Here is a piece that appeared on Elephant Journal recently. It is kinda old news. But I write to practice but also hope in sharing my story, it may fill some space for anyone who’s been there, or going through separation at the moment.
Why Separation was the most loving thing in my Marriage?
Image by Sandra Henri Photography
We don’t go into a marriage expecting to divorce but we all know someone who has, have been this person or a child of divorce.
I grew up in a household with divorced parents. It was quite a cultural shock moving from a rural town to Sydney, Australia. But with time my life adjusted to a new normality. My parents did remain amicable to their huge credit. My mum never said b*tchy comments about my father or vice versa, and they remain firm friends to this day.
Fast forward many years later and I have two children of my own. My relationship limps along in the wake of raising younguns. There is growing resentment and frustration on both sides, harpy comments and pinched frowns. I discover I have anxiety and putting the name to my feelings is a huge relief. I thought I was slowly losing my mind. I’m having trouble sleeping. A close friend dies suddenly of cancer and my partner slides into a silent depression. Our sex life suffers and a mattress mound grows between us.
“It’s the reality of having young kids,” people say and there is truth in that. But there is also truth in drifting apart and people changing.
I get this dream of going to Cambodia to volunteer at a friend’s NGO. I love that country and I feel it might reignite our spirits and hopefully our relationship.
So we pack up our belongings and rent our house for a year and take off. Of course it was going to be hard relocating but as an idealist, I remain upbeat and naive to the challenges. It’s a mixture of adrenaline and thrilling freedom but equally draining, as all our cracks have nowhere to hide.
It is like turning the voltage up and watching something implode. We begin criticising and barking at each other in full view, stress high with a danger-seeking three-year-old and limited medical services in the rural provincial city we live in.
We separate six months into the trip as this is the right choice to make.
We look at each other and see two people being squashed and not having fun. But more than that, we are modelling fighting, disrespecting and even at times hating behaviour to our two sons.
Something had to give and give soon before it was broken for good. So I return to Australia with the boys and he stay on for a month.
Now I am “separated.”
Now I have to give voice to that. And I can’t believe how lonely that felt at times. I was in grief and it’s such a shock to not share a bed with someone—or to catch myself looking up to see if his car is coming down the drive. It was a time of detriggering and reprogramming my way of thinking.
And it took ages.
Friends asked me questions I couldn’t answer. Equally hurtful, some “happily married” friends didn’t call at all. The shame and guilt I was already feeling seemed to be mirrored in some people’s behaviour (or so I think) and societal expectations.
In five words, I felt like a failure. Even though I knew he and I were doing the best thing for us and our family. We were actually choosing love. Love that looks like living separately to heal our hurts and not perpetuate pain.
So why do we shun separation or even divorce?
Is it a hangover from our religious days when marriage kept society’s structure together? Marriage is a worthy construct, and some marriages do last a lifetime and worked on by both parties. But some marriages are meant for a few chapters. And the reasons they end are many and varied, but to judge someone on giving up or to pity them (they feel it!) is not helpful.
We need to get down off the fairytale horse and have our feet firmly planted on the ground.
Being separated I inherited some free time. A bonus to be sure but also a very lonely adjustment. I felt like I was butting in other’s family time or that I will sit there being triggered like a pin cushion lamenting what I’d lost or hadn’t been able to hold on to.
I can see the value in sisterhood, bonding with other separates but I didn’t feel like doing that much either, especially if there was to be any man-bashing as I had no desire to perpetuate more hate toward my ex or stay blaming him. I used this time to finally deal with my own stuff. It was hard at times but ultimately lead me back to the self that I had somehow lost in my desire to be a great mother and partner.
To hold doggedly to this ’”til death do us part” ideal is dangerous.
I feel living truthfully and honestly with love is our path. So if that looks like sitting amongst your mess as your marriage falls apart, but you find yourself and a peace for what you had together and who your partner truly is, that your story filled some blazing chapters, that’s huge growth.
Eighteen months later we reconciled as brighter, stronger and wiser individuals who realised the value in our friendship and a love that still burns. Our path was to get back together. But equally worthy, was our decision to separate and potentially find love in a new partner.
Whatever path we walk, following our hearts and making peace with ourselves means even our kids come to acceptance sooner. Society is slow to catch up and we can’t let outdated mindsets put us off our game.
Maybe in separating vows can mean “‘for growth do us part.”
This piece appeared in Elephant Journal on October 13 2016