Last Updated on June 29, 2022 by Rebecca Huff
Statistics show that when couples separate, the majority proceed to divorce. A smaller percentage reunite after a separation, while some couples never try to reconcile. What are the odds of getting back together after separation?
In my post detailing the Pros and Cons of Living Apart Together While Married, I shared a list of things that had occurred to me during the nearly two years that my husband and I lived separately. If you want the back story, you might start with reading that post and listening to the podcast.
Last Updated on October 31, 2023 by Rebecca Huff What is Living Apart Together The term “Living Apart Together” means that two people who are in a romantic relationship choose to live separately. LAT arrangements vary; it can be a couple who is married or unmarried. Young couples, and older couples whose spouse may have …
For the back-back story, you could listen to this podcast episode where I originally explored the idea of a healing separation. When I recorded the healing separation podcast episode, I didn't know that I would be implementing that strategy in my own relationship very soon.
Last Updated on June 29, 2022 by Rebecca Huff Today we are chatting about marital issues when things start going bad. Does a separation clearly indicate divorce? Could it save your marriage? What about divorce and separation without plans to get back together? How does all of this work and what path should you take? …
What I'm trying to say is this is my story, and you have your story too. Everyone has a story. We are all walking on this earth on our own distinct, unique-to-us paths. When I was in the worst part of this story, I felt like there was no one on earth who could possibly relate to what I was feeling. Since then, I have found out that I am not alone.
There are so many people who are faced with similar challenges. Although the bits and pieces of each story, each relationship, will be different. In my attempt to share our story, I make an effort not to make blanket statements about what is good for everyone.
Your mental health is your responsibility and only you can actually do the work to heal the parts of you that are wounded. Help can be found in various places or methods; people can assist you, but in the end you must do the work.
Let's Start at The Very Beginning
That's a very good place to start.
Sometimes it is almost impossible to know where a story starts. My story starts with my parents, but I can't begin there because that would take a book. Maybe two books.
To sum it up, I'll just say even parents can have skeletons in their closets and if someday they decide to open the door, you may understand a lot more about your childhood than you ever thought possible.
Relationships take a lot of work to build and not too much work to tear down. The chaos or calm you lived through as a child will be a big factor in the relationships you have throughout your life.
Pile on that, every relationship you have experienced before with all of the hurts and baggage you may bring into your current situation. All of these add up to issues. (challenges? hardships? struggles? bumps in the road?)
That has been the case for both my husband and me. Each of us brought our own set of (mis)training from our childhood. Both of us brought our conditioning from previous relationships. We mixed that up in a bowl and added wildly different personality types, parenting styles, habits, preferences, and predilections.
That made for one craaaazy cake!
A Healthy Marriage
Those first few years were good and my husband recently shared with me how he had noticed that in the beginning, certain little things didn't bother me. He theorized that because we didn't take care of the big things, over time, those little things became more annoying for me.
Those big things were both of us not practicing habits necessary for a healthy marriage. Our lack of proper communication coupled with our preconceived notions about our roles triggered reactions that we didn't even realize were happening. For me, feeling resentment and blame; for him, building an emotional wall.
Over a decade we each piled on these hurts. Me with my resentment, bitterness, and anger. Him with his wall.
Healthy marriages are built on a number of things.
- Good communication, honesty, and trust.
- The ability to handle conflict in a loving and constructive manner.
- An equitable division of chores and responsibilities – Whatever that looks like and feels fair to you both.
- Gratitude toward one another – Showing appreciation for what your partner brings to this relationship.
- A commitment to each other and children (if there are any)
- The commonality in a sense of shared values – Identifying your core values and aligning them as a couple.
- Connection and openness – Being present with one another, seeing challenges as an opportunity for growth.
- Some level of compatibility (best if you figure this out before tying the knot!)
These are just a few of the pillars that may stabilize a healthy marriage. When married couples build on some of these they'll have a foundation that will withstand the earthquakes of life.
We had big gaping holes in our marriage that neither of us knew how to repair. It was like dipping water out of a boat full of holes. Water was pouring in from several locations! There's too much to go into here, but we were both struggling. The effect on my health was evident.
Breaking up is hard to do
My therapist helped me work through a lot of personal issues and hangups. When I first started seeing her, I told her that my husband was patient, kind, and wonderful; and that I was a bitch and everything wrong was all my fault. It took more than her assuring me that it's never all one person's fault.
Years. About seven years of therapy to overcome anxiety, guilt, shame, blame, pain, insecurity, and bad programming!
