I was at a book signing for my Beyond Divorce book recently and a woman came up to me afterward to make a confession.

“I’ve been divorced for 12 years and now I wish I’d never done it. I just needed to grow up, to spread my wings and experience life a little. I realize now I could have done those things while I was married.” She’d never told anyone about her regrets. “It’s my little secret. No one knows.” She’s not the only one who has made such a confession to me.

More and more people are realizing that divorce may not be the best solution for relational unhappiness. But they also know that being in their current relationship, as it is, is incredibly painful and takes wayyy too much of their life energy to continue it. They just want the craziness to stop but don’t know how. Often thoughts turn toward leaving because they don’t see another alternative.

Time Does Not Heal All Wounds

We like to think that if we just give it time things will change. But that is just being passive because we’re afraid of making waves. Does a broken leg heal with time alone? Neither will your relationship. Something else is needed.

I often recommend a time of separation for struggling couples, but not just any willy nilly separation—a structured separation. The structure is like scaffolding. It is an external framework that holds the relationship together while it is being de-constructed and re-constructed. So what happens during construction?

Relationship Coaching is Vital for your Structured Separation

A relationship is an entity in and of itself. You can’t expect to toss your relationship out into the world without support and guidance and have it survive anymore than you could expect your newborn to survive under those conditions. Here are some things relationship coaching, and particularly systems coaching, can help you with.

1. Design your structured separation

There are many things to consider. Who stays in the house? Who gets what furniture? How will you manage the kids’ schedules? Who pays for summer camp? Who pays the mortgage or rent? Separate bank accounts or a joint account? Who gets the dog or cat? Do you tell your family and friends? What do you tell them? Who tells them? Who makes the car payments? Do you date other people? What do you tell the kids about that? When do you revisit things again—weekly, monthly, quarterly? What is your commitment for ongoing personal work to help things change?

2. Identify Harmful Relational Dynamics

I’ve worked with hundreds of divorcing people. Although each individual, marriage, and divorce is unique there are common reasons people divorce. To have an effective separation period you will want to learn which of those dynamics were part of your marriage and how you contributed. I can help you assess that.

3. Learn What Your Relationship Wants

Relationship coaching isn’t about pointing fingers or blaming or pinpointing who did what to whom. It is about exploring what your relationship wants going forward. We tend to look at others as being similar to us. That is never true. We are all very different. Your differing perspectives are both important to the health of the relationship. With relationship coaching we can acknowledge and hear your perspectives as valuable and incorporate the wisdom they bring.

4. Get the Tools to Do Things Differently

Just knowing the harmful dynamics in your relationship isn’t enough. You will need to own the ways in which you participated in those dynamics and be willing to change them. Most of us don’t have any idea how to do that. I have hundreds (literally) of tools and assessments to bring you vital information about your relationship. Personality Assessment anyone? How about creating guardrails within which your relationship can operate in a healthy way? Want to learn the positive role of conflict in your marriage?

5. Face the Fears of Change

It’s easy to change the superficial stuff we do, like leaving the toilet seat up or the cap off the toothpaste, but when your relationship is falling apart it is because you are up against deeply ingrained character traits that don’t serve you or your relationship. We shut down when we should speak up. We lash out when we would be better off listening. We manipulate instead of speak honestly. We run headlong into our insecurities.

We must dig deeply into who we really are and learn to relate from an authentic place. Many of us participate in our relationships as if from a rulebook. “Page 112 says “When she grimaces, I should _____.” That only goes so far and then it breaks down. In order to “know” and operate in a healthy relationship we have to show up wholeheartedly.

Relationship coaching is the best tool I know for helping your through your structured separation. I hope you won’t leave your future to chance. There’s too much at stake. Call me and let’s get you started.