QUESTION: How do you talk to your partner when YOU want a separation and THEY don't?!
Don: Remember that they will be in shock. And won't remember much of what you say.
DON'T expect them to be reasonable. You most likely have been chewing on this decision for quite a while, and they either didn't know that or have not taken you seriously. When you voice your desire or your decision, no matter how you say it, they will be shocked. Most likely they will go into denial, try to discredit your reasons, and plead with you not to go forward in that direction.
DO convey that you know that what you are asking for may be unexpected, and you want them to have at least a little time to digest what is happening.
DON'T rush them. Don't push your desire for separation aside, just slow down. You are ahead of your spouse in the processing of feelings about what is happening.
DO expect them to bring up the children if this applies. Agree that this is an important point, because it is, no matter which way the marriage goes.
DON'T expect your fantasies of how you see the care of your children during the separation or divorce to be real. You have been planning this in your imagination for some time. You love your children, but you will only have 50% say as to what happens to their care during a separation or divorce. In most situations you actually have more influence over their care when not separating and not divorcing. This is not a reason to not separate, however. This is a reason for you to slow down now that the other voice in the marriage is real and not the one you imagined in your head. The real conversation might also be a shock to you, another good reason to slow down.
DO define the reason for a separation that you are proposing. Is it to cool things down so you can get into a calmer place to work to see if there can be a renewal of the marriage on new emotional terms? Is it to prepare for a divorce? There are no rules that come with a separation. You and your spouse must develop them together. Issues to be considered include living arrangements for the children and time spent with each parent, financial needs, and whether you will date others, etc. If the separation includes dating others, it is highly unlikely that your marriage can be renewed.
DON'T discredit your spouse's point of view. It will only make them dig deeper into their already established position. Often the conversation goes like this: One spouse says, "The people I talk to are saying your are going through a hard time and that the marriage is worth saving." The other spouse retorts, "The people I am talking with say they can understand why I want to separate and are amazed that we stayed together this long." 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 wants to leave you. You have treated her 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 short conversations will be necessary, especially in the beginning. Intensity will be high on both sides, so you will need to take breaks. 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." The last words you say will be the ones your spouse remembers, so be sure to end with, "I will get back to you shortly." You will not have one big conversation. You have many shorter ones in the days to come, because no one can think well when intensity is higher than 7.
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, begin 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 dignity helps you 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.
DO try to compromise. 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 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.
DON'T LIE. All people lie. Now is not the time. Be truthful or say nothing until you are ready. A common thing people say when wanting to separate is, "I no longer feel like myself in this relationship." The only way you can "feel like yourself" is when you are being real and honest about how you really feel and what you really think with your partner. When you tune out of your relationship or you are constantly resentful, you are tuning out of your relationship to your own self. Asking for a separation can feel rejuvenating, though painful, because you are starting to be honest with your partner again.
DO be prepared for a squadron of friends and family to bombard you with advice. Best to remember that everyone cares and everyone is scared. Try to reduce upsetting conversation with extended family members. Tell them that this is really between you and your spouse, and that you understand that everyone is concerned. You have enough on your plate to handle as it is.
DON'T broadcast your feelings or what is going on with your spouse to your children. Try to keep these conversations away from children. If you decide upon a separation, try to get to a point of action before you tell them. This is hard and can't always be done, but try nonetheless for everyone's sake.
DO remember that ACTIONS or INACTIONS got you to this point, not how you feel or what you think. Your partner knows how serious you are by your ACTIONS or INACTIONS, not by your imaginary conversations in your head. REAL conversations with REAL people make imaginary ones go away. Real actions with real people make them take you more seriously than anything you can say.
DON'T broadcast or campaign on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. Be cautions about discussing the situation with your spouse by email. This can often lead to confusion and hurt. Control your impulses by waiting until you are calm before clicking the send button. Slow down all responses to emails, texts, and phone calls. Only respond when your intensity level is fewer than 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.