The temperature in Prescott dipped below freezing so I packed myself up and moved back to Sun City West yesterday. As lovely as it is in the mountains, my body likes to be in the warm not the cold. I may drive up there for some snow with my granddaughters and Thanksgiving, but I’m glad I have a warm place to hang out for now.
Today’s Question: I need to separate from my husband soon. I've been receiving counsel for months, I've written a script for the conversation, and I have a counselor ready to facilitate, but I have many questions and feel unsure about what to say and what to do.
I feel like I need a step-by-step instruction guide on “How to ask your husband for a therapeutic/healing separation and get it to happen now.” I want to do it in such a way that he understands the need and value and cooperates. Do you have how-to content somewhere that will give me the words and prepare me for possible responses?
Answer: I chose your question because you are making a common mistake that will keep you stuck and fearful of having this conversation around separation.
But before I share your mistake, I want to commend you for working with a counselor and taking the time to think through what you want to say and to even write it down. I also like that your counselor is willing to help you facilitate this tough conversation in the most constructive and ideally cooperative way. Kudos to you. You’ve done your part.
The mistake that keeps you paralyzed is that you want to control his response. You say, “I want to ask, and get it to happen now.” You said, “I want to do it in such a way that he will understand the need and value and cooperate.” If you need a marital separation now, you already know that he’s not easily influenced by you or willing to cooperate. If you did have a spouse who listened and cooperated, you probably would not need a separation or need to have this conversation in the presence of a counselor.
I am going to give you some things to think about before you initiate this conversation with him. You’re wise to prepare yourself for the possibility of a negative uncooperative response.
First, separation from an unhealthy person always raises your danger level. What has been the history in your marriage when you don’t do what he wants? How do you see him behave once he feels threatened, abandoned, rejected, hurt or angry? If there has been any violence, threats of violence, or a history of suicidal threats or abuse, informing him of a separation and hoping for his understanding and cooperation is unlikely. If those red flags are there, it is not wise to inform him of your desire to separate until after you have left the home and are in a safe place, ideally where he cannot find or contact you.
Second, have you already made copies of all important legal documents, tax records and gathered your own personal documents such as passport, birth certificate, school records, credit card information, medical records and other important papers that you may need? Have you separated out your finances or consulted with an attorney as to what your legal rights and responsibilities are if you separate? This information is crucial for you to have in your possession because once you tell him of your plans to separate, these things may be much harder to secure and he could be retaliatory.
Third, if you have minor children (you do not say you do), what are your concerns for their safety? How will you inform them? Are you hoping he will cooperate with your narrative with them? What if he undermines you and blames you to the children for breaking up your family? How will you handle that? Also, consult with a lawyer regarding your legal rights and responsibilities for visitation and custody agreements. Knowing all the challenges and obstacles that may be ahead of you help you be wise in making your next steps forward. It also helps you not to get so intimidated by his bravado of what he might do to you financially or legally if you already know those things are not within his power to do.
Fourth, what does separation look like to you? Him moving out? You moving out? You both sleeping in separate bedrooms? How will finances be handled? Children? Household responsibilities? If he is unwilling to leave the home, is it possible to have a safe, in-home separation? Is that an option? If so be clear on your boundaries and responsibilities and his.
Last, what is the purpose of the separation? You stated that you were looking for a healing/therapeutic separation. Therefore, I assume it is for him to wake him up to some destructive behaviors as well as to give you a chance to heal from some hurts you have endured in the marriage.
If so, you can be direct and honest saying for example, “I still love you and want our marriage to work, but I can’t live with your addiction, or chronic porn use, or verbal abuse etc. I hope during our time apart, you will decide to work on yourself. But I have learned I can’t control you, I can only control me and I won’t live like this anymore. I’m willing to wait for a season to see if you choose to work on your problem, but I won’t continue to let myself live in this kind of marriage anymore.”
This takes his response and future action steps and puts them clearly on him as his responsibility, not yours. Your responsibility is to be honest. Your responsibility is to be a good steward of you and your children. Your responsibility is to be a good helpmate to him by not enabling his own destructive behaviors to continue to do damage. However, you cannot take responsibility for his feelings, his reactions, his decisions, his life, or whether he understands, accepts, or is willing to cooperate with your new boundary.
Please take some time to discuss these five steps with your counselor and get clear that your goal is to speak the truth in love and your second goal is to get comfortable letting go of how he takes it. As you do that you will have greater courage moving forward.
However, let me repeat, if you sense any danger to you no matter how loving your words may be, it’s best not to inform him of your intentions to separate until after you have already separated and are safe. Then you may choose to inform him via letter or messenger and not in person, even with a counselor present.
Friend, when you have initiated a separation, how did you decide how to communicate your intentions?
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