Thinking about separating?

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We are not born with an in-built manual of how to have a fulfilling couple relationship, which includes knowing how to communicate effectively with our partner. Our expectations and ways of communicating & behaving as a partner are often learnt from what has been modelled to us from our parent’s relationship which may not have equipped us with all the necessary skills and abilities for navigating our own adult relationships. It is therefore possible that the difficulties, challenges and/or disappointments that you have been experiencing in your couple relationship have come about from not having the necessary insights and skills as a couple rather than an inherent ‘incompatibility’. Someone may become increasingly disengaged from their couple relationship due to an addiction, engaging in emotional or sexual connection online or with another person, or developing a life and pursuits that are quite independent from their partner.

If you are feeling disenchanted and confused about why your couple relationship isn’t what you had expected or hoped for my handout Expectations as a Partner may give you some food for thought in thinking about why this is and what conversations might be useful for you and your partner to have.

Your relationship may feel as if it is in crisis with a recent discovery or disclosure of addictive behaviour, an affair, or other ‘secret’ behaviour that leads to confusion and uncertainty about the couple relationship you thought you were living.

Often key life transitions such as children leaving home, or a significant life event such as a bereavement can leave one or both partners being starkly aware of their loss of connection, lacking enjoyment of each other, or a sense of no longer sharing the same values, outlook or wishes out of life. 

And there are situations where a partner for their own wellbeing (and that of their children) does need to leave their couple relationship

Thoughts of what life could be like living on one’s own or finding another partner may have been around for a while.

There are many different scenarios that can leave partners feeling uncertain, unclear, disappointed, and confused about whether to stay together. However broaching this possibility in a calm and constructive way can be very challenging and anxiety provoking. Hearing from a partner that they are considering separation, or are unfulfilled and miserable with the status quo but are at a loss as to how things could change, or that they have already made a firm decision to leave the relationship, can be distressing and  disorientating. Couple therapy can provide a safe and contained space for both partners to understand what may have contributed to the way things now are and what the possibilities might be.

Why raising the possibility of separating could be of service to you and your relationship

It may surprise you to hear that acknowledging your couple relationship is in crises, and/or one partner speaking up about how disenchanted and disconnected they are feeling in one or many areas of their relationship can be one of the most helpful things that can happen in fostering a more fulfilling life together. It is understandable that raising fundamental issues about your future as a couple may feel too unsettling so finding ways of living with the status quo seems preferable. Couples usually have a lot invested in reasons for why they should remain together with a status quo that may not be remotely working for either of them. If one or both partners decide that separation is the only way forward pressing pause to work out how and why they have got to this conclusion may seem 'pointless' and/or too painful and difficult, however in doing so other ways of navigating your situation may seem possible. In not raising thoughts of separation a partner may start acting as if this is where things are heading without giving their relationship or partner the opportunity to explore what could possibly be addressed.

How couple counselling can help when separation is being considered

Providing a safe and containing space for each partner to explore and express difficulties and issues that have led to a situation where one or both partners are considering separation

Understanding how your situation has unfolded such that separation is now being considered so that possibilities for what could be different can be explored.

Giving both partners the opportunity to make a more informed decision about how to go forward i.e., separation, trial period to see what could be possible or a trial separation ; my role as your therapist is not to make any decisions for you but support you as much as possible with insights and context for making your decisions.

Support partners to think about how they want to separate i.e., navigating feelings of loss, acrimony, anger, disappointment, sadness etc so that the process of separation is not needlessly painful and difficult

Whilst you are leaving your couple relationship, if you have children you will need to navigate your co-parenting relationship, especially if your children are still living at home.