I’m a love coach and I speak to women every single day who are struggling in their relationships. Recently, my client, Sara called me in tears, and articulated something I identified with: “I feel like I’m living in the movie Groundhog Day, where every day is the same painful experience with my husband over and over again. Something has to change.”
Or take my client, Kacey, who sent me a text the moment that she had the following realization, “I think my marriage is over. I feel frozen.”
And my client, Vivian, who is currently breaking up with her boyfriend (who she’s lived with the past two) years, doubts that the breakup will be final. Why? Well, even though he’s supposed to move out next week, they’ve been down this road before. As a result, she’s not entirely sure that they'll go through with it.
What's the pattern here? Among other things, there's a common thread of feeling totally stuck. The fact is, sometimes we remain stuck in our painful relationships because we think we have to know for sure whether we’re staying in the marriage or we’re divorcing. Are we in or are we out?
There's also a common pattern of thinking behind feeling stuck. We think we need certainty and we crave clarity in order to get certainty, somehow and from somewhere. We can’t move forward without knowing where we’re headed, right?
When a relationship is clearly in a broken place, but you’re not quite ready to give up on it and walk away, a separation provides a compassionate "pause button" that can provide you both with a gold mine of valuable information.
A separation is not staying in a holding pattern forever, it is taking small steps to gather more information and more clarity. My recommendation is to plan for 60-90 days apart before any final decisions are made. If it’s not possible to be apart physically, establish some ground rules so there still feels like some emotional separation under the same roof.
During this period of time I suggest you don’t discuss the status of the relationship to alleviate the pressure of having to know the final answer. Having to know exactly how this story ends can keep you stuck in indecision.
First, you are able to gauge your most immediate and visceral reaction to the separation, which will give you a tremendous amount of insight about where you're at emotionally. Once you’ve lived apart for a few weeks, try asking yourself, Do we miss one another or do I feel free? With some distance comes perspective, which enables you to view the relationship dynamics without all the emotion and anger.
Additionally, separation provides a space for something new to evolve, including a stronger version of you or a different way of being together. My client, Nicole and her husband are no longer living together, but they still have a great deal of love for one another. There are some real deal-breakers in their relationship that make it unworkable at the moment, but neither are ready to walk away.
Nicole and her husband may very well find their way back to one another, but if they do it will be the 2.0 version of them. It will look different and it will feel different. Because it needs to be different for both of them to be happy.
Now I'll tell you a personal story, one I like to call "Driving in the Dark" ...
Several years ago, my husband and I were driving to Atlanta, Georgia, from Columbus, Ohio. It was a long, nine-hour drive that we’d never driven before. With still three hours left in the trip, it became dark and a little foggy. We could only see 10 feet in front of us with our headlights on, and the roads were winding us through the mountains. But even with visibility at only 10 feet at any given time, we still made it to our destination.
It’s the same with our relationships. Sometimes, we stay stuck because we can’t see the end destination. We can’t see all the way to Atlanta from Columbus, so we never get in our cars and begin the journey. We can’t see all the stops along the way ahead of time, and that unknown keeps us paralyzed in the same spot, in the same patterns, and the same painful experiences.
We don’t have to know the end destination, we just have to take a step forward and pay attention to the information that step provides. Sometimes, our relationships just need a bit of breathing space for what wants to evolve to take hold.
Finally, here are some mental shifts to consider: