There are a few positive reasons for deciding to separate from a partner or spouse.
ONE. A separation can help a couple get off the fence about their relationship. If ambivalence has kept the relationship stalled, it’s in the doldrums, a separation can provide wind. It can be healthy, invigorating and useful.
If I had written my relationship book after my first divorce.
You would have arrived at my doorstep and taken me out to lunch. We’d have talked about what happens when monogamy goes out the window.
Well, well, well.
At first, I’d have been not too happy during that lunch. I may even have spit a little salad while giving you the gory details. I may have turned my buttered slice of artisan bread into a frisbee headed for my ex-husband.
But after simmering down, I would have pulled up my big girl britches and said, “OK. No problem. I picked the wrong man. It’s a simple mistake and I’m wiser now. I’ll go find another one. I can do better.”
You’d have given me a thumbs up for leaving the marriage. We would have clinked our glasses of iced tea to say, “You go, girl.”
If I had written my relationship book after my second divorce.
You and I would need to go on anti-depressants and eat cupcakes. We might need wine. Followed by a lengthy spa vacation with unlimited massages, salt scrubs, mani’s and pedi’s.
I found my forever man and he left me.
When he announced he was moving out, I thought I would die from the anguish. My heart broke big time. I cried practically every day for a year. I was 32 years old.
If I’d have written my relationship book after that marriage, we’d have done the only thing we could do — hold hands and weep.
If I had written my relationship book after becoming a (surprise!) single mother.
You would have needed a nap after reading even a few pages of that book.
If you had read the whole thing, you would have needed a l-o-n-g winter nap — like we’re talking all winter. We’re talking hibernation.
Before going into the cave, though, I would have detained you by asking way too many questions about raising a small human all by myself. I had no idea how to do that. My Childhood Development degree from Iowa State University was not handy information at all, in fact, it was of no help whatsoever.
There I was, pregnant at 39, living an idyllic and leisurely single life in a waterside apartment in Marina del Rey, CA.. Days were sunny and 72 degrees. My wall of windows and sliding glass doors overlooked a marina of sailboats. I loved the soothing sound of the ropes and pulleys gently clanging against the masts of the boats… music to me.
Every day, I drove a couple miles along the sparkling blue ocean (oh darn) to get to my sweet Venice office where I had a full consulting practice.
I loved my work. I loved where I lived. I loved my life. Then suddenly I was with child.
Talk about radical changes.
The father said he would help pay for an abortion, but the idea repulsed me. I knew (from a vivid dream) I was having a girl and felt as if I already knew her. I couldn’t bring myself to send her back where she came from.
Her father didn’t come to the birth or offer support. Instead, he handed me silence and distance, which was the best he could offer at the time. He forced me to find faith in myself.
Did I sign up for that?
Alright then. No father for my daughter.
Are fathers important? Are positive male role models a good thing for a little girl to have? I thought they were, and once she was an older toddler, I went about finding stand-ins. I was sure I could find male friends I trusted who’d want to spend time with my beautiful daughter and show her how the world is one big family.
Surely I could find male friends who’ve given up on being a father. They would adore spending time with a small blonde wonder, wouldn’t they?
Turns out there were plenty of men who loved the idea of being a borrowed father.
One gentleman bought her a yellow tool box (just her size) and taught her to build things. She loved that so much. They are still friends.
Another long-time friend, a full-time watercolor artist (no children), lived part-time in two places — Hawaii and Aspen. He took her to Disneyworld and to a very fancy resort in Hawaii.
At this resort, they spent most of their time in the (astonishing, gorgeous, kid friendly) pool. My daughter thought it was a miracle that you could ask someone to bring you a hot dog and a drink and they would — on a tray with a white napkin.
This wonderful man gave her spontaneous art lessons whenever she seemed interested. In Aspen he showed her how to paint an aspen tree. I watched him with my own eyes. It was miraculous watching that tree appear! They are still friends, as well.
One man (a single father) had five sons and wanted his little guys to know what it was like to have a sister. They borrowed her and discovered girls play very differently than boys. MacKenzie provided quite a departure from the daily routine in their rough and tumble all male household. She loved having brothers.
Another good friend of mine who never had children loved theme parks and roller coasters took her to Knott’s Berry Farm, Disneyland, and Legoland. She loved outings with him and they came back from their adventures sporting gigantic smiles. One grown up kid and one little kid — what a great pair and yes, they are still friends to this day.
