking up about the new living arrangements, she’s found that there are a lot of people out there living this way, behind close doors.
“It hadn’t even occurred to us as a possibility. We’re still a family, just a different kind of family,” she says.