There’s the whole gamut of thoughts that are attached to a decision to separate. Guilt, shame, self-doubt. The judgements we make of ourselves and of our partner. The perceptions and beliefs we attach to their, and our, actions.
Whose “fault” was it? How could they treat us like that? How could they neglect us/lie/cheat/abuse/disappear/leave? Why did we put up with it? Or perhaps simply – how could the relationship just wither like that?
A fundamental question in any relationship starts with: Are you both OK in this relationship?
In this context, “OK” means that you are both autonomous, honest with each other, and treat each other with equal respect and value. If these fundamental and crucial elements are missing, there may be some serious thinking to do.
This means you are in a relationship with each but also authentically independent from each other. This takes some self-awareness and intimacy to achieve.
You don’t tell lies. You aren’t evasive. You don’t have secrets. We all need a level of privacy, and are entitled to our private thoughts and time alone and with others, but why lie about it? Openness and transparency is key to contentment.
But also… You tell each other what you want and feel – and ideally why. This can be harder than it sounds.
Firstly, identifying the real emotion isn’t always straightforward – often we substitute one emotion for another. For example, we may have been discouraged from ‘having a temper’ as kids, therefore we rarely get angry even as adults and instead often get tearful, or vice versa.
Secondly, the why behind the emotion might be deeper than we realise. On the surface, we might want to chuck our partner’s plate of food at them because they are late home for dinner. But what’s really going on is more like we feel hurt and rejected and unimportant to them. Rather than scream about what a selfish arsehole they are and interrogate them about their drinks after work – what if we simply said we are hurt and feel unimportant…? Harder than it sounds, but so important to recognise and express.
You may not always like what each other does, but you fundamentally believe that both you and your partner have worth, value and dignity – and you show it.
To be clear, the following behaviours do not show respect:
If those fundamental elements of autonomy, honesty and respect are in place – firstly well done! The rest of what you want and need may be harder to define.
As we grow as people we start exploring, and sometimes getting lost in, the detail of our relationships, the history, our desires and unfulfilled needs. It can help to ask yourself:
The list of questions and doubts can go on and on… When children are part of the equation it gets arguably even harder.
“When people divorce, it’s always such a tragedy. At the same time, if people stay together it can be even worse.” —Monica Bellucci
That is where a therapist is invaluable in helping us untangle things. Everyone is individual. As long as no one is in danger, there are no rules about when to stay and when to go. There is also no shame in leaving, and no shame in staying for your own reasons.
Just be aware what those reasons really are, then go create your path.
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