Wednesday, August 05, 2009


This morning I wake up really early with a plaintive OneRepublic song in my head,

Come Home

Lyrics :
Hello world
Hope you're listening
Forgive me if I'm young
For speaking out of turn
There's someone I've been missing
I think that they could be
The better half of me
They're in the wrong place
trying to make it right
But I'm tired of
So I say you'll..

Come home
Come home
Cause I've been waiting for you
For so long
For so long
And right now there's a war between the vanities
But all I see is you and me
The fight for you is all I've ever known
So come home


Everything I can't be
Is everything you should be
And that's why I need you here
Everything I can't be
Is everything you should be
And that's why I need you here
So hear this now

Come home
Come home
Cause I've been waiting for you
For so long
For so long
And right now there's a war between the vanities
But all I see is you and me
The fight for you is all I've ever known
Ever known
So come home
Come home
It's an anti-war song, is the truth, or so I learned on YouTube trying to find you a link. Watch it after you read this.

This isn't a political blog, but I do have an American flag drooping over our front-room window, and I'm thinking I should bring Old Glory to the cleaners, but don't want to take it down, not even for a day. The song has nothing to do with my personal politics, fyi, I just like it. There's a love song in there somewhere. Has to be.

This post is about marital separation, and the feeling that characterizes this stage of marriage. It isn't the same as wishing someone home from a war, but usually there's missing. Emptiness defines separation, and loneliness.

With separation one of two partners has to leave home. Someone has to pack up and go or it isn't a real separation. Sometimes a spouse will leave voluntarily, walk out, close the door, and that's it, game over. Too little, too late. Therapy didn't work. The love is gone, the relationship dead, the formal beginning of the end. From here we go to dissolve the marriage, dissolution, another D word, a softer word, as in dissolve into water. Means divorce.

Feels harsh, divorce, and it is. Also lonely. Dissolution-- soft, like water.

Yet there is no limit to the cheer-leaders, family, friends, colleagues who encourage the divorce option, who have been there and profess to be quite happy about it; and so many others who have suffered abuse in marriage, who see everything in terms of abuse, who support the leaving, toast to it. Bring on the party. Here's to a new life. The old one is over. Move it along, jump to the chase; what is this no man's land, anyway. Make a decision, please; it's been three weeks.

Relationship therapists don't see separation this way, actually. We don't see it as an entre' to divorce.

First of all, we know that no matter how you label a relationship, it is never over. These reside in our heads for years and years and years, no matter how we label them, even relationships of our youth. So what is the rush to finalize the ending of a committed relationship? It isn't over until the ink is dry. Boyfriend, fiance, lover, friend, spouse, partner; what happened there, in the relationship, the meaning of that person, will not disappear with a signature.

Therapists see all kinds of separations, you should know. So we snuff out the panic when a couple nervously asks, Might it help, a little space, some time apart? This one quotes the statistic that 3 out of 4 married couples endure a separation, generally not due to abuse or neglect or even a marital problem.

Normalizes it, doesn't it, that 3 out of 4 couples separate? That's well over a majority.

When separation is not about the relationship, it is usually due to a work transfer, or the needs of a sick family member, perhaps a change in status, like having to attend to the estate of a lost loved one, executorship, maybe. When crises happen, togetherness is the expected outcome of the separation--as soon as possible, if you don't mind. Fix whatever this is so we can so we can be together again soon. There is stress, being apart is stressful, but ways of communication transcend geography mainly because a couple wants to transcend geography. There is no discord.

Come home.

When separation is due to marital distress, however, therapists are in less of a hurry (depending upon one's treatment perspective) to push a couple back to the same home. We entertain objections, surely, from one of the two partners, but might advise :
Take a break.
get some space,
give yourself a chance to heal, to think.
Rearrange priorities,
see your own behavior, own your part of these problems, don't minimize.
Understand your significant other in a more rational way.
A little distance and we gain perspective. Of course this is within the context of therapy, for sure. If your time is spent at the bars crying in your beer looking for sympathy, it's unlikely any light bulbs, epiphanies, will be going off any time soon.

Thoughtful separations like these are healing for older couples, but for people new to marriage I tend not to recommend them, although there are certainly exceptions. But young people do well in marital therapy living together, not apart. The therapeutic mission will be to test new behaviors with one another in-house.

