You might feel like you have reached a dead end. You are tired, burned out, hurt, broken and have totally lost the desire and will to try and make this relationship work. It is what has lead to your separation. Usually separation comes after months or even years of tension and turmoil in a marriage, or perhaps after an affair that has left you completely heartbroken.
Some of my clients during this time ask me: “after all this hurt is it still possible to save this marriage?”, “isn’t the fact that we have gotten to this point an indication that it truly is over?”. Sometimes a separation is a very needed wake up call for both parties to re-evaluate their priorities and the commitments they once made to one another. It can give you both time to think and reflect and look within.
Here are some tips for you to navigate this period of time productively:
Take your time: A change of heart is something that has to come from within. Give yourself and your spouse all the time you both need to truly get clear with your feelings towards one another. The biggest mistakes I have seen people make is either rush to back to quickly, which backfired, or push one another away as a form of emotional protection. Take time to just be, be with yourself, be with the discomfort of being lonely, uncertain and afraid. Sit with your feelings, but do not act on them.
Look within and avoid pointing fingers: When things go wrong we often tend to look for something or someone to blame. If you are looking to reconcile your relationship with your spouse it will be counterproductive to point fingers and spew hatred and anger towards him/her. If you are hurting and need to share your pain, seek a counselor or write a journal where you can safely express your emotions, but understand that going into attack mode and pushing all the blame onto your spouse will only increase your resentment and hostility towards one another. This is a good time to really be honest with yourself and turn your attention within and ask yourself what your share in your marital issues is. It is important to recognize the changes you need to make if you really want to give your marriage another shot. Remember, it takes two to tango.
Clearly communicate: It is crucial that you both sit down and establish clear boundaries. I have seen so many couples either get hurt or sabotage the possibility of reconciliation, due to a lack of boundaries or a lack or respecting them. It is best to refrain from sexual intimacy in order to maintain clarity and give yourself the time to deal with your emotions. Make up sex can be very tempting and a feel great, especially when you are separated, but it will NOT resolve the core issues and will only confuse both of you. Another important thing to discuss are finances, which is something most people seem to avoid. Either communicate directly or sit down with a third party (mediator, mentor, coach, counselor), who specializes in relationship coaching to help you establish a clear understanding of how the financial responsibilities will be handled during the separation time.
Protect your children: If the separation is hard for you and you have children, imagine how hard it must be for them. Be respectful of your spouse and never badmouth or involve your children. You children love BOTH of you and hate being put in the middle. It is traumatizing and unfair to them. Have a clear visitation plan and don’t withhold your children from seeing, or talking to your spouse. Remember, your children need to know that they are loved by both of you, so do your best to maintain some sense of normalcy during your separation time. Be sure to explain to your children that mom and dad are going through some difficult times, but are trying to work things out. Set an example of how differences can be resolved in a healthy way. Remember children learn best through modeling, so teach them valuable lessons for life by handling this situation with grace and respect.
Get clarity and work on the core issues: One of the biggest benefits we can get during a separation trial, is renewed perspective. Often when we are in the midst of a crises it is really hard to think and get clarity. Taking a few steps back and viewing the picture from a distance can give us greater insight. Take this time to really reflect on your marriage and identify what the core issues are that have caused for things to get to this point. Even if the cause is an affair, or an addiction, know that behind these behaviors there are always several underlying root causes. For many of the couples I work with it is often rooted all the way back to childhood experiences or traumas which have never been dealt with. If you are clear on the root causes and you are both willing to work on these issues, seek out to a professional marriage/relationship counselor or coach. You both need to be willing to do the work it takes and own your issues. If you are both willing to open up to forgive each other and take this difficult challenge as an opportunity to grow together you are on the right path. Many of my clients face the problem that their spouses do not want to go for counseling, and give up. In situations like that, it might be more challenging to create the necessary changes and shifts, but not at all impossible. Sometimes, all it takes is for one person to start doing the work needed which then spills into the relationship. As Ghandi said “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Date again: I am a big believer in dating again. Back in the day when I got separated and we were thinking of reconciling I had requested two things that I knew where MUSTs in order for us to re-build our relationship. One was counseling again, the second dating. I felt strongly that I wouldn’t be able to help him resolve his addiction, and that we needed time to learn to feel safe around one another again. Sadly my ex was unwilling to try this approach and eventually after years of trying we gave up. That being said I have since counseled many couples who have rekindled their marriages and been able to re-build their love, by doing just that. Date again, remember what made them fall in love in the first place. So if you are ready for closer contact and want to get your feet wet again, start going on occasional dates with your spouse. Be kind to one another, focus on the good, remember what made you fall in love, and implement what your coach or counselor has been teaching you.
Remember to take it slow, it’s all about baby steps. Time heals all wounds. Take the time you both need and be kind to yourself in the process.