Sometimes in marriage, one person expresses a desire for ‘time’ to take a break to ponder their future with their current spouse. They feel physical space will provide the mental and emotional space needed to help them decide moving forward. This can be a difficult thing to hear and accept for the ‘other’ party – who by and large – doesn’t want to separate. There are those couples, who both agree that time and space will provide the clarity needed for both people to help them decide the fate of their future – together or apart. Taking the time needed can be helpful and doesn’t always mean that the couple will permanently separate and eventually divorce. Many couples have found a way back to one another after taking some needed time.
Sometimes you have to take a few steps back to move forward in a more positive direction.
Regardless of your situation, it’s not just a matter of packing up your bags and moving to the nearest apartment – it is much much more complicated. The three most important words in this process? HAVE A PLAN. Without a plan – a well thought-out plan – only encourages more chaos that will be piled on top of a ‘could be’ disaster that’s waiting to happen.
Meet Lisa and Steve – married for 25+ years. What NOT to do…
Lisa and Steve had been experiencing marital difficulties for a long time. They attended marital counseling in the past, but it didn’t prove successful. They both continued to feel stuck and unhappy. They decided to give it another try, though Steve was more indecisive than Lisa, who continued to be 100% in the marriage. After a candid session about the issues that negatively started to erode the marriage, Steve remained uncertain about his decision. Although they had discussed separation together in an informal way, Lisa believed they were working to truly salvage the marriage. Steve was giving her messages – though mostly mixed – about his commitment to the marriage. And although he had moved out of the marital home for a brief period of time, he moved back in. This continued to give Lisa the impression they would work on their marriage. However, unbeknownst to Lisa, even as they continued to start to address their issues, she discovered that Steve had signed an apartment lease – without telling her. For one year! He said that he ‘needed to find himself’ and that he would be back possibly in a couple of months. Wait – what? He didn’t have a conversation with her about his plans, thoughts, their two children, and the home, financial matters. Nothing. And. I. Mean. Nothing.
My disclaimer? I have to admit that no matter how long I am in practice, stories like these continue to blindside me and leave me with the deer in the headlight look – even when I know the back story and where each person comes from.
So, you can imagine that Lisa was beside herself. In order to help her figure out how to hold a conversation with Steve, we discussed several questions that should be asked to help her navigate this huge change in her life, provide some stability and clarity, allowing her to manage what will be an emotional roller coaster. These questions can help you too.
6 Types of Questions to Get Started:
They are experiencing financial difficulties, so having two homes to pay for will ultimately make things that much more difficult. Who is paying for what bills? How will they be paid? How will we manage the ones that we currently have? How will this affect our accounts for the future?
When will we be sitting down and talking to the children? What will you/we tell them? How will this affect their day-to-day lives? How will you ensure their safety and make sure they will be ok emotionally and mentally? When will you be seeing them? How will we communicate about this?
3. Relationship status.
What will our relationship look like? Will we both be able to date? How will this impact our current issues? How much contact will we have and what might that look like? This is very important because people who are physically separated just assume (eeekk..) that dating is now on the table.
4. Reconciliation Plan (or not.)
Is there a plan for reconciliation? Will we still be working on things together, or is this a true separation? And, if a true separation, what legal direction do we need to take?
5. Marital home.
Since he was leaving, what are the parameters and boundaries about coming and going within the marital home? Where will the lines be drawn? Are there boundaries?
6. His plan.
Steve said he needed to ‘find himself’ and, although Lisa isn’t really sure what this means, it is important that Steve figures that out and tell her. Without this extremely important information, she will be stuck ‘waiting,’ which creates inner angst and creates even more questions – that may or may not get answered.
These are not the only questions that have to be asked and answered, but by offering these as a starting point with guidance and support, Lisa feels a little better about the conversations that need to take place so that she can plan for herself and her children. A plan in these situations is mandatory. And at the very least it provides a starting point moving forward. It provides something tangible to return to, to change, to provide stability, and a level of certainty. At the very least, your marriage deserves that.
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