Young marriages are still in the test tube, the laboratory phase, everything is an experiment. The therapist can add a twist of this or that, present new perspectives, but the successful couple, with a little therapeutic insight, will comes up with the ideas that work independently, will finesse the experiment. And voila, it's back to being in love again.

Therapy is more complicated for older couples with history and emotional inventories . Negative emotions associated with a partner's misdeeds feel hard-wired to the victim, intractable. So many memories, so many disappointments, repeated enactments of dysfunctional behaviors, reactions. We can change these in therapy, work to understand one another, but the love won't catch up with the intellect, not so quickly. Not usually.

Time. But did you say you want to know how long you should be apart?

This depends upon each of the partners, how committed they each are to change, and how disassociated they feel from one another. Can we predict it? Can we predict how long a couple will stay separated?

Some of us take pot shots, guesses. I have a short but open-ended list of questions that make mine feel educated.

(1) How huge is the inventory, the list of pain, the wrongdoing?
(2) How deep is the anger, the hurt? Is this really immeasurable?
I actually measure it in terms of days, then hours, number of tears, holes in the plaster.

Every therapy for separated couples will be a designer therapy, by necessity, with a designer treatment plan. Objectives and goals are discussed, as well as an exhaustive investigation of each partner's emotional life. That certain responses are predictable, based upon that history, unfolds over time, and this is the insight we're looking for.

Thus there can be no textbook treatment for any particular marriage, which is why the work itself is as much an art as a science. We have our methodology, but procedural order will depend not only upon the broken dish of the day, but the way the therapist determines it to fit back together.

Is it time to block that metaphor yet?

Not to beat a dead horse, for those of you who read me, but there are three patients, three patients, remember, to every marital therapy-- the two partners and the marriage. That's a lot of therapy, a big treatment plan, so sorry. And the emotions don't just heal up overnight. People forgive, but they really can't forget. That memory thing will get you every time.

It would be nice if there were a switch, if we could will ourselves into loving again. Hypnosis, maybe.


That's why, if the rabbi or the priest, or the mullah, etc., has one thing to advise a young couple, it should be that they should stay out of denial, not brush any problem aside, look to the family of origin, the roots to the tree, the reasons people do what they do, the reasons they don't do things they should do. Attend to this right away, don't ignore "issues" let them build up inside until you have reached the point of no return.

Cuz that's a very, very bad place.

The Anti-Relationship drug, the thing that will ruin you is denial. You lull yourself into thinking, If I don't discuss this it will resolve on its own and I will love my partner again. These problems will go away in time.


Think again.



porcini66 said...

Lots goin' on in this one, yes ma'am. My husband and I have gone through many stages in our marriage, up to and including almost using the D word...we each wondered, in our own way, if we should've ever gotten married to begin with. I came to realize that all of the stuff that I had been so MAD with him for, the end of the day, it began not to matter so much. As I have healed (and continue to heal - it's a forever thing, I think, it's just that at some point, you stop calling it healing and start calling it living...), as I have healed, I have come to realize that he is a supportive and wonderful father to our kids and that he does so much more than I gave him credit for. Not just the physical stuff. But the emotional stuff, too. I was asking him to do it MY way, instead of accepting his own way. Loving me, I mean.

When I first met him, it was starstruck need - he was EVERYTHING. It has matured into deep appreciation and gratitude and a sort of quiet sharing. I'm thankful for both, no doubt.

Probably doesn't make much sense to anyone reading, but it's okay. I just know that the one thing that I would say to my own daughters is to PAUSE. Wait and really try to understand what's going on before you give up on your man (or woman...whatev).

Thanks for writing! :)

Lisa said...

I'm not married and I find it very surprising that 3 out of 4 couples separate at some point. But I never viewed separation as anything but a precursor to divorce. I learn so much from this blog about the things I need to be aware of as I attempt to rebuild the relationships around me and start new ones. You've given me a lot to think about here. Thank you!

Samurai Scientist said...

Have you seen this recent article about marriage? It's all about the PAUSE and giving space before separation or divorce.

therapydoc said...

No, I'll check it out. But I have read about research (notice, haven't read the research) that tells us that of couples who do wait it out, separated or not, a large percentage stay married.

And of the couples I treat, there's pause, of course, if not always separation, because it takes so much time, treatment, but I can count on one hand the number of my peops who have divorced.

