Surviving a marital separation

Tara Blair Ball
Photo by M. on Unsplash

In the state of Tennessee where I live, it was not required that I separate from my ex-husband before I divorced him. I could just file and then it could be done in ninety days (Hahahaha. It took eleven months).

Separation was extremely hard for its own reasons. I was stuck in limbo. I wasn’t supposed to be dating, but the old adage “to get over someone, get under someone else” kept singing to me.

I immediately started dating a co-worker after I left my ex-husband, who made it incredibly difficult to break up with because he worked less than 10 feet from me and wouldn't respect my boundaries.

Beyond that idiotic rebound, I made plenty of mistakes before the divorce was final. There are not a lot of excuses for my behavior. I was at times exceptionally mean to my ex-husband, and I had no business in the dating pool before I’d taken time for myself.

Regardless, I handled it the best I could. My best just sucked sometimes.

Sometimes couples will separate before formalizing a divorce due to their states’ guidelines or in an attempt to save their marriage.

A friend of mine was so entrenched in his own alcoholism that his wife asked for a divorce. Because they lived in Washington D.C. and he did not agree to the divorce, they had to live separately for a year before she could file. He moved out and went through the darkest period of his life, but also the best.

He followed the following tips, and once that year was up, he was the man his wife remembered marrying and they reconciled.

1. Be kind

I wasn’t kind much to my ex. It’s so incredibly easy to take out our hurt on someone we used to love who is now a stranger that we have to involve other strangers (lawyers and judges) to break up from. It never hurts to be kind, especially whether you aren’t sure whether you’ll stay or go.

2. Take all the time you need

I’ve been told before — and sometimes heeded — , “When in doubt, wait.” If you have any lingering doubts about whether to stick around or run, it’s best to give yourself all of the time you need, so you don’t end up regretting your decisions later.

3. Don’t pressure your partner

Just like you need to take all the time you need, your partner might need to too. It can be hard to wait around, especially if you want the relationship to work and it’s your partner considering whether to leave you. If you haven’t given up on the relationship, give them the space they need.

You only want a partner who truly wants to be with you anyway, so do whatever you can to not obsess: start a new hobby, hang out with friends, see a therapist, etc.

4. Be alone

I understand too well how attractive the thought of moving on is. Being with someone new can make you feel wanted, desirable, possibly for the first time in years.

But you risk several things if you choose not to be alone: it’ll be hard for you to sort out your real feelings as they pertain to your spouse. You’ll likely select someone that’s inappropriate for you in some way, and it’s likely you’ll hurt them and yourself in the process too.

Try your best to be on your own for a bit. It’ll be hard, but it’ll be worth it.

5. Try to understand the balance between dependence and independence

Being independent while still dependent upon each other is important for a marriage, and both partners should be free to be themselves. See if the balance between the two — dependence and independence — is something you’re having trouble maintaining.

6. Get support

Tell the ones you love that you’re struggling and how they can help. People do want to help, but they may need clues as to what exactly you need. It also may be a great time to see a therapist to sort out your issues and what you can do to be the best person you can be, whether you remain married or part ways.

7. Keep the kids out of it

All permanent parenting plans say something along the lines of, “Will not speak badly of the other partner in front of the children.” This is important advice because no matter how hurt you are, you shouldn’t be dragging your children into your business.

Adults need other adults for support. Don’t fall into a trap of assuming the tiny humans you created are adults. Doing so could leave permanent scars on them and hurt their relationship with their other parent. If they’re old enough to understand, just keep reassuring them that both you and your spouse love them no matter what.

Not every couple that separates ends up divorced. Separation can be a useful time to work on yourself or whatever went wrong in the relationship, either to improve your marriage in the long-run or make you a better person for whomever comes into your life later.

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Tara Blair Ball is a Certified Relationship Coach and author of Grateful in Love: A Daily Gratitude Journal for Couples, A Couples Goals Journal, and Reclaim & Recover: Heal from Toxic Relationships with a 7-Step Guided Journal. She has a Master's from the University of Memphis and is accredited by CTAA. You can find her on Tiktok, Instagram, or YouTube at @tara.relationshipcoach.

Memphis, TN

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