blog, Separation

You should keep your shoulds to yourself

You should tell him to pick up his stuff.
You should make him take the kids since he promised he would.
You two need to sit down and talk.
You need to make him pay more.

I thought the list of what others thought I “should” or “needed” to be doing was long and irritating after I had kids, but it quadruples once you separate.
Suddenly the end of your relationship becomes the opening everyone was waiting for to tell you how to parent and deal with your ex-partner. Advice can help you see the other side of a situation in which your embroiled, but advice isn’t a “should”. It’s something you offer with compassion.

From the moment I put separation on the table my first thought in every decision has been, how do I put my kids first, and then secondly, how do I keep the peace with my co-parent. I can’t think of him as my ex because this person is going to continue to be my co-parent forever. I have to focus on us as being a team, even if it’s a dysfunctional and barely communicating team.

And it is because of that focus that I find people’s forceful directives so offensive. I am doing everything I am capable of already and when the throw out these heavy handed comments like this recent one
“This is ridiculous, you two need to just sit down and talk face to face”
I am genuinely hurt.

I’d love to be at the point where we are able to talk with ease to one another. Where we both have stable homes and our belongings disentangled. And we more equally share the various burdens. But that’s not where we are at…. more so where he is at. I cannot push my agenda forward without my co-parent participating and so all those Shoulds just have to wait till we are on the same page.

This is our family to disentangle and reassemble anew. It is our job to safeguard our kids from the hurt that can be caused by separation and our lives that are directly affected. So friends, family, and those that care, offer support not indictment.

Big Choices, blog, Separation

Which page are we on?

This is a post that I found in my Drafts section.  I often jot down post ideas there to come back to when I have more information or a better plan on how I want a post to come together.  This one was particularly interesting because of it’s timing.  I’ll elaborate on this at the end, but for now he’s what I wrote:

“What do you do when you’re not on the same page as your partner?  Or, what seems like, you’re not even on the same book?

I’m definitely there.  We are definitely there.

It’s been several months now since my partner sat me down in front of a beautiful roaring fire on the day of our 14th anniversary to tell me that our relationship wasn’t working at all.  I stared at him dumbfounded.

Things were not the same, sure.  Having kids had put a strain on us, yes.  But things were actually improving lately as our youngest was almost 2 and we were emerging from the baby fog.  Or so I thought.

Well he didn’t agree.  And there you have it.  We’re not on the same page and I don’t think we even know what language each other’s page is written in.  He keep revisiting this topic of “everything is the worst” and I keep trying to convince him that “we’re on par with other couples who are at this point in their family and life is getting back to a new normal”.  And neither one of us believes the other.

I suggest we spend time together, go on some dates to reconnect.  He responds with, it’s too late for dates.  After, what I perceive as a pretty good few days, he turns to me angrily and spits out “I think we should go to counselling”, and I say “Yes”.  Nothing happens and we continue to keep living in, what seems like, alternate universes.”

That’s where my draft ends.   It ends there and is saved on a Friday.  I go away with my sister for the weekend with the kids, and when I come back on the Tuesday I ask my partner to leave.

blog, Separation

Checking Off Boxes

During the period of time leading up to my separation I talked to so many friends.  When your relationship is in crisis many of us feel the need to compare notes.  Should it really be this hard?  Am I going through a “rough patch” or is this something more?

In the end, I realized nobody could actually help.  Nobody was in my shoes and could decide how I should feel about this situation.  I had people tell me about their relationships that sounded like they were in much dire need to part ways, but that isn’t for me to decide either.  They stayed, I didn’t.  What we each find acceptable or tolerable is different.  Hurt that has been exchanged within a relationship only has intensity for those in it.  We can commiserate and empathize but that’s about it.

Basically for several months I had The Clash’s Should I Stay or Should I Go? on repeat in my head.  And as if making a major, life-changing, decision that affects all of your loved ones isn’t hard enough, just add, what I consider to be, the tiredest advice given by most well meaning friends:  check off all the boxes.