There's another statistic that tells us that people who divorce regret it, and yet another that tells us that among the Italians, having imposed a law that makes you wait 3 years from wanting a divorce to getting one, the divorce rate has plummeted.

So there's a hope variable, for those who feel it's hopeless.

On the other hand. Some people really shouldn't be together. I'm saying it now.

positivelypresent said...

What a wonderful post. I love that song and I love the way you've discussed it and the topic of separation here.

Margo said...

Does that mean you got the song working on your iTunes from that flash drive?

Lou said...

I'm so glad to read that marriage therapy is more art than science. I feel that about many relationships--with our children, our parents, co workers. As long as we try to work on ourselves, many of the relationships we wanted to "throw away" in youth, become quite fulfilling.

Especially marriage.

Unknown said...

It's amazing that couples go through that much and they all seperate, its so true, if you are having trouble you can get in contact with a therapist or counseling in any state 24 hours for free, through

CiCi said...

Hubby and I have not lived in the same place for one year (today in fact is one year). For a few months neither one of us knew if we would be talking again or see each other again. We see each other almost every day now and as we each work on our individual growth and healing, we also can work on our relationship. This is a very right-on post and it means very much to me.

Syd said...

We have found that in our years of marriage that we need some time to be apart--not in different domiciles but just to do different things. It has strengthened our love and closeness. We worked together for over 30 years and have been married for much of that. Sometimes it's just nice to do something apart from each other.

Wait. What? said...

Separation. Being separate and apart has had its benefits when it has happened in my marriage. it was much needed time away from one another, and then therapy helped us to figure out if we wanted to continue on or call it quits...

Loved that song you posted.

blogbehave said...

Beautiful, soulful song.

What do you think of Lee Raffel's book on controlled separation? Do you refer to it?

Should I Stay Or Go? : How Controlled Separation (CS) Can Save Your Marriage

lynetteb said...

your post hit home in a very big way. (btw, you seem like an incredible therapist). my husband and i have been married 15 years, 2 kids, past physical abuse (rare), past and recent verbal and emotional abuse (frequent). he has a lot of anger -- i see a lost boy who needs love and needs someone to tell him it is okay to feel, but i can't live like this any more, nor should my kids.

he has been in a separate bedroom for a year and a half. no physical intimacy for TEN years (since the first instance of physical violence).

i am weary and i want to move on. i also am intertwined with him, and want to help him. and i feel so much grief at the thought of losing the family i (we?) have created.

a therapist, a psychiatrist, a marriage counselor, and a divorce support group -- that's my mental health team. he has only the marriage counselor and needs much more.

one foot in, one foot out, that's where i am. when do you know you have tried enough? when do you know you should stay?

i like the idea of separating further to see how that goes. it is hard to think it through when our family seems all kind of the same (except for the bedroom thing).

it all sucks.

sorry to ramble in your comments section :)

therapydoc said...

No prob. I'll get back to everyone's comments next week. Sorry for the delay. Life can be crazy.

Jim Valeri, LMHC said...

In my experience working with clients, couples who do a "trial separation" usually don't recover from that separation. In my 8 years of experience, I've seen ONE couple separate and then come back together and try to work it out. All the rest divorce.

Why? Its just easier to leave the problems behind and choose not to address them. But its like you said, they never really go away. For those of you thinking about the "trial separation", don't be fooled by its commonplace appearance. It usually marks the beginning of the end.

Thanks for this, I am going to bookmark this post and refer my clients to it.

Isle Dance said...

I'm thinking, this is the wonderful reason to keep two little cabins, close or far, where each gets to be in their own world, with emotional support from the other, of course. Then the two meet up at night for sleepy fun. It just seems so logical to me.

Anonymous said...

Separation thru divorce is multi-faceted.

We never had the chance to work it out, tho we began couples counseling. He couldn't wait that long and a month after beginning therapy, he moved out. I know now that it was because he was afraid of our therapist discovering he is a pathological liar.

Our divorce, took many things from me: when he left, I didn't realize for over a year that he was romancing my family and campaigning against me. They fell for it. It took 32 years of my life and flushed it in betrayal. It took my security, my identity, my future. It was all tied up in my "marriage". It was all a single entity, that thrived only in that situation.

