Conflict & Separation
Conflict and Separation – It comes as no surprise that January is the month of the highest number of divorce petitions. This time of year, far from being festive and joyful, is the most contentious time for many couples and families. Frequently, what has been festering unspoken for the rest of the year, and maybe years before, is brought to the surface through the demands we place on ourselves and each other at Christmas.
I remember with crystal clarity, the agonising months and years of trying to decide just how long it was reasonable to stay in a marriage where I was so lonely. Eight years, on and off, of couples’ counselling, no intimacy and no movement, long walks where I begged for connection, the time I was yelled at by one of the villagers for startling her when I was wailing like a banshee on the hill outside the village, thinking I was alone and in despair.
And yet, we had a small child..I had failed once before…my friends were (apparently) all happily married..what would anyone think of me? How could I do this to my daughter?
The questions swirled round and round for literally years. I did a coaching course. We had to find subjects on which to be coached. I tried desperately to find things that were manageable and not related to possible separation. I failed miserably.
Facing ourselves honestly
Perhaps the most difficult thing to face in considering sundering an important relationship, and particularly a marriage, is what we have wanted to believe about ourself, and what we have wanted others to believe about us. If we are the one who is choosing to walk away, we potentially face the wrath and judgment of society, of friends, of family. Our place in the fabric of life.
Avoiding making the decision
It took probably four years for me to find the courage to separate. And I will acknowledge that at some point in those four years, I made a conscious decision to have an affair to try and meet some of my needs and keep my marriage together. I have worked with people for decades now, and I am aware of how many different (and frequently unhelpful) things that people do to try and stay in unhappy marriages. And they all have consequences.
Facing the Consequences
One of the biggest consequences of my prevarication was the collapse of the housing market and the subsequent financial insecurity I have faced since. Yet I also know that I did not have the necessary resolve until I did. Some of that comes with the accumulation of a thousand daily proofs, that at some point becomes sufficient evidence to act. Like the straw that broke the camel’s back, the final tipping point may seem, of itself, strangely insignificant.
Things do not turn out as you may expect. For years, one of the things holding me back was concern for my husband’s emotional state of wellbeing. He had experienced significant loss and difficulty in his childhood, and I feared for his ability to survive this one. Yet he was dating again within a few months, and had found ‘the one’, in less than six. Whereas I have lived alone for many years, lacking the courage to face further heartbreak.
However, the judgment I experienced, was far less than I had feared. Mostly it came from those who, for whatever reason, felt themselves trapped in an unhappy marriage and unable to break free. My experience has been far more, that friends, colleagues and clients have felt free to unburden themselves to me, knowing what I have faced in myself and in my life.
Experiment with Changing your beliefs
I am fortunate in that, despite the fact that my life has not turned out as I may have hoped or expected at the time, I have never regretted my decision. But often it is not our situation that needs to change. It is our beliefs and our attitude. I would strongly advocate that you explore all possible avenues before making any irreversible decisions. A practical application of this would be to ask yourself the following question when debating what to do in particular situation: “If I did not feel trapped/stuck, what would I do in this situation?’ Sometimes the answer may surprise you.
If any of this resonates with you, I highly recommend finding professional support. Friends and family are good, but will often have their own agendas in advice they may feel impelled to offer. Of far greater assistance, is a non-judgmental ear which will allow you to plumb the depths of your understanding of yourself and your situation, allowing you to find your own internal resolve for movement or for staying.
If reading is something you find helpful, I can highly recommend Esther Perel. She has written two deeply insightful books, ‘Mating in Captivity’, and ‘The State of Affairs’, she has numerous YouTube videos and a podcast that examines these complex human relationships with empathy, warmth and understanding. https://www.estherperel.com/. If you want to get in touch with me, I offer online and in person coaching. https://www.creativetransformation.org.uk/
Whatever you are experiencing, you are not alone. I wish you courage, patience, determination and compassion for both yourself and those with whom you have lost the way.