“I did not sign up for this!” Does this phrase resonate as a constant voice in a person’s mind? One may even question where the marital bliss went.
Marriage can be so fulfilling! However, for some, it has brought great challenges. Sometimes marriage will reach a point where the love seems to be a distant memory. The days of sitting with excitement waiting for the love of your life to call or come home so that you can greet him/her with loving arms and a passionate kiss have been replaced with anxiety and stomach cramps at the thought of having to be in the same space as the person with whom you were once in love.
You cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel and divorce has become a very close reality.
But, why do many skip separation and go straight to divorce? It’s because married couples have been separating in a non-productive manner, which has given separation a very poor and scary reputation. Many couples who have tried separation do so with the intent of taking a “breather” and then getting back together. However, many couples are separating and “living their best life!” as if they’re not married, and using separation as a hall pass rather than a timeout to think, regroup and repair. Then, when individuals within the marriage have gone through all the phases that come with love and heartbreak, they may have done so much damage that the original reason for separating has now given way to more unnecessary problems, including passivity and aggression.
Moreover, when couples consider separation, they may have arrived at a successful solution to save their marriage. One may ask, “how is this possible?” Let us think about this consideration.
There are many couples that seek counseling, remain in the same home and evolve to rebuild a stronger and happier marriage. However, there are some marriages where the communication and environment have become so toxic and unproductive that physical separation is imperative. But, this temporary situation of living apart doesn’t have to mean a permanent separation by which divorce is the only option.
Separating but remaining within the same environment may be extremely challenging. The two individuals may not have the communication and collaboration skills necessary to even begin the healing and repairing journey. Perhaps the anger is so intense that they are unable to come to terms with reuniting. Although they may have moments where there appears to be peace, they may be quickly besieged with the more consistent and prominent routine of chaos, discord and misery.
There are some key rules and strategies a couple can follow if the intent is to maintain their marriage by rebuilding the foundation and union from the inside out.
CHOOSE A TEMPORARY RESIDENCE THAT IS NOT 100% COMFORTABLE
Often times when couples separate, they either purchase or obtain a long-term lease at a usually nice, comfortable apartment, condo or townhome. Experiencing such a comfortable style of living…who would want to leave that? Setting yourself up for this amount of comfort predisposes you to the single life, when in reality you are still married with the intent of uniting again.
The truth? We go through phases during the season of heartbreak with the person we love. These phases may begin with anger. So, of course the single life reminder of coming home to “peace and quiet,” eating what we want, going where we want when we choose and basically living a life without having to consider the thoughts and feelings of others is a breath of fresh air (especially if you’ve been feeling suffocated within the walls of your marriage). Yet, there may come a phase where the true love on which you were founded again reveals itself. You have gone through the angry phase, the sad phase, the I-am-moving-on phase, the empowered and personal development phase—and now you are in the heart phase.
In a perfect world, this is a phase you’d probably want for your marriage. And if your relationship was founded on real love, your heart is with that person. However, you have now committed to another bill long-term and may have even gotten yourself so wrapped up in “single living” again, that you have added another level to your already challenging marriage.
If you’re questioning a long-term lease or purchase, what should you do? My best advice is to turn to a family or friend with whom you may be able to reside for a short period of time; avoid purchasing anything, but if you have to resort to a lease, secure a one-bedroom with a small square footage for a 6-month lease if the company does not have a reasonably priced month-to-month leasing contract available. If the proper amount of work is put in, six months will be the perfect amount of time to rebuild the relationship and transition back into the home.
CHOOSE THE BEST SEPARATION RESIDENCE THAT ALIGNS WITH YOUR PURPOSE
Okay, so what if you have a family member or friend that welcomes you into their guest room during this period of time? You may be able to save funds by going into another household rather than having to pay the expenses that come with leasing. Even though you may contribute to the household, the expenses will be far less. At either rate, you will still have a period of physical separation that is necessary for the health of your marriage and as individuals.
