Well, it's been one week since we started the separation. I won't lie and say that it hasn't been very hard, but I'm going to stay focused on laying out the ground rules for separation that my wife and I agreed to. When we sat down to hash out the ground rules, we had a few major considerations:
Our Daughter, Caley:
First and foremost, our daughter's health and well-being takes precedence in all of this. My wife and I both agree that it is important that our separation should have as little emotional impact on our daughter as humanly possible. We have and continue to make sure that she knows that mommy and daddy love her with all of our hearts and that we still love each other. No matter how this turns out, Caley will never be put in the middle. We have seen to many couples use their child(ren) as a tool to hold over the other parent. We have also seen parents badmouth each other in front of their child and that's not only hurtful, but incredibly confusing for a kid. Part of the children will feel that they need to share those feelings for the other parent out of loyalty to the one who is doing the badmouthing and it never ends well for the child.
We've worked it out so that the days during the week alternate between my wife and I - it's easy since she's in pre-school and one parent can drop her off and the other picks her up. Every other week, one of us gets Caley for a four day weekend. So far it seems to be working out well, but if we find that there's issues that come from this setup, I will be sure to pass along what we learn along the way.
Duration and Basic Conditions:
We laid out some ground rules for initial duration of the separation and also the minimum duration should my wife desire to come back before the full length of separation expires. Here's what we agreed upon:
One major consideration in all of this is our finances. We were finally financially stable enough to do more than just make ends meet and were starting to aggressively pay down our debt. I told my wife that I will continue to make minimum payments on our last item of debt, but without her income being added into the mix, I'm not going to have the funds to help financially support her during this separation. We agreed that if she couldn't find a place that was safe and appropriate for my wife and Caley to live, then this whole separation is off. There's no getting around it - this separation is going to strain our finances to the limit (just like they were when I was working my old job). I also explained that there were some expenses I was not willing to give up - my MMA and gym memberships, in particular. I have finally started to get myself back in shape and am making friends for the first time in what feels like a decade. I need those things in my life and I explained to my wife just how important they were to my mental health and well-being. Thankfully, she understands and never considered asking me to give those up.
Out of everything, this is the one condition that for me is a deal-breaker. We absolutely needed to find a marriage counselor and get professional help. I told my wife that even though I don't want her to leave, if she needed to leave then we absolutely and unequivocally had to have the ball in motion for getting counseling. Part of the reason we are where we are is because of failures in communication. Also, it helps to have an intermediary there to help keep emotions from destroying progress. We both agreed that this was necessary and we are currently looking for a counselor who will help us work through this and decide if staying married is something that both parties really want.
So there you have it in a nutshell. I think that explains everything fully. If there are any aspects of this that I may have forgotten please don't hesitate to ask. Also, I know that there may be some readers out there that have gone through something similar. If there are any lessons you can share that can help us avoid common pitfalls, we're all ears.
So, I disappeared off the radar, again - this time for good reason. All of my spare time has been dedicated to contending with family issues at home. The end result: My wife and I are entering into a trial separation, as of today. Before anyone overreacts to this, I need to make this clear - it was a mutual decision. We have taken this step BECAUSE we love each other and want to save our marriage.
Seems counter-intuitive, right?
It really isn't and I'm going to explain why so that maybe the lessons we've learned from all of this will help other couples in distress for the same reasons. I wasn't sure whether I really wanted to write about this, but I felt I needed to articulate in writing our thought process - that and blogging always helps me process through my emotions, so...Here we go.
If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know that I've been struggling with PTSD and depression for years now. Back on November 8th, 2010, my amazing and wonderful daughter, Caley, was born. When I held her for the first time, I was overwhelmed with the profundity of my love for her. It was at that moment that I had the insidious and destructive thought: "If anything ever happened to her..."
My PTSD headed very quickly into a downward spiral and the depression followed, gleefully riding the coattails of my PTSD on the way down. I withdrew completely from my wife and from my daughter over the course of the next year, leaving my wife to contend with caring for two kids on her own: Our beautiful newborn, and me.
I hit rock bottom in early 2012 when my wife confronted me with my withdrawal and gave me the ultimatum: Get help or we are leaving. This sounds really blunt but my wife had tried every other way of getting my attention and nothing had worked. I was so deeply in the throes of my own despair that I needed the emotional slap in the face to be able to see through the fog of my depression. When I did, I was horrified. I had emotionally abandoned my family. The guilt I felt was crushing - so crushing that I seriously considered committing suicide so that I wouldn't be able to hurt them anymore. That's how insidious depression can be. I couldn't see the forest for the trees and almost deprived my daughter of a father and my wife of a husband - Not because I wanted to selfishly end it all, but because I couldn't see any way of preventing my family from getting hurt again.
