When author and marriage and family therapist, Judy Osborne and I talked, she introduced me to the idea that there can be many separations in a marriage. In her guest post about separations she talked mainly about those that happen during parenting. Those aren’t the only ones. A job promotion or a new job that requires more hours away from home, a new pastime such as bicycling or fishing, perhaps a new home with home office or den that wasn’t there before, even an additional T.V. set can trigger separations. Those separations influence the post-divorce relationship you’ll have with your ex. Here’s Judy to talk some more about separations:
I want people to understand that it’s not a big moment when a marriage ends, it’s lots of little separations and I don’t even think that it’s useful to count the days from the divorce, it’s the separation that affects the parents and the children.
I don’t think there’s one kind of separation. There’s a kind of separation that I call “oozing apart” in which people have been aware that the adult relationship is stagnant, not meeting needs for years and they ooze along trying to figure it out.
That’s what my relationship was like. We faced infertility and then we faced an abortion after we had two lovely children. There was just too much sadness in our relationship to bear; we didn’t know what to do with it. So it was gradual, kind of being on each other’s side through all of this.
That’s very different than a sudden separation, one in which an affair is revealed or in a couple of the stories in the book, people happen on the fact that their partner is more interested in same-sex partnerships so it’s a very sudden moment when you realize “this isn’t going to go on.” It may take more time to reach a benign space when you’ve had a sudden blow to what you thought was happening.
One of the interviews in the book is a person who had a very connected adult relationship and parenting relationship while their children were young and they really had a solid base for being parents together. When their kids got to be teenagers, they looked at each other and said “what are we doing together?” For them it was easy to fall back into what they already had, which was this solid parental understanding of each other.
Then there are the kind of marriages where the kids go off to college and the separation or divorce is announced. Those parents don’t have any time to learn how to be connected because their kids aren’t passing through them anymore. Those parents theoretically can go their separated ways and the children are left to pick up the pieces and understand why did their parents stay together, for them or what?
Those couples who separate when their kids are older may recognize their on-going connection when they have to plan the first wedding or when the first grandchild is born. It happens at various times.
One of the stories in the book was that a couple who had grown up together, had married, had children, had had ups and downs, moved apart and then decided to separate and were really not connected for years. Then the man’s parents died, one one year and one the next and those parents had been really important people to his former wife. She went to the funerals and she and her new husband helped him clean out his parents’ home, the home that she had spent most of her adolescence in. And at that point they felt connected again. Now they talk…not weekly, but there’s not that icy distance anymore.
I think that connectedness can happen at any time. Sometimes it’s intentional. Sometimes it’s the event that awakens us and we can make a new intention. Certainly it doesn’t happen, usually right from the beginning. I think it would be false to say that. Everybody has their own way, of easing into this. You have to know that you’re going from a love relationship that’s ending to a parenting relationship that is new in some deep way.
Families change and we always have…parents have done this before because men have died in wars and women have died in childbirth, that’s not happening as much anymore, but divorce brings us to the same place where we have to make these transitions.
The Divorce Coach Says
I think those separations that Judy talks about are easier to see with hindsight than as they are happening. Yes, some will be obvious such as the arrival of a child who takes your time and attention away from your spouse. And for all of them, how you respond influences the long term impact on your marriage. But do the separations cause the breakdown of the marriage or do they occur because of existing, deep, underlying differences? It’s a chicken and egg question.
Can you look at your own marriage and see separations now that you hadn’t recognized before? How did they impact your marriage?
Judy talks about getting a to benign space with your ex – a space that’s free of emotion, suspicion and mistrust. Getting to that space it seems is the turning point in your post-divorce relationship. It’s space in which you do something to support your ex out of human kindness not obligation, it’s the space that allows you to accept your ex in kinship. I imagine it to be a comfortable space.
As I’ve said, my daughter graduating high school and going to college has opened my eyes to this. I don’t think we’re in the benign space Judy talks about – I feel that we probably won’t be there until our formal financial obligations to our children are satisfied. Neither of us have our parents still living and neither of us is close to the others extended family so I’m pretty sure the events that will tie us will be through our children. I don’t see my ex and I ever staying in the same house together and probably not ever taking a plane ride together but I do see us attending celebratory events, and even out-of-state events and I want them to be drama free.
Just curious, do you think you will be connected to your ex in thirty years time? In ten years? What will that connection look like?