Everything bad in my life came at the same time as my divorce, so I've had problems seeing the separate issues: my divorce became final, I had to move from a house I designed and loved and felt safe and secure in, my family/friends abandoned me, and I had cancer surgery, all in 3 months. And 2 months later, my father died. He was the only person who loved me unconditionally. All this pops into my head when I talk of divorce - that separation is all encompassing.

Sometimes, I look up and expect to see him walking into the room. I need my best friend, I need someone to talk to and he isn't there anymore. He has hurt me badly, but none the less, divorce has left a huge hole in my life.

lynetteb said...

oh, ivory, i am so sorry for your losses. so much grief in waves.

i hope that you seek out some support -- i have been in a support group as i contemplate a divorce, because i need to build up my support network. i have few friends, and no family nearby.

my dad died a few years ago, and the nail in the coffin in my marriage was how my husband treated me when that happened. my grief over my dad and my marriage are intertwined.

my heart goes out to you -- i wish you healing and friendship.


Lorri said...

I am separated from my husband, at the moment, by choice. A choice I had to make due to his schizophrenia and the resulting behavior he exhibited towards me.

Living with a person with this disorder is most difficult, especially seeing as I am in my mid sixties, and never thought that I would be involved in a situation like this.

I had to literally flee my home for my own safety three months ago. I am in a safe place now, with a relative, and have begun to find a semblance of peace in my life, once again.

I have been told by his pyschiatrists and his therapists that I did the right thing. They, themselves, were concerned for my safety.

I am not going to go back into that unhealthy situation, and for me, divorce is the answer. I can not imagine myself living out the rest of my days in the nightmare that engulfed me the last few weeks before I left.

I have read up on schizophrenia, researched everything about it. I do understand the complexities, etc. But, within that train of thought, I also understand and realize my need for safety, and my need for peace at this point in my life.

Four sheriffs, one police officer, a psychiatrist, therapists, mental health hospitals, can't all be wrong. The exhibited behavior was beyond acceptable.

When one's life is literally threatened...there is no alternative but to remove themselves from the source. I did so, without looking back, and now I am moving forward...looking through the lens of positive days.

therapydoc said...

Porcini, love how you say that, don’t give up on your man

Lisa Marie, Positively Present, TechnoBabe, Syd, Cat, Jim, Isle Dance, Thanks!

Margo, I broke down. Up for the ATT upgrade, bought an iphone, won’t turn back. The Shazam ap is magic.

Lou and Everybody, this is KEY. Me saying it’s more art than science is a terrible disrespect to social science. What I mean is that once a person has the social science, knows how to use it, the art is what makes the therapy sing. Without the science, the art will be shlock art.

John, shameless self-promo, come on. Usually I delete these.

Sandy, haven’t read it, sounds great.

Ivory, thanks so much for sharing all that, must have been horrible.

Lorri, that’s a difficult situation. In general, when all the signs point in a certain direction, and all the people in your world are saying the same thing, they’re usually right.

Lynette b, so sorry for your loss.

Did I forget anyone?

Dr. Deb said...

Another great post (as usual, therapydoc)

Anonymous said...

Awwww but denial is so much easier!!
Once again, you are right on the money.
As I progress through my recovery journey (CoDA) I find that it's far more painful to acknowledge that my current partners is more or less the same flavor human being as my dad. Of course, that denial of my dad's lack of follow through did me a world of good too wandering around in that magical fairyland of "maybe one day he'll do what he says he's going to do".
Being mindful, being present in relationship is one of the hardest things I've had to navigate in this life.
I wish that not only did people come with warning labels "WARNING!! THIS HUMAN BEING HAS DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILY ISSUES TOO!! AND THEY HAVE BIGGER TEETH AND NASTIER CLAWS THAN YOUR ISSUES DO!" but that we would at least be forced to acknowledge them.

Of COURSE, I would do everything I could to avoid reading them, choosing instead to believe that the person is on the path to self-healing and that their malfunction is only temporary.
I'm working through this process of figuring out why I end up with emotionally unavailable people, or people frequently treat me like a parasitic host.
I wish that all couples counselors had half the clue that you seem to, instead of handing out the self-help books and then collecting a check.
I'm also hoping, praying that obtaining psychological healthcare services is as easy (and affordable) as getting a flu shot.
Everybody could benefit from a gentle thwack with the cosmic clue-by-four (paying a trained professional to call us on our crap and make us work through stuff) every once in a while.
It keeps us on our toes.
- Amy

therapydoc said...

So right, Amy.