Then there were our times of seeking counseling. To make a long story short, I had to have therapy to recover emotionally from our Christian counseling session. Yes, just one because it was that bad.
After years of analyzing and overthinking, not knowing which way to turn, praying, and what I felt like was doing everything, I was exhausted. So tired of trying. Then we had a serious stressor in our family. Our marriage didn't have the foundation it needed to withstand this kind of earthquake, and it started to crumble.
I'd definitely lost sight of why we'd gotten together in the first place and I was losing hope of reconciling our differences. I'd experienced enough heartbreak. I just wanted to be happy.
My therapist and I discussed at length, what my options were. The important question she asked me was “are you 100% sure it is over?” I wasn't. There was maybe even only a small percent of me that wasn't sure splitting up was the right thing to do. I didn't want to break up our precious family.
That conversation, like many others we'd had, helped me realize that I didn't have to work things out all in one day.
We explored the idea of a healing separation and moved out of our house into two apartments. Because I didn't want to give up until I was 100% sure that I'd done all I could do, I found a new marriage counselor. My therapist recommended trying Emotionally Focused Therapy. With trepidation, we met our new therapist.
A Second Chance
Marriage counseling hadn't worked for us before, and I wasn't sure trying a second time was the answer, but I had to make the effort for my peace of mind. I believed if we spent enough time apart, maybe we could reset and rekindle whatever we'd lost so long ago.
All I wanted was to stop feeling so much tension and to be able to just relax at home for a change. We'd been living with all this strain on each of us that we were uptight all the time. When people say you could cut the tension with a knife, they were talking about our house!
Now, here we were, living in two separate apartments. The first few weeks, the plan was to give each other space and not to try to communicate unless it was about the kids or finances. We agreed not to make big financial decisions, not to act like single people, and not to discuss our relationship outside of therapy. At least for a while.
That was fine with me. I needed a break. How freeing it was to know that we had a choice and that we weren't trapped. Just knowing that I wasn't “stuck” took a burden off my mind.
Once a week we met with our marriage counselor for emotionally focused therapy. We drove separately. Then we went back to our separate spaces and continued to live life.
During that time, our children had complete access to each of us. They could see either of us at any time they wanted to. We made it clear to them that we had some issues and that we were going to see a marriage counselor who we hoped would help us make things better.
The kids were very understanding and supportive. In fact, I would go so far as to say they were relieved, thankful, and even hopeful. On a side note, I've had people tell me they would never let their children know if they had marital discord. Kids are pretty perceptive. They don't need you to tell them, they feel it.
In our situation, to a degree, our children could understand what I was going through. They'd also had to cope with the way my husband suppressed his emotions. He loved them immensely, they knew that, but sometimes they wanted to vent to him and he just wanted to fix it and move on. He's a fixer and he never complains, so he didn't really understand the concept of venting. Our son got him to understand it in one conversation, where I'd explained it over and over but never could get it right.
Repressing Emotions Prevents Healthy Communication in Relationships
Our counselor explained that by suppressing his anger he had suppressed all emotions because you can't just single out one emotion, if you hide one emotion you hide them all. She explained that not only do repressed emotions make you sick, they also destroy relationships.
Burying, hiding, ignoring, internalizing feelings, or trying to pretend they don't exist helps no one. Still, it's a coping mechanism that lots of people employ to protect either themselves or others.
Repressing emotions prevents healthy communication in relationships. When the other person in the relationship triggers these emotions in the repressor, it creates even more tension on both sides.
Emotions are fast. It takes about 100 milliseconds for our brain to react emotionally and about 600 milliseconds for our thinking brain, our cortex, to register this reaction. By the time you decide that it's better not to get mad or to be sad, your face has been expressing it for 500 milliseconds. Too late; the emotional signal has been sent. It's like pressing “send” on your email before you double-check the content and address. Not only that, but when you deny the message, this is puzzling for your partner and makes it harder for them to feel relaxed and safe with you. You are suddenly someone who can shut them out as if they don't matter.Psychology Today
That sums it up. I'd spent a decade telling my husband that his words and his actions didn't match. He would say he wasn't angry, but I could feel it, his face said it, but he denied it. Not just with me, with everyone.
We became hyper-aware of little signals, like this sigh of exasperation.
We'd gotten into a habit of trying to read these almost undetectable signals. It took a fair amount of concentration. When I asked him if he was upset, sad, angry, or whatever, he almost always denied feelings. It was exhausting on him and us. He thought he was protecting us or our relationship, but it was adding a strain we couldn't identify.
