You’ve tried again and again. You may have even seen a marriage counselor together. But it has reached a point where you don’t think the issues in your marriage can be fixed. You and your wife have decided that a trial separation would be a logical next step. Indeed, having some time away from each other may give you both some clarity about your situation: where it went wrong, and what you need to do now to move forward with as little collateral damage as possible.
Managing your emotions
Recognize that this is going to be a painful, emotion-filled period in your life. The end of the most important relationship you have as an adult is a hard pill to swallow. Don’t be hard on yourself for feeling low, sad, anxious, angry or depressed. Remind yourself that these feelings are normal. You did love your wife, and you did love being married, until things went sour. Let yourself feel these things, even if society tells men that they should “be strong” and get over it.
Seek outside help if you find that you aren’t able to complete normal daily tasks, such as personal grooming, going to work, interacting with others. There is no shame in having a counselor or therapist help you along this path. It is always beneficial to have a neutral third-party to talk things over with, and it will help you feel like you have a safe space to vent without involving any of your “real life” friends.
Staying healthy and centered
Maintain a healthy lifestyle as you move through this sensitive time. This means eating well, getting enough sleep, and keeping an exercise routine. Physical movement can be as beneficial as anti-depressants, so make sure you get in some significant movement each day. Having a routine will make you feel centered, especially when things start to feel out of your control. Make time for prayer, if you are so inclined, or another meditative exercise; a moment when you can bring yourself into your core and calm your mind. Do you play an instrument? Carve out some practice time! If you haven’t yet developed skills for coping with stress, this would be a good moment to do so. There are some excellent resources on the internet and in your local bookstore that can help you learn positive ways to deal with stress. Avoid trying to numb yourself with food, drugs or alcohol. This won’t make you feel any better in the long-term, and may lead to more challenges.
Remember: opening yourself to the hurt is actually beneficial, according to relationship experts, and will help in your path towards healing.
Life lessons to be learned
While you may be tempted to list all your wife’s faults and shortcomings when out with your buddies, it won’t make you feel any better, and in fact will fan the flames of hurt even more. Take the higher road and keep the anger for your therapy sessions, where a trained professional can help you turn the anger and hurt into something productive and solution-oriented. There are important life lessons to be learned right now, and you’ll want to tune into these. It is indeed a painful passage of life, but you could also choose to see it as an opportunity to redefine your love goals, your dreams and your ability to work lovingly with a partner.
When talking with your wife, remember that she is hurting too. You both loved each other once and shared a vision for a successful, happy marriage. Finding the language to communicate calmly and constructively with your wife as you work out the details of your separation will be vital. Maybe you have some friends that have been through a divorce and come out unscathed. Ask them how they did it, and get their take on the best words to use with each other. Hurting people tend to want to hurt each other, but you want to remember to keep your exchanges as civil as possible so that you both end up feeling listened to and respected. This is another area where calling in an expert, in the form of a therapist, may be helpful.
Communicating in a new way
If you find that anger prevents you from communicating in a constructive way, you might wish to limit your exchanges to email for a while. Emailing each other has the advantage of allowing you to reflect on and review your words before sending them. (Sometimes in the heat of a discussion, we can lack this reflex and we say things we will later regret.) Emailing is also a good way to keep a paper trail of what was decided and agreed upon, should you need to refer back to this at a future date.
If you find that communication has truly broken down, use your lawyer to communicate with your wife. While it may cost more to go through your lawyer than to speak directly to your wife, the cost may be worth it for your mental health and sanity. Think of this expense as self-care.
Thinking about change
Separation is a change. You are no longer living as a couple on a day-to-day basis. Your financial circumstances will be changed. How you spend your spare time will change. You may have to shoulder more responsibility regarding the children. Prepare yourself for this new identity. While it may be something you are looking forward to, know that you will also have moments of regret and be ready for this. There is no second set of hands on deck when you’ve got a sick child that needs to stay home and you are needed at work. Begin to put into place some kind of backup structure—whether it be in the form of another adult (one of your parents, one of the children’s grandparents) or paid help (a nanny or a housekeeper).
Focusing on the future
This period of your life will be filled with mixed feelings. You’ll be happy to see the end of an unhappy marriage, but fearful of stepping out into the unknown. It will be helpful to see this time as a period of growth and positive transformation. Mourn the loss of your marriage, but embrace your future. It’s bright out there, and the lessons you’ve learned from your marriage, even one that was ultimately not successful, will help you be a better man and partner.