I would love to say that therapy saves all relationships from separation. It does not. Some couples soar through the process reaching high levels of satisfaction, others settle for the status quo and still others decide to call it quits. If you have both decided that it’s time to end your long-term relationship or marriage, how do you create a healthy separation?
First, recognize that you are separating on three levels. Dr. Tammy Nelson has written that your relationship exists on various planes: emotional, physical and spiritual. Read below to learn about these three planes and why it will benefit you to discuss them with your partner.
1) Your emotional plane involves all the feelings that you’ve had for each other over time. These range from the attraction that drew you to each other, to the developed love, joy and laughter that you shared, you know, “the good times”. But the emotional plane also includes the tough emotions such as anger, resentment, frustration, fear and/or jealousy. Ultimately, it includes the sadness that you both might feel with the lack of resolve for your problems.
2) Your physical plane involves your living arrangement. You may own a house together. All that has gone into creating your home, your physical belongings, the separation of “stuff”, of money, need to be discussed. While these are temporary material possessions, couples become attached to them for reasons of security, memories and/or entitlement. If you struggle to separate the belongings on your own, hire a mediator to help you.
3) Your spiritual plane includes the hope you once had for the future together. This aspect is most important to discuss. It includes the life you both envisioned that didn’t pan out, the family that you created or planned to create, the caring of in-laws as they passed through the door of death. The spiritual plane holds deep memories and potentially feels the most wounded.
Why talk about all of these things with your partner? To create a healthy separation, you must allow yourselves to grieve what you don’t have anymore. Separations get nasty when partners try to plow through them without attempting to stay connected to each other during the process. Even if you think the separation is your partner’s “fault”, you both still experience grief. The grief will not end once discussed but you begin to release the grief when you share it with your partner.
It’s important to remember that neither one of you entered your committed partnership with the goal of ending it. You both dreamed, exchanged visions of a shared life together and indeed began to create a life together. Holding this truth in your mind and heart will help you maintain compassion for your partner – yes, even if he/she cheated on you.
If you stay in the blame game, consider that you might choose this to avoid harder feelings like grief and sadness. It certainly feels more powerful to blame someone than it does to feel sadness and disappointment. Blaming is a way to avoid difficult feelings as well as the ownership of how you too contributed to relationship’s decline.
Keep in mind that this exercise is particularly helpful if you have children. When children are involved, the pain of separation/divorce is amplified. Now you are not only grieving your vision of family but you also grieve for your children’s experience of family.
Have these difficult discussions with your partner for the sake of your children but more importantly have them for you. The more you can stay connected to each other during the separation process, the healthier the dynamics will be for all of you after you separate.
Ultimately the goal behind a healthy separation is to help you forgive your partner and yourself. When you reach the phase of forgiveness, the difficult feelings fade into the background. When you forgive, you make room for new opportunities to love again.