Thinking of Separating? Make Sure You Both Know What That Means

By Jackie Pilossoph, Editor-in-chief, Divorced Girl Smiling, Love Essentially columnist and author

If you are thinking of separating, read this e-mail I received.

I just learned that during our 3 month separation, my husband had several sexual encounters. I had been begging him to come back. We have 20 years together and 3 kids. He has a girlfriend who makes him happy. He said he loves me but the damage is too much for me to get over. Then he pulled his phone out. I had panic attack and sobbed. I knew I couldn’t live that way. Worse yet, he slept with a mom from my daughter’s basketball team, which he coaches. I just finished an STD panel. I sobbed on my bathroom floor for hours, threw up and still feeling numb. Divorce date is set.

I truly feel for this woman and here is why. Her expectation of the separation seems like it might have been very different than her soon to be ex husband’s. She was trying to save the marriage, and in the meantime, he was exploring single life (a nicer way of saying he was sleeping around.) I’m not judging her husband, but there is a lesson we can learn from this.

When a couple decides to separate, there are a few different definitions of what that means. Here are some possibilities:

  • They know it isn’t going to work and they are both hiring divorce attorneys and starting the process to reach their goal: divorce.
  • They are separating because things are really bad and they need time apart to figure out their feelings and to decide if they want to proceed with a divorce.
  • They just need time apart. Divorce is a remote possibility, and not being considered at this point yet.
  • They want to try to figure out if they still want to be married and they want to explore single life, dating, etc.
  • One or both of them are very angry about something that happened and they need to cool off.

All of these are ok. In other words, there are no right or wrong reasons to want to get separated. But, the thing is, the couple needs to have an HONEST discussion about why they are separating, what the goals are, and what they are doing during the separation.

For example, are they allowed to date other people? If they have sex with someone, will they have protected sex? (One would hope, but obviously that isn’t a priority for some people.) On a side note, I think it is extremely unfair and absolutely unethical to have unprotected sex if you are considering a reconciliation with your spouse. You could be putting that person in physical danger. It’s selfish and just plain old stupid.

In this woman’s case, her husband sounds really, really confused. He says he still loves her and the email she sent me implies that he was telling her he wanted to work it out, but then pulled out his phone and started texting.

The fact that this caused the woman to have a panic attack clearly indicates that her trust in him is gone. And I can understand why.

I wasn’t there, so I have no idea what the separation discussion initially entailed and what each of them thought was going to happen during the three months. Maybe he lied and told her he wanted it to work out, as well. Maybe he did want to work it out, but when he became free, he changed his mind. Where I have issues is that he slept with someone she knew, someone in the community, and he had unprotected sex.

Perhaps the weirdest thing in all of this is that he’s now saying he has a girlfriend who makes him happy. What?

In my opinion, this woman is going to be totally fine in the end. She is grieving, which is healthy. I hate to say this, but sobbing on the bathroom floor is healthy. Get it out. Be sad. Mourn the loss. Then you can move on and build a new life for yourself.

Her husband clearly is not doing that, and instead chose to deal with his grief by jumping into a relationship. That said, maybe in his mind, his marriage has been over for years. Maybe he already grieved it. That’s why I never like to judge. Maybe he is sobbing on the bathroom floor, too.

But truly, if you are thinking of separating, know in your mind what that means and be honest with each other. Make sure you are on the same page as much as you can be. It’s a hard discussion to have, but it needs to happen, and it needs to be truthful.

Lots of people who know they want a divorce try to cushion it by saying, “I want a separation.” They figure they’ll start with the separation to gradually ease into the divorce. That in my opinion is the coward’s way out. Just sayin.

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Jackie Pilossoph

Editor-in-chief: Jackie Pilossoph

Divorce is a journey. Live it with grace, courage and gratitude. Peace and joy are on the way! Jackie Pilossoph is the creator and Editor-In-Chief of Divorced Girl Smiling. The author of the novels, Divorced Girl Smiling and Free Gift With Purchase, Pilossoph also writes the weekly dating and relationships advice column, “Love Essentially”, published in the Chicago Tribune Pioneer Press and the Chicago Tribune online. Additionally, she is a Huffington Post contributor. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism from Boston University.

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