QUESTION: How do you talk to your partner when THEY want a separation and YOU don't?
DON'T discredit your spouse's point of view. It will only make them dig deeper into their already established position.
Each spouse has participated in what is called "belief bias," where people tend to gather friends and opinions that support their already established impassioned point of view. Rare is the one good friend that would say, "Yeah, I can see how she/he wants to leave you. You have treated her/him badly for a long time." You may not agree with the way your mate sees things, but you need to respect their right to have their own viewpoint, realizing that there is always something there for you to take seriously about yourself.
DO keep in mind that a series of shorter conversations will be necessary, especially in the beginning. Intensity will be high on both sides, so you will need to take breaks.
DO take breaks, often. Each party must take responsibility for monitoring level of intensity. On an emotional intensity scale of 0-the lowest and 10-the highest, when either of you feel an increase to be 5-6 or over in intensity, ask to take a break. Say, "I need to take a break, so I can calm down and be more reasonable. I will be back shortly."
DON’T tell your spouse, "You are too upset now. You need to take a break." Saying anything that even hints at assuming you know how they feel will derail any attempt at real conversation. You can ask them how they feel if you are willing to accept it, but best not to tell them how they feel. Again, this is probably one of the reasons they want a separation.
DO, after a break began by finding something your spouse said in the last conversation that you CAN agree with, such as, "You are right. I am pushing you to stay, and I need to back off from that." PAUSE. Most likely your spouse will say thank you and may offer up something to you, too. It is important that what you say is TRUE. And if not, correct it with your spouse later. Neither of you have much credibility with each other right now, so rebuilding trust takes rigorous honesty and the humility to come back and reset. This builds the dignity you need to be able to start liking yourself for the right reasons. Your partner will be able to see that you are turning toward the process of transformation and away from the actions and attitudes that got you to the point of a separation conversation. You have dug your hole daily for a long time. To get out of if will take less time than digging it, but don't expect your partner to trust in your newfound self awareness until it has been proven over time and in both good and bad situations.
DON'T appease. Appeasement is giving in to something you don't agree with and really resent and is often misconstrued as compromise, where both parties may not like the agreement but they don't carry resentment either. Don't give in to anything with the expectation that you will win over your spouse. They will not feel they owe you anything at this point. This is most likely what you did in your marriage that has you on the eve of separation.
DO try to compromise where reasonable. A real compromise enables two people to agree to something that neither may like but both are willing to consider. You may not be able to come to a compromise on separation, but it is important to try. Each time you return after a break in the conversation, bring something of substance that includes SOME of what your partner really wants and something that you want.
DON'T say "I WILL DO ANYTHING." You won't. Such a promise didn’t work in the past, and it won’t work now. If a separation is inevitable, you can only change yourself. Your spouse may leave no matter what, but it is never to late to change yourself for the better, whether or not you save your marriage.
DO BE TRUTHFUL, DON'T LIE. All people lie in some situations. Not in all situations, however, now is not the time. That is most likely a key ingredient of how you got yourself to this point--lying to yourself and lying to your partner. Instead of trying to be liked, try being real and as sincere and authentic as possible. You are only yourself when you are honest, first with yourself then with your partner. When you, or anyone, lie, you don't feel like yourself inside. The more you get away from how you really feel and try to manipulate others, the less you feel like yourself. Marriage is one of the most challenging relationships that you will ever have, because the emotional committed relationship forces the truth out of us sooner or later. That is why some couples do improve their marriage with a separation or on the doorstep of the courthouse, because they HAVE started being honest, first with themselves and then with their partners.
DON'T build a squadron of friends and family and bombard spouse with advice. THEY ARE OVERWHELMED already. This will only push them to become entrenched in their viewpoint, and it will push you to dig deeper into yours.
DO try to keep these conversations away from any children. Try to get to a point of action before you tell them, if you decide upon a separation. This is hard and can't always be done, but try nonetheless for everyone's sake.
DO remember that ACTIONS or INACTIONS got you here, not how you feel or what you think. Your partner knows how much you care by your ACTIONS or INACTIONS. Not by your imaginary conversations in your head. REAL conversations with REAL people make imaginary ones go away.
DO control your impulses. No Facebook, Twitter or YouTube announcements or reactions. Slow down all responses to emails, texts, and phone calls. Only respond when your intensity level is under 2 or 3, even if it means awkward pauses.
Marriage counseling and Individual counseling can be a great help to sort out the emotional waves, the needs, the wants, the wishes, and the reality of what is possible in your marriage, your separation or your divorce. Working to be a more honest and more mature person, no matter what direction your situation takes, allows you to start liking yourself again. Only then, can you really like anyone else.