My female friends with no children borrowed her, too, so she had extra mothers as well. Girlfriends took her to movies and art galleries, fashion shows, lunch and shopping.
MacKenzie loved having more than one parent. It fit her style perfectly. She related well to adults and developed an impressive vocabulary at an early age.
I made sure she had an ongoing family of brothers and sisters by opening a daycare. (Oh gosh, what was I thinking?) I took in five other children. (I have never cleaned so much in all my life.)
I have nothing but respect for single mothers. This book would have ended with prayer hands, bowing to every parent who raises children solo. This book would have been about reverence.
If I had written my relationship book after my third divorce.
You’d be confused. Or bored. Or you wouldn’t care enough to finish the book. Maybe you would have tossed it in the trash.
(Hasn’t this girl learned anything yet? She’s still getting divorced.)
If I had written my relationship book after my fourth marriage.
Oh, wait! That’s what I’m doing! You’re gonna be so glad I did that! You’ll be so glad I waited!!!
I get it now. I’ve learned so much about love and marriage and I’m putting it on paper. I bet you’ll get it, too. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll find pieces that matter, ideas that make a difference to you.
Besides that, I tell (really) good stories in this book. Waiting can be such a good thing!
P.S. (I know, I know… I’m workin’ on it. I didn’t look at my book for a year, during Eric’s sickness and death. It was a mind-blowing to pick it up again after all that time — I realized how much I had changed. Now I’ve re-edited the book once through and I’m heading back into it for one last pass before I give it to my editor. It’s basically a very long blog — it takes time to get it right.)
When splitting with a partner, it is a challenge to remain loving and respectful of yourself — and know you have the right to feel good — during the separation process. There are triggers everywhere. There are hurt feelings and sore spots. There may be deep disappointments. There are often resentments and regrets.
There is usually unfinished business.
Not long ago, a friend of mine asked me to accompany him to his former residence (where his ex-wife still lived) to pick up an agreed upon final list of small furniture and belongings. He was sure that if I was present, she wouldn’t try to engage him. He just didn’t want to get into “those old conversations.” He was done.
I happily agreed to accompany him, because I care about him, and I knew it would be easy for me to ride along, carry a few items from the garage to his truck, and give him the gift of a graceful exit. It was my pleasure to do that for him, and in fact, in my book I considered it to be a service to both people.
Things went really well on that day. My presence helped him relax. He wasn’t on guard, and he wasn’t put in a position where he might react to her. He focused on loading up his things. He could breathe and pay attention to the job at hand. He didn’t need to explain anything. Because I was there, his Ex wasn’t asking questions or niggling him about anything. (This helped her, too.) He wasn’t required to apologize and besides he had probably already done plenty of that. And finally, he didn’t need to defend himself. No discussion needed – they both had the agreed upon list in their hands.
This acronym – R.E.A.D. or D.E.A.R – can help you stay on track. Don’t react, explain, apologize or defend. Instead, Relax, Exhale, Attend (to yourself), and Do.
In another typical “end of relationship” scene, let’s say the couple has separated, but things are not final yet. One partner is still living at the former joint residence — the stayer. The other partner has moved out — the leaver.
The leaver comes back to get some personal belongings. The stayer notices the array of items all heading for the car and says, “Gee, you’re taking a lot of stuff.”
The stayer might be uncomfortable or in fear about the future of the relationship. But even so, the stayer made an observation, and no response is required from the leaver.
It is OK to let other people experience their emotions.
So the leaver resists the urge to defend or explain, and therefore adds no fuel to the fire.
(Good job, leaver!)
But… the stayer isn’t satisfied with the silence.
The stayer continues. “Why are you taking so many things? I thought we were working on the relationship. Are you moving out for good? Are you trying to tell me something?”
The leaver can’t handle the discomfort, the accusation, the questioning. So the leaver speaks quickly in hopes of stopping the conversation and therefore the discomfort.
“Well, I need some different clothes. I’m just grabbing what I need. Sorry, I’ll be out of your way soon.”
There you go. All in one moment, the leaver reacted (spoke quickly, couldn’t stand the discomfort), explained (I need some clothes), defended (I’m just grabbing what I need), and apologized (sorry, I’ll be out of your way soon.)
This response, while short and to the point, adds fuel to the fire.
First, take a deep breath. Slow down your response. Pause. Stop the presses. This is not an emergency, even though it may feel like one.
I’ve been on both sides of this equation (you, too?) and neither side is a piece of cake. Go easy on yourself. Take your time. Be kind, especially to yourself.
