Phyllis and George had hit their limit. They’d had the same arguments over and over, unable to resolve their differences. “I’ve had it. I can’t do this any more,” Phyllis screams. George quenches his fists. They go to opposite ends of the house and the next thing George knows is Phyllis is moving out. They have inadvertently created a time of separation. It may be what the relationship needs, but there are better ways to implement one.

When a relationship gets to this point

  • One of the best things you can do is to give your relationship some space. Tensions can get so high that your relationship screams for a break. If you don’t provide for that break along lines you choose, the relationship may take its own break; maybe permanently.
  • You have nothing to lose. You’ve tried everything you know to do, perhaps including seeing several therapists, and haven’t gotten anywhere. Instead of throwing more money and more techniques at it; give it a rest. (This equals time apart.)
  • Following one another around demanding change will just cause the rift to grow. Frustration increases. Neither of you feels heard. Neither of you get your needs met.
  • Don’t fan the flames. Let them die down. What may have started as a need for temporary space, may grow into a much bigger distance. (This equals time apart.)

Why the need for space?

Relationships are continually reinventing themselves. People grow and change and your relationship must grow and change along with you or it becomes too tight. (Like a snake shedding its skin in order to grow.) Most of us are so busy with day-to-day life that we don’t notice our relationship becoming too tight until it is squeezing the life out of us. Everything in us screams for more elbow room—to think, to discover, to ponder this transition we’re experiencing, and anything that gets in the way of that is quickly dismissed, often adamantly. (This situation needs a time of separation.)

Most often our default response for this uncomfortable situation is to blame the person to whom we are married for allowing things to get this way. “If it weren’t for you….”  When we’re too close we can’t see our part in the mess. We need a little distance.  (This is served by time apart.)

Conflict, despite popular belief, isn’t always a bad thing. Conflict signals something wanting to happen. Your relationship wants things to change and is voicing that through the two of you. Even if you understand what needs to happen you may not be able to supply what is needed until you develop more as individuals. (This takes self-focused time.)

Developing more as individuals is key. Usually there is one partner who is more interested in personal growth than the other. It may not even be an intellectual interest (a decision) but a driving force from deep inside that erupts like a volcano. “I HAVE to find myself!” Trying to stay in a confining relationship when your insides are screaming for something different will suck the life out of you. (This equals a time of separation.)

Your partner likely wants you to be there for him or her in ways you once were, but your focus has become your own destiny and exploration. You don’t have the time, energy, or inclination to take care of someone else. (This definitely equals a time of separation.)

So how the heck do you deal with such an uncomfortable transition? 

  • Realize it is a normal cycle all individuals and relationships go through.
  • Take care of yourself. You’ve no doubt neglected things about yourself. Revisit old hobbies, old friends, try on a new identity for yourself.
  • Control your thinking. Don’t make up stuff about how things are over, or your partner doesn’t love you. Don’t hurt yourself with your own thoughts.
  • Create a community you can learn on and enjoy time with so you aren’t so dependent on your partner.
  • Learn some self-soothing techniques.

So how the heck do you deal with such an uncomfortable transition?

I hear you. “But if I create a new life with a new identity and new hobbies won’t I lose interest in my marriage?” That mostly depends on the ability of the marriage to accommodate these new individuals arriving on the scene. If you both realize that your relationship is stretching to accommodate these new versions of yourselves, and that there are kind, loving, mature, healthy, available, adults on the other side of the transition, you can remain hopeful and tend to the things you need.