Puzzling doesn't even begin to describe the emotion that caused me. When I would say I didn't trust him, he had no idea what I meant. He was dependable, hard-working and reliable. After all, wasn't he being kind by suppressing his feelings when truthfully he was angry with us?
I likened it to asking someone “does this outfit look good on me?” It's the wrong color, too small, and makes you look like a clown only to have them say, “yeah you look great!” Yeah, maybe the truth hurts, but it builds trust.
Light at the end of the tunnel: Healing broken Hearts
Getting to the bottom of all of this is what we were doing in therapy. We'd been living with tension so long we were about to burst. I don't know if the therapy without the separation would have been enough.
Because we were able to go home to a place where we had the space to let down our guard. Not be faced with that tension 24/7, we were able to breathe for the first time in years.
This time also allowed us to work on our relationships with the kids. In fact, as I mentioned above, it was one of our children who helped my husband to understand that sometimes people need to talk and they need you to listen without trying to fix anything. Just because that's what people do in a relationship. They relate.
Kind of like when you're with someone you're pretty close to and you taste something that is absolutely awful, your first instinct is to say, “here, try this, it's so gross!” Why? Because we want them to experience it with us. To relate to our experience. Right?
Before too long, we were making progress. Expressing emotions. Having better communication.
We decided to add a date night to our week. So we'd see each other twice per week; once during our counseling session, then again on date night.
Making Marriage Work
I'm not sure if anyone expects a couple will be getting back together after separation. In fact, if you tell someone you're separated, it's almost synonymous with saying, divorce. I had stumbled upon the idea of a healing separation while doing research for a podcast.
The idea had never occurred to me as a step to repair a relationship. Like many people, I'd always heard of separation being the last rung on the ladder before a divorce. I didn't want a divorce, but I did want a break from constantly trying to analyze, understand, and fix our problems.
The time living apart, with therapy, prayer, and yes, even work, was healing our broken relationship. We'd done all of these things before except for living apart. For us, that was the catalyst that propelled our healing forward.
Half of our time living separately was during the pandemic of 2020. We had one child in high school and one in middle school. There were plenty of stressors to test us. I'd say we have a phd in stress management at this point, from the school of hard knocks. You may be a graduate as well?
Moving in together again
Towards the end of our second year living apart, we started making plans to live together again.
We made this decision for multiple reasons. It wasn't just because we'd made progress. We were living in apartments during the pandemic, so our children had nowhere to be outdoors on a daily basis. We all missed having a yard.
More people were moving into our area and it was crowded and louder than it had been when we first moved in. In addition, they weren't maintaining the complex very well due to restrictions from the lockdowns.
Another big factor was that we wanted to spend less money on our living expenses (one of the “cons” of living apart together.) We could save a substantial amount of money if we lived under one roof.
Lastly, we wanted to continue to improve our relationship and we believed that we'd made enough progress to make it work.
After a period of separation that lasted nearly two years, we were reuniting under one roof. The first two weeks were what I refer to as the “honeymoon period” because it was exciting and new. We were getting settled, setting up the house all over again.
Now we have a shared bedroom again. That has been a big adjustment after so many years of having my own space, but we are making it work. It has been a bit of a challenge to readjust to living together with everyone again. Mostly because it's so easy to get used to doing everything our own way! All of us.
We make sacrifices, we are working at our relationship, and enjoying it too. There are bumps along the way, we face challenges. There are often tears, but there is also laughter. I'm learning that a lot of the pressure – I put on myself.
No, it's still not easy
It's also easy to slip back into old patterns, bad habits, or ways of thinking. After a particularly trying weekend, I made an appointment with our marriage counselor again for the first time in a year. Not because I'm in a bad place, okay, maybe I was for a minute, but it passed.
The appointment is to help take care of us.
And we each must take care of ourselves, and each other. I find time for myself in the early morning hours while everyone else is sleeping. He enjoys gardening with our daughter.
As we prioritize our new relationship, I am so thankful that we are getting back together after separation. The statistics aren't particularly good for couples who separate. This past year, the term “living apart together” was trending. It's an indication that we're not alone.
I'm both comforted and saddened by that knowledge.
Many of you have reached out to me with stories about your own relationships. Thank you for trusting me with your hopes and hurts. I can only listen and offer you hope or encouragement. The women who supported and prayed for me are in my community, feel free to join us in that drama-free zone.
Hoping and praying for many positive updates in the years to come. We were also interviewed for the Home Made podcast with Stephanie Foo, the episode was titled Home Alone and our portion begins at minute 12:00.
If you have any questions about the process, our agreement, or how LAT worked for us, feel free to reach out.
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