I’m going to make the radical suggestion that sometimes a managed separation is the right thing. A separation is scary. It may be one of the hardest, bravest things you will ever do. It may nor may not be the thing that saves your marriage, but if you put the work in, I’m pretty sure it will save you.
I’m not advocating separation for everyone post D-Day. If you have a remorseful spouse who is doing the work, it's reasonable to remain together and work this through. It’s a valid choice and being together gives you opportunities to reconnect and communicate. There are, however, situations where a separation might give you the time and space to breathe and think about what the next right thing is for you.
When might you consider a separation?
•When your spouse continues to blatantly continue the affair. This is incredibly harmful to you. You are already traumatized and in PTSD high alert. Having the person who harmed you continue just causes more trauma, to the point where our spouse himself becomes a trigger.
•When your spouse, after attempting reconciliation, resumes contact and doesn’t disclose this to you or resumes the full affair. More pain and trauma for you.
•When your spouse violates any of your rules for reconciliation: refuses counseling, refuses transparency, refuses to disclose contact, continues inappropriate friendships, lies about where they are or what they are doing. Whatever your requirements are. I’m not taking about a mistake or momentary lapse. I’m talking about willful, ongoing, intentional violations of your terms.
•When your spouse is gaslighting you, manipulating you or children (if you have them), starting fights and arguments and then shifting blame onto you. Do you feel like everything is always your fault? Do you come out of conversations wondering what the hell just happened? You may be experiencing gaslighting.
•When you are a long way out from D-Day, but your spouse has not done the work and is more interested in sweeping things under the rug than dealing with your pain. And you feel nothing but the plain of lethal flatness.
The bottom line is that you are in pain and while you are in pain you can’t manage other aspects of your life. A managed separation may give you relief from the immediate pain so you can sort out the larger issues. It may also be the wake-up call for your wayward spouse. Enough is enough, you say. Here’s a dose of what life will be like without me. Sometimes this works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Taking care of yourself and getting you out of harm’s way is the primary motivation behind choosing a separation.
There are many different types of separations that can range from In-House, Psychological Separations to Physical, Predivorce Separations (the book Taking Space: How to use separation to explore the future of yourrelationship explains these options in clear language and provides a guide to help you navigate a separation.) If you and your spouse are trying to work things out but are stuck, an in-house separation might give you room to breathe and send a clear message that he needs to step up. If your spouse is still fully engaged in destructive behaviors, getting him out from under your roof so he can’t cause new, daily pain, might be the option you need. Consider seeing a marriage or family counselor together to help guide you through a separation process, especially if children are involved and you will be physically separating.
My ex and I had been seeing a marriage counselor. She was phenomenal and if my ex had not been lying about his intentions and had really done the work she suggested, we might not be divorced. Deciding to separate was scary and not easy for me. It was six abusive, ambivalent, roller coaster months post D-Day before I finally told him he needed to move out. And even then, he manipulated me into it because he was too much of a coward to just leave and own what he was doing. We continued to meet with the marriage counselor and she became our separation manager. She helped us outline how we’d manage communication, the kids, schedules and the type of separation we would be doing. It was to be a constructive separation – in which we each took physical time apart to find ourselves, work on our own issues and break old patterns of communications and behavior so we could potentially come back together in a healthy way. He moved out three months after I told him he needed to leave. This was the time frame we planned with the counselor and allowed him time to find a place and for us to plan together how we were going to present this to our kids.
You can decide if you still go to counseling during the separation, with the purpose of working on your relationship or, less often, with the purpose of managing any conflict or housekeeping items. We continued for four months until he announced that he wanted a divorce (this is another story and includes some of the classics of Stupid Sh!t Cheaters Say.) We started working with a mediator toward divorce.
During the separation, I really took to heart the counselor’s advice to dig into my stuff. I want to talk about that too, but it will come in its own post. The point I am trying to make today is that a separation may be the scariest step you take in taking charge of your own health, life and future. Not all separations end in divorce, especially if both members of the couple can acknowledge their faults, communicate honestly and are willing to work to resolve issues. If you are working on this on your own, turn your focus from the relationship on to you. Work on your own self. This will have enormous pay offs whether you remain together or eventually part.
Note: please be advised that depending on the state or country where you live, there may or may not be a legal status for separation. Please consult with a lawyer, if you have any questions about what your rights are. If you believe you may be in physical danger in the event of separation, please contact a local women’s shelter, or in the US, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 for advice and assistance.