Maybe you turn the conversation back to the stayer and say, “Are you feeling afraid?” Talk a little. Listen a lot. But only if you’re up for that.
Make another time to talk. “We can talk about this. I’ll call you later today and we can figure out a time.”
Don’t make yourself wrong, even slightly. You’re not wrong. You’re doing what you need and want to do. You’re giving yourself room to breathe and time to think, or you’re slowly moving out, moving on, moving forward – whatever.
Coming to get your things is nothing to apologize for. So don’t.
Just because someone is accusing, attacking, questioning, or probing, a defense from you is not required. Maybe your clear action just yanked their chain. It’s their chain. Leave it alone.
Try not defending, explaining or justifying yourself during a neutral conversation with your friend, child, or at work. Make a conscious practice of not defending or explaining yourself and you’ll notice how often we do it. Get some practice in an easy situation.
If your partner is starting a fire, don’t add fuel. Don’t throw another log on and wonder why things get so out of control so fast — that’s the nature of fire. Don’t engage. If your partner is looking for a fight, don’t help. One method: find a way to agree in spirit. Say, “You know, I can see how you could think that way” (or come to that conclusion, or decide that.) Or simply, “I understand.” Then be silent. See what happens next.
Don’t kick the can down the road. You’ll just have to deal with the can again when you get there. Don’t pretend. Don’t promise something you never intend to do, just to placate. Don’t say “I’ll call you when I can” if you don’t mean it. Don’t say you will go to therapy, read a book, listen to self-help recording, or work on the relationship unless you mean it. If you’re done, be honest about that and take matching action.
Your unnecessary apology won’t make anything better. Sometimes we try to make the situation better by apologizing – as in “I’ll apologize, feel bad, and pay the fine” for making that “mistake.” The mentality is if I pay, then I have the right to leave because — hey, I’ve paid! Don’t keep apologizing in hopes of smoothing the way.
About Terri Crosby — I live in the Blue Ridge Mountains with Eric, my partner of 14 years, two cats and a dog, and as many flowers and vegetables as I can plant. I love really good food, good friends, good relationships!
Kimberly Graham was really happy to talk with me. In addition to being a collaborative divorce lawyer, she is a certified family law mediator who promotes mediation, cooperation, and keeping families in communication. She also does pre-divorce consulting with anyone, anywhere in the world via phone or Skype. Her law firm is Graham Law Collaborative.
Kimberly can help anyone understand the options for the divorce process. The right choice of attorney or mediator and the right process can save people thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars in their divorce. Part of her service, for instance, is being on speaker phone as you interview divorce attorneys. She asks questions you don’t even know you should ask.
Kimberly is like the friend you take with you to the doctor, to ask questions and take notes. Because you’re all bleary-eyed about your own health, it’s wise to have someone there with you who is not personally involved and who is (understandably) thinking way straighter than you are. This friend is someone who is present, awake and aware to help keep you on track and get the help you need.
That’s what Kimberly does for people who need help getting divorced.
We opened our conversation by exploring ideas, and wondering aloud about working in tandem in some creative, helpful and satisfying way.
I wondered about being of assistance to divorced people by helping them be successful in future relationships and helping them find love again. I told her briefly of how I had done that for myself.
So the questions on the discussion table were:
“How could a Divorce Lawyer and a Relationship Mentor help recently divorced people start over and be more successful in love the next time around?”
And: “How could we help divorce be a better experience — less stressful, and more loving?”
And: “How could divorce be avoided altogether?” Maybe some folks who start the divorce process don’t really need to call it quits. Maybe we could help them recover the relationship and grow in love.
Yep, big questions…
We talked, learned about each other, and brainstormed.
We mentioned the issue of how we might help someone, even if they didn’t realize they might need assistance after the divorce.
There is so much we don’t know when we’ve just cut ties with another in an attempt to start out fresh. The mentality after divorce is often,“This is great. I just got rid of my problem. Now I can go on with my life. Everything will work out now, because my problem is gone.”
But it’s often untrue.
I know for sure that we can “take our problems with us from one relationship to the next.”
(Sigh… yes, I have experience with this!)
A light bulb went on in both of us. She paused. I paused. The collective, collaborative wheels were turning.
Then she said, “Do you know the divorce stats for 2nd and 3rd marriages are higher than first marriages?” She hadn’t looked up the numbers in a while, but she knew that 2nd and 3rd divorce rates were actually significantly higher, not just a point or two higher.
