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.