A common question I receive is about my view on separation, can it work to help a couple reconnect or is it really the end if we do it?
It’s a common question because so many people can’t stand their living situation anymore and so they request a need for time and space to think on their own.
What they want is FREEDOM from the years of suffering.
They are usually not quite ready to throw in the towel, but they are also not committed to the marriage either.
They may be in a values conflict around their children, or they may be wondering if they can trust themselves.
I’ve seen other people full of anxiety and are not capable of making a good decision for themselves.
If the couple gets the structure of their separation wrong they can end up in an exhausting “separation limbo” and that can go on for years.
When couples ask me about separation I always say that if there are no other options (especially once assessed) then the separation must be managed so the separation creates a chance for the couple to understand their situation properly.
It’s important the couple are informed enough to make intelligent decisions because reactive fear-based emotional states are not conducive to logical outcomes.
For many people their emotional driven decision has created more stress for them down the line.
So with the rest of their lives at stake it’s a good idea to slow down the process so the couples outcome is a safe one.
In most cases, I will not agree a separation is a good idea (you’ll see why as you go through this post), but there are exceptions and so the merit of separation must be assessed for the good of the couple’s outcome.
In relationships if one person is unhappy then both are unhappy so they must only be together if it’s a win-win relationship.
It’s also important the separation has rules especially if the view is to work out if they should be together or not. It isn’t a free pass to engage other sexual partners as this really will muddy the waters.
Separation must be about learning
Understanding the couples disconnect through learning is the safest way for an effective separation.
If there is no desire to learn then it’s likely there is an acceptance that where they are is all there is (the person feels they have nothing to learn) and there is nowhere to go – and so the separation is likely to really mean divorce for the person asking for space.
The exceptions are when illness and extreme anxiety mean the person cannot function and so learning is not possible at that time.
Even if the couple is genuinely wrong for each other the learning will be critical for each person to understand the problems they could have brought to the table without knowing.
In the many cases I have seen, the couple’s separation is not about learning it’s been about them cycling through the same level of thinking that created the problem, in other words, it’s not helpful to them at all.
In other cases, the separation is just about the person not having to think, again about their problems so there is no learning just relief.
The problem with the concept of “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is they are leaving their future to the roll-of-a-dice.
It could happen, they might miss each other, but it’s going to be a fingers-crossed strategy with no learning attached.
In this situation all the couple/person is waiting for is a feeling to descend and if they do get back together what are the chances of the destructive cycles happening all over again?
So they decide to separate with no support function what will happen?
You see the danger of separation without support is very simple, the wrong conclusion can be made and now everyone’s life is affected.
Or they do miss each other and within months the problems are back and now the couple are in danger of no more chances.
In addition to all this, the problems that should have been uncovered through learning are then taken into the next relationship(s) and their children can be affected by this repetition of the same problem(s).
Attaching the feeling to the wrong thing
The person wanting the space or separation is instantly going to feel better or relieved once their partner has gone, they may have some sadness, but relief will be over-riding energy.
The question that is rarely addressed is this: Why does that person feel relief what is that relief really attached to?
If the person attaches their relief to their partner not being at home, then the thought of them coming back will create natural stress even anxiety and they will not want that to happen, this survival mode will block any learning.
The unseen problem is this person is reacting to an assumption and so will not be learning anything about themselves or the problematic dynamic they created in their marriage.
IMPORTANT: What if their relief is attached to something else, and that something else is at the root of the couple’s challenge.
CRITICAL: Expanding the thinking
For example: What if the person is relieved now they don’t have to keep alive all the problems within them.
You see in the marriage the person will have needed to keep all their problems front-of-mind to protect themselves.
They will not have let the past go they will be fully attached to it and this enables their wall of protection to stay up and on guard.
This process of keeping the wall up is exhausting for that person and they will have escaped the marriage to get relief from this process, so visiting friends, family all helps to give them temporary relief.
What we are learning here is the relief is due to them taking down their own wall and reconnecting to themselves, wouldn’t that process be a massive relief for anyone?
The BIG unanswered question
What if the person could have removed the wall whilst they were in the relationship because they now understand what was happening and why.
Men and women are confusing each other all the time and so it’s very easy to conclude a partner is being mean or doesn’t care, when in reality their behaviors were misunderstood and they did care.
Many people I see are protecting themselves from partners that do genuinely love them, but because they don’t feel it and so their own reactive fears take over.
I met one lady who was so shocked to see she had run this pattern three times in her life and was only now seeing this destructive pattern in her 60s – that’s a lot of life wasted.
Others are simply fed-up with their lives and in their mind they attach those problems to the marriage.
You must never change who you are again
The biggest problem is people can end up bending and twisting themselves to try to give the relationship what they think it needs only to hate how they feel about themselves in the process.
What if they learned how to support the relationship, but never had to change themselves again?
Having to change who we are is very stressful and emotionally painful, but people are doing this without knowing so this would be the first step to help them decide if the relationship is right or wrong for them.
The function of the support
It’s important to stress that at any stage in the process the help or the supporting function must not have an agenda to fix the couple or get them back together.
The function of the support must be to help the couple see the reality of their situation so they are armed to decide which way the relationship should go.
Slowing things down
Most relationship problems are simply a sign that something is needs to change and that change isn’t separation or divorce.
I don’t expect couples to naturally understand their problems, but it’s important to know that just because you can’t see a solution, it doesn’t mean there isn’t one.
Separation and divorce really should only be used in extreme cases sadly too many people are unaware of what their minds are capable of and they let their feelings run their decisions totally unaware that feelings can change and they do!