As great as this may sound, if it’s the wrong person or environment, it can be the nail in the coffin of your marriage. Why? Perhaps it’s your mother—the mother who cannot stand your wife or husband and has been longing for the day that you all split. Whoever the person is, you must ensure they support the reunion of your marriage 100%.
You also want to avoid those who live a lifestyle that could get you into hot water, therefore making things worse. After all, it is their home and they can continue living their life as they were before you were there. Thus, if this individual is a single person or party animal who always has gatherings with other single people at the home, this environment is not conducive to your goal and could open the door to distractions.
So, again, if you choose to reside with a friend or family member, make sure everyone in that household supports you and your marriage 100%. These supporters have the potential to be a true asset to the reunion of your marriage. Frequently, it is other households, particularly those that are married and with children, that may offer solutions to some or all of your issues.
HONOR YOUR COMMITMENT
Allowing physical space can be very healing. However, this does not mean ignoring your partner. The person is still your spouse. My advice is to allow at least one week where the permission is to decompress without verbal communication. A nice morning and good night text should always be present, but the phone conversations the first week should be very minimal to lessen the anxiety that has been associated with verbal communication. Also, this period of time is not a ticket to go out and come in at all hours of the night. Maintain respect for your union and the other person. You are still married with the intent of returning to each other. Do not add behaviors that are not conducive to that goal.
DO NOT DATE OR ENTERTAIN OTHER PEOPLE
Speaking of honoring your commitment, honor the faithfulness to each other. The separation is not a hall pass to date other people. This is a huge mistake many couples make during separation, which has given separation such a bad and scary name. One of the biggest mistakes and distractions you can make during separation is to bring another human being into the relationship. These people may be just a distraction, instead of facing your marital issues head-on.
It’s so easy to give into the comfort of another person’s affection. However, when that lust has dimmed, you’ve risked adding extra emotional ties, be it from you or this new person. You’ve also risked adding another challenging factor that you and your spouse now have to deal with. It is just another messy distraction that typically leads to more problems rather than the “prince charming” or “woman of your dreams” that you may have been longing for (a longing that, with some work and effort, more than likely already lies within your spouse).
SEEK WEEKLY COUNSELING
If you could solve your issues on your own, you would’ve done it already. Even the best communicator needs outside professional help when it comes to productively navigating matters of the heart. Oftentimes, the challenges couples face are rooted in the individual’s previous baggage, before you were ever in the picture. The right counselor will help each individual unveil where their communication and collaboration challenges are rooted and how to replace that behavior with ones that are more productive for a relationship. My advice is to interview two to three marriage and family therapists that suit you both.
Additionally, individual counseling is very important. In the beginning, it may be a challenge to undergo consistent counseling with your spouse. You will need time for your pain and concerns to be heard before you may be willing to put in the work required to for your marriage. Whether your perspective is warranted, misguided, right or wrong, everyone deserves the space to be heard without judgment and without the interjection of the other person’s perspective. Only then can the work really begin.
Counseling also requires a commitment. Sometimes it can seem like the session was “Team You” and you are excited about the next week. Then, the next week, it can feel like everyone is against you, and now you hate your counselor. But, if you did your thorough vetting, it’s probably not the counselor to blame. We must face those challenging truths in order to make relationships work. The key is seeking professional help and consistency.
DON’T GIVE UP
Those words speak for themselves. A successful and thriving marriage requires backbone. And maybe you didn’t even know how strong your backbone had to be to inspire your spouse into being their best so that your marriage can thrive. But remember that it’s never too late to start strengthening your own back!
Building a better you is going to benefit more than just your marriage. You will see your friendships, professional career, parenting and other relationships begin to evolve and strengthen, as well. Have you ever been proud of a past challenge you overcame? Imagine if you and your spouse could look back with pride at the challenges you overcame—to see how strong you were and are now. With that strength, you can feed into other marriages through your example of resilience and true love.
You become the example and inspiration so that more marriages can remain unbroken.
Now ask yourself, ”How strong is my backbone?”