Before you throw in the towel you want to be able to say you tried everything.  That you’ve checked off all the boxes.

It seems like sage advice, but everyone’s boxes are different and I found it to be just another list of items that I was failing at.  Not only was my partnership floundering but now because I didn’t check off whatever box a friend was suggesting, in their eyes, I wasn’t doing everything I could to save it.  It made my final decision to separate seem illegitimate.  I’d skipped a box.

The biggest box was couples counselling.  For those who’ve gone and it’s worked, it’s the magic that can fix every discord.  I don’t disagree that it’s a great tool if you find the right fit, and it helps many many couples avoid divorce.  On the flip side I also know way too many couples that have used counselling repeatedly to work through the same issue over and over again.  They get to a place where things are “better than they were”…. whatever that even means… and then they continue on until they fall back into the same pattern of behaviour and then head back to their trusty counselor.

Why didn’t we try it and check off that box?  Well we did, barely, and only after we were separated.  My main reasoning was that we were in such a cycle of anger that I didn’t feel we could go to someone each week to unpack issues and then go home to pack more.  Also, this kind of help isn’t a quick fix.  We needed space from one another immediately before we drowned in each others negativity.  So we separated and then went to talk to someone a month later, and one of the first things she asked was how invested we were or were we just checking off a box...  So even the counselors know about these boxes we’re all blindly sorting through.

So what is a friend to do when you need support going through this kind of decision making process?  Beyond being the simple sounding board they need, I’d try to help them sort through the facts.  What are the facts of the events happening that are making them question their relationship?  And what is factually keeping them there or preventing them from leaving?  Facts can help us all see a situation more clearly but they also keep you from being too far on one side of the fence (leave vs. stay.)

Big Choices, blog, Separation

Big Leaps

I’ve been reticent to write about some of the leaps that have happened this year.  Well, one in particular, but it’s almost the one year anniversary so I can’t pretend it isn’t real.  Just the other day was the one year anniversary of when things started going really wrong.

The real anniversary isn’t until just after Family day weekend.  That’s when I entered into the most difficult talk with my partner to tell him I couldn’t keep living like we were.  He had been telling me for months how miserable he was, how miserable we were.  I insisted that we were not doing as badly has he thought.  That with two small kids and opposite work schedules that all we needed was more time to share as a couple and be more connected.  That we needed to stop ‘just getting by’ as a family.  His response was ‘it’s too late for date nights to fix this’.  But offered no other solutions, just unrelenting discord.

After three months I couldn’t take it any more.  We were stalled and my suggestions were falling on deaf ears, while he continued to make daily life miserable.  I told him we couldn’t continue to live under the same room and work out our issues.  I told him to leave, when he could.  He left that day without another word and didn’t contact us again until I reached out a few days later.  He left angry and it’s almost a year later and that hasn’t subsided.

And so this post is to say out-loud, something I haven’t said out-loud:  it’s over.  My relationship of almost 15 years, that brought two amazing kids into this world, that took me on travels to so many far away places, that I thought was emerging out of the dark difficult days having small kids, has ended.

Why has it taken a year to come to this conclusion?  Because I thought it would possibly work out.  That was the original plan: get some space to stop the negative spiral and get help and perspective.  Instead, I’ve been relieved and happy without him and he’s become so much more angry and entrenched in holding a grudge against me for ‘kicking him out’.

And also, because I have kids.  Kids who want their father home and who I haven’t been able to tell that he’s not coming back.  Not because I am too scared to have that conversation (I was the one left alone to explain the separation) but because I haven’t had it with my ex-partner.  We haven’t said it’s over and it feels wrong to tell the kids before then.  But then it seems like that’s what he wants; for us to live in limbo until I step up as the bad guy and deal the final blow.  He wants to be the victim.

A year is a long time.  Perhaps being the victim or the bad guy is irrelevant now.  It just matters that we move forward.