So I went a-googling and found that 1st marriages have the divorce rate that everybody’s aware of — about 50%.
But second marriages have a whopping 67% divorce rate, and third marriages are even less successful — 3rd marriages have a 73% divorce rate.Pretty stunning.
But you know what? I shouldn’t be surprised.
I AM that statistic.
I’ve been divorced three times and for a while, I became the poster child for things not working out well the 2nd or 3rd time around.
Kimberly has been divorced twice. She’s now in an 8 year relationship, and things are going well.
I never realized until my conversation with Kimberly, that failed 2nd and 3rd marriage stats were higher than first divorces. Maybe members of that “failed 2nd or 3rd divorce” category just try not to think about it. We plow blindly into the next relationship (with leftover emotions or extra determination) or give up altogether.
But as you may know, things changed for me. I turned my next partnership around at the five year mark after it began to fall apart just like all the others. I learned. I grew. I changed. I did things differently and it worked beautifully. It wasn’t difficult, but it did require an entirely different focus, orientation and thought process, which I found to be a great relief. It was easier, more joyful, and made me happier. Much happier! Which is what I wanted in the first place! Perhaps Kimberly and I can encourage others with a similar relationship track record do the same thing.
Are you part of this 2nd or 3rd marriage statistic or do you know anyone who is? I’d love to speak with you or someone you know to gather more information. Yes, we are in the research phase! And we would love to assist people contemplating divorce or separation for the first time, too.
Thank you for forwarding this article to anyone in this situation who might be interested in speaking with us. Kimberly and I both appreciate it! And so will our future clients.
About Terri Crosby — I live in the Blue Ridge Mountains with Eric, my partner of 15 years, two cats and a dog, and as many flowers and vegetables as I can plant. I love really good food, good friends, good relationships!
You’re broken down and tired Of living life on a merry go round And you can’t find the fighter But I see it in you so we gonna walk it out And move mountains We gonna walk it out And move mountains
And I’ll rise up I’ll rise like the day I’ll rise up I’ll rise unafraid I’ll rise up And I’ll do it a thousand times again And I’ll rise up High like the waves I’ll rise up In spite of the ache I’ll rise up And I’ll do it a thousand times again
For you For you For you For you
When the silence isn’t quiet And it feels like it’s getting hard to breathe And I know you feel like dying But I promise we’ll take the world to its feet And move mountains Bring it to its feet And move mountains
And I’ll rise up I’ll rise like the day I’ll rise up I’ll rise unafraid I’ll rise up And I’ll do it a thousand times again
For you For you For you For you
All we need, all we need is hope And for that we have each other And for that we have each other And we will rise We will rise We’ll rise, oh, oh We’ll rise
I’ll rise up Rise like the day I’ll rise up In spite of the ache I will rise a thousand times again And we’ll rise up High like the waves We’ll rise up In spite of the ache We’ll rise up And we’ll do it a thousand times again
During this strange time in history, I noticed y’all were tackling all sorts of interesting projects. I decided I needed one, too—something positive to remember the pandemic of 2020 by.
I decided to pay attention to something I had abandoned…
Nope, I’m not cleaning my garage. I am not organizing one single thing. I’m not planting a garden or cleaning up my yard.
Instead, I decided to take care of myself better. This, folks, has made all the difference for me.
With relatively little time and effort on my part, I feel so much better than I did a month ago.
On March 30, I got on the exercise bike and the yoga mat for the first time in a long time, and did 30 minutes each. I liked it so much that I decided to do it every day. But I fell short of that, and changed my commitment to every other day, which felt more manageable, reasonable, and doable.
I also get off the bike after every song, take a couple of sips of water, shake out my legs and arms for a few seconds, and get back on. This makes the bike project a reasonable proposition, too.
Daily walks of any length—by myself, or with my little guy, Jackson—are a fresh air bonus.
My recumbent exercise bike has pulleys to work my upper body while I pedal, which gets my heart rate up fast, and also helps my whole-body strength. It feels good to get up from writing, or doing a consulting session with a client, to do something physically challenging while listening to good music.
After only a month, I feel a sheet of muscles on the front of me I haven’t felt for a very, very long time. Goodness gracious. Who knew they were there. I’ll be posting rippling ab photos soon, I’m sure.
I have no idea what the scales have to say about my bike/yoga project—I don’t care. Paying attention to scales tends to send me sideways, and therefore, I’m ignoring them completely.
But—I LOVE the way I feel! Hang in there, everyone.