Wednesday, June 25, 2014

When You Hear, “I Want To Separate.”

Separation“What does a separation mean? Are we taking a step toward divorce? I’m not ready to give up on our marriage.”

The message that your partner wants a separation can be overwhelming. But how you respond can make a difference in whether the relationship further erodes or improves.

Your natural reaction is to resist a separation. You argue for all the reasons why a separation is uncalled for, dangerous or impractical. Unfortunately, your arguments are met by your partner’s case for a separation, perhaps even making his or her resolve stronger.

So what is a better response to this message? Responding with empathy, patience and self-care are more likely to minimize the damage from a separation and maximize your chance of rebuilding an emotional connection with your partner.

Empathy

Instead of arguing against separation, your first effort should be to understand your partner’s message.  Send the message that you want to understand what your partner wants from the separation. Does he or she want time to decide whether to remain committed to the relationship? Is the message really one of wanting a divorce but trying to soften the message?

Often the message is, “I want you to know how much pain I feel in this relationship.” By showing empathy for the pain, you can avoid a separation and focus on improving the relationship.This conversation can show your mate that you want to understand and respond to him or her. Responding to what your partner wants takes patience.

Patience

While your initial goal may be based on a desire to stop the separation, a better goal is to prolong the decision-making process. The decision to separate has many facets to be considered; the decision to divorce has many more factors to be considered. Your mate can appreciate the need for time to make a reasonable (versus an emotional) decision.

Having patience can help to drain strong emotions out of the decision-making process. Listening and cooperating with your partner can make the decision less urgent. Being patient requires you to be able to harness your best self.

Self-care

Your partner’s message is painful, you feel rejected and afraid for the future. This pain can lead you to respond in a desperate way that is degrading and unattractive to your spouse. Now is the time to present your best self!

You must find an avenue to express your pain in a healthy manner. Don’t expect your partner to lend an understanding ear at this time. Talking to a friend or family member is great but you may feel uncomfortable revealing information that could color future relationships. Reaching out to a counselor or clergyperson in order to find “a safe” ear to listen to your pain and fears may be the best route.

Further advice can be found in my post on how to respond to an ambivalent partner’s message, “I love you but I’m not in love with you” (http://goo.gl/CXx6mh).