Question: I have had it! I want a divorce! My husband treats me like I don't exist, and I have been hurt for too long. I try to tell him how much it hurts me when he ignores me, but we just go around and around the issue. I don't know what else to do but to leave. Maybe that will get his attention. Do you think I have good reasons for wanting to separate from him?
Don: There are 3 REALLY BAD REASONS to push for a separation:
1. For revenge or punishment over emotional hurt. This is where you want to teach your partner a lesson so he will care about you more.
2. Not knowing how else to let your spouse know that you are unhappy.
3. Wanting to avoid facing the real underlying problems.
Your question contains all three BAD reasons. Why are they bad, or better said, unproductive? First, you are using the threat of separation, or the actions of separation, as a strategy to manipulate him into giving you more positive attention and consideration. And, if this gets you the attention you want, it will be short-lived. Why? Scaring your spouse into giving you positive attention may work in the short run, but because he will be motivated by fear, not respect for you, your tactics will eventually fail. You will both still be ignoring the elephant in the room—the underlying problems in your relationship.
Keep in mind that separation in a marriage is used for specific effects. For some couples, a separation is the first step in the divorce process; neither person wants to save the marriage. Separation, for improving or saving a marriage, is best used to cool things down. Once both parties are calmer, then each person can get at what s/he each really wants and are really willing to address in order to actuall have a have a better relationship. A separation of this kind interrupts the negative emotional storm and allows the couple to re-engage from a calmer place. Then there is a better chance that each person can learn new ways to grow instead of exchanging emotional lightening bolts. So, you need to really think through your reasons and decide what the separation will be about.
A controlled separation works best when you and your spouse are clear about your reasons for separating. Do you really want a divorce, or do you want to interrupt a serious emotional drama in order to find new ways to improve and strengthen your marriage? If you and your husband really want to work on your marriage, there are guidelines that you must agree on. What are those? ONLY THE ONES YOU CHOOSE. Here is a suggested starter list of some of the basics:
1. Time Limit: For example three to six months. (Note: It may take at least 30 days to cool off.) Depending on your situation it might be best to decide not try to deal with any of the chronic marriage problems until after a period of time, such as one week, three weeks, a month--whatever each person needs. This is an excellent time for individual counseling to get yourself center more INISE yourself instead of circular arguments with your spouse in your head.
2. No attorney filing: Agree that neither of you will file for divorce during this time. This keeps the fear down and allows space for both people to look inside rather than over their shoulders.
3. Someone moves out: Decide who, when and where.
4. Split finances: Fair and just use and access.
5. Welfare of children: What is best for them with regular access to both parents.
6. Keep it confidential: Who is to be told and who isn’t.
7. Spend time together: For example, dinner where marriage problems are not discussed.
8. Having intimate relations: Whether to pause or continue with sexual relationship with each other.
9. Dating others: This is discouraged. If there is dating with others, it is unlikely the marriage will be able to continue.
10. Terminating the agreement: Whether one spouse can terminate the agreement or both must agree.
A controlled working separation can give you both a chance to more calmly look into your own heart about what matters most to you and investigate the imaginary negative conversations you are having in your head that keep you distracted from facing how you really fee. Do you really want to be married anymore? This question can't really be addressed in the heat of constant emotional upheaval. With a controlled separation, once you both feel ready, you can began couple's counseling and began the life-long practice of learning to dialogue with each other, instead of hurling emotional criticism in debates.
Over time, marriage forces all of us to be honest—with ourselves and with our mates. If not direct, it eventually comes out as yelling, sarcasm, gestures, withdrawal or spills out in inappropriate places. Honesty is best served calmly, otherwise, your partner will not hear WHAT you are saying and just see you as mean.
If your best friend knows more about how you really feel than your spouse does, this points to real trouble. Your spouse needs to know how you really feel and what you really need without threats. I highly suggest marriage counseling to have this very serious conversation. This can help you step back and look both at your marriage and yourself.
If he won't go, you go first. No matter how good or bad, marriage is one of the hardest and most challenging relationships you will ever have. You do need to be treated better. So does he. Why? A stable and happy marriage can only be created by stable and happy people. Marriage forces us to choose between learning to be happy through honesty, consideration, and mutual self-respect or miserable through threats and subtle manipulation. Reach out for help before you speak of separation. Bring it up and discuss it first in marriage counseling. Give this compassion to yourself.
Once you threaten separation in anger, whether you mean it or not, sometimes the control you think you will have ends up snowballing in ways you never imagined. Slow down. Get professional feedback. Calmly invite your partner to join you. Tell him you are worried about the health of the marriage, that you want to face what is needed to see what is truly possible, because it hurts too bad to continue the way it is.
You don't get what you expect in marriage. You get what you inspect. Create some space for you both to look carefully at what is really on the line and what you both are really willing to do about it. Not just words; action. It is the change of behavior that you both are looking at the other to do. Start the change, without expectation of the other changing, and see what happens?