Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Hi, Carolyn: My spouse of 15 years and I have two young kids. After several years of ambivalence and unsuccessful marriage counseling, he told me he was “done” a couple of months ago. So, I started taking steps towards separating.
And I’m freaking out and so terrified I’m doing the wrong thing and it seems much easier to live in the purgatory we both created. I don’t know how people come out better for this. Nothing feels right about it, I am so worried about not seeing my kids all the time and the impact on them. I am paralyzed into inaction.
I am seeing a therapist on my own, but my fear remains. How do people do this? Is it ever the best option for the kids? It seems we will be broke, alone, and have upended the kids’ lives because we haven’t tried enough. Does that feeling ever go away?
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I think you do know “how people do this” – you described very well the terror of undertaking a major logistical and emotional upheaval.
Separating is not divorcing, though. Please keep that in mind. It is, instead, the second step in seeing if there’s a better way to manage your family. Step 1 was the counseling, where you tried to make the whole-family-under-one-roof configuration work. Separation is where you see if it works better with the adults in two different homes.
If you haven’t done this already, a Step 1.5 that can (counterintuitively) help calm your nerves is to talk to a reputable lawyer. Soon. Make sure you have legal cover for what you’re doing. You don’t want a mistake to be used against you if things become less than amicable. You’ll need to be firm in this process about not becoming the one who takes the first antagonistic shot; this is really about protecting yourself and your kids, not grabbing what you can get.
Another is to recognize that separate homes can be the best option for kids if you make it so, by having both of you remain calm, cooperative, present. I realize you can do only your half of that, but pulling it off does improve your chances that he’ll do his part as well. And that, in turn, improves your chances that you and he will learn to get along again, be it apart for good or back in the same home.
There’s also assurance waiting for you in the fact of human nature: We adapt. Making decisions is generally more stressful than living with them; you’re unnerved now because you don’t fully know yet what you’ll be adapting to. Once you see the new order of things with your own eyes, waking up to it one morning after another, you will start to understand how to give it your best.
Last thing, which might come first if you so choose: You can indulge your uncertainty and stay a little longer. Just make sure you choose not to live “in the purgatory we both created,” which can’t be good for any of you, but instead in the answer to the question, “What argument(s) can I drop without harming myself or the kids?” It’s rare not to have one or two.
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