Thinking About Separating From Your Partner?
There are a few positive reasons for deciding to separate from a partner or spouse.
ONE. A separation can help a couple get off the fence about their relationship. If ambivalence has kept the relationship stalled, it’s in the doldrums, a separation can provide wind. It can be healthy, invigorating and useful.
TWO. A separation can provide space to sort out thoughts and feelings. Separation offers an environment to reflect without being pulled into usual patterns, disagreements, or entanglements.
THREE. Separation offers a chance to be alone, which tends to take us off autopilot. There we are in the silence of a location that used to include two people, and now there’s only one. Who are we then?
There are many ways to separate, depending on circumstances. Here are two.
Separation can serve as a step towards divorce. It can be a way to let each other down easy, or at least easier. This kind of separation is a waiting period, a breather, a pause — which can be truly beneficial. After some clear downtime, the couple either gives the relationship another go, or more likely they begin divorce proceedings.
I did this with one of my marriages. My husband moved from California where we lived back to Washington, DC. I moved to a new residence in a nearby city. After time to acclimate to being alone, and having time to think and feel our way through things, we made the formal decision (long distance) to divorce.
Separating As Partners
Separating as partners is quite different than separation as a first step towards divorce. This second way has the potential to influence the outcome in significant ways.
Separating as partners is for the specific purpose of taking time apart to grow individually. The idea is that when both people are in better shape, they can make a clearer decision about the partnership. Any leaning toward divorce is temporarily taken off the table.
I meet with the couple to help them plan their separation. We talk specifics, such as what parameters would support them in getting the most out of time apart? For example, financial arrangements, who lives where, how to talk about it with others (exactly what to say), rules for contacting each other (emergencies/ questions), and fidelity/sex, and so on. We make sure they are on the same page about time apart.
I meet with the couple again at the six month mark. If more time is needed by either person, it is granted without question, up to a year. At the end of one year, we explore what has changed and how they want to move forward.
Separating as partners is an ideal way to clarify and unravel confusing patterns in an entangled marriage, as long as there are clear agreements about the separation.
When things crashed about four years into my relationship with Eric, I chose this way of separating, although we didn’t separate physically. (Most people with a marriage in trouble can’t do this, but the short story is that I was both able and willing.) While continuing to live together, I went on a mission for myself (to find my loving self and bring that self into the partnership).
Only in retrospect did I realize what a change of heart it was for me not to care if Eric participated with me in reading books or doing classes. He was entirely off the hook. I let him know that I was heading into the wilderness to do my personal work. I asked nothing of him other than honest feedback, which he gave without hesitation.
What I learned during that next year was that my partnership with Eric wasn’t working because I hadn’t brought my real self to the partnership. Realizing that my true partner is my Inner Being, not another person, turned my marriage around.
(That’s a big subject, I know, and there’s so much more to say about that. My second book is all about this, and it’s written, waiting in line to be edited by a wonderful developmental editor. I’ll keep you posted.)
After three months of personal exploration, my relationship with Eric began to thrive. I felt encouraged. After six months, I had gotten to know myself in entirely new ways, and was expressing that into our relationship. After a year our relationship had changed completely, because I had changed. Eric responded to a new me.
Change yourself, change your relationship. That’s what I did.
It’s also what I teach others in sessions or classes for In Care of Relationships. It’s unreasonable (and not even logical) to expect individuals who have not learned how to partner with themselves to successfully partner with someone else.
If they do partner, the relationship won’t be based on love. It’ll be reactive and defensive, which creates a kind of circular misery, a sad and spinning pile of heartache, disappointment and failure. Logically speaking, how could a marriage where the two people don’t know themselves or aren’t being themselves be otherwise?
It takes one person to change a marriage.
My year of personal work taught me that to live a happy life, “know thyself and to thine own self be true.” (Shakespeare, Socrates)
To have a happy and productive partnership, we must bring our true self to it. When we hold hands with our true partner (our Inner Being) we are able to partner lovingly with another human. It’s a simple idea, though profound, and it makes all the difference.
My next blog will share guidelines about separating as well as questions to consider in planning a separation.