To this day, I still don't know what, exactly, pulled me back from the ledge but I'm grateful that I found a way. Just thinking about how close I came still horrifies me and always will. Over the course of the next few days, I started to gain a bit of clarity and was able to make a compact with myself - that I would never, EVER, let things get this bad ever again. I knew that the road ahead of me was going to be long and painful, but I needed desperately to be the Father and Husband I know I can be when the PTSD and the depression haven't taken me hostage.
Over the course of the next two and a half years, I have put in the work. I've gone to therapy, learned how to effectively cope with my PTSD and depression, learned how to watch for warning signs that I may be headed in the wrong direction and also learned that I needed to remove as much unnecessary stress from my life as I possible could.
The end result:
Up until a few months ago, I thought that the whole concept of Post Traumatic Growth was a load of crap. I found myself, all of a sudden, full of drive and energy and motivation to live life and live up to the ideals I had always striven for. I finally felt I was WORTH fighting for.
What happened next completely blindsided both my wife and I. It sucks and it hurts, but I think you will see clearly how we got to this point.
I Need Some Time Apart to Clear My Head
Over the course of the past few months, I noticed that my wife was getting angrier and angrier with me over the smallest of transgressions. I started talking to her about it and expressed a desire to get help and get therapy, for both of us, if necessary. Nothing ever came of it and I thought, after some very serious heart to hearts, that we were moving past the anger and emotional distance (things have deteriorated so far for my wife that she's completely emotionally closed off and unable to show affection or appreciation - we've been living like roommates for the better part of the past year).
Over the course of the past few weeks, things had gotten progressively worse between us and it seemed like the hurt feelings and emotional distance were gaining momentum, regardless of how I tried to reconcile with my wife. The end result: I told my wife that I couldn't live like this anymore - that I felt like I was walking on eggshells because the was angry all of the time and was either unable or unwilling to be intimate or reciprocate my affection.
That's when she said those fateful words: "I think I need some time apart to clear my head". I felt the bottom fall out from under me and I clung desperately to the edge of my sanity.
Over the course of the past week and a half, I've climbed out and things have settled down. Yes, my wife and I are separating but it's a mutual decision and I'm going to take the time to explain why this doesn't mean the end of our marriage.
The Five Stages of Grief
It was only after I had finally accepted what needed to happen that I just gone through the five stages of grief for the state of our relationship. It's analogous to the stages of grief that a person would go through when the doctor had told them that their loved one being kept alive by life support was going to be taken off of it according to wishes presented in their living will - the machines would be turned off and the person would either breathe on their own or they'd die. For our marriage, things were very much the same. My wife needed to get the space she needed (turning off the machines) so that she could process through the intensity of her emotions and figure out whether she was able to move past them and recommit to trusting me and loving me the way she knows I need (finding out whether our marriage will breathe on its own). Here's how the five stages of grief play into this:
However, rather than a means to an end, separation can be a helpful tool to stay together. This seems counterintuitive when a marriage is troubled and relations are fragile. Most of us believe that when we feel our spouse slipping away from us, we should merge together more, get as close as we can, and do more to "make the marriage work".
After reading that excerpt, things started to make a whole lot more sense. Our lives were financially stable, our work was stable, and most importantly, I wasn't only stable, I was ME again - the guy with the inner fire and the sense of purpose. It was finally safe for my wife to not be in survival mode anymore and when she let down the walls she had put up to survive, she was completely overwhelmed with how angry she was. She fully recognizes that I never meant to hurt her, but the end result was the same: She felt like she had been betrayed and abandoned by me for the better part of the past almost four years, since our daughter was born. As anyone will tell you, the more deeply you love someone, the more deeply you hurt when you feel abandoned and betrayed by him.
All of a sudden, I understood completely why she needed separation. The emotions she was feeling were so intense that any time she saw me, it triggered her emotions and none of them were particularly happy ones. The only way she could possibly start to work through all of this is by removing the source of the pain: Me. So, a few nights ago, I explained to my wife that I accepted her need for separation and why. Believe it or not, it was a huge relief for both of us. Up until that point, my wife was concerned that I wouldn't be able to find a way to accept her need for space and that the marriage would end before we even had a chance to work on it - not because we wanted it to, but because of irreconcilable differences.
Over the past few days, we've spent a lot of time getting on the same page and laying out the groundwork for separation and what it means for us and for our daughter. By loving my wife and supporting her in her need for space, we have already started down the right road. It may sound weird, but working together to coordinate the separation has been the closest my wife and I have been in years - because we are working together to save our marriage and working together hasn't been in the cards for a while now. In the next blog post, I will detail our Separation Contract, what it entails, and why. I could continue on and make this all one massive blog post, but this seems like a logical place to split it up. I know that there are readers out there that are probably in the same position we are in and can't seem to find a way forward. I hope that the struggle that I've gone through, both with the PTSD and Depression and with coming to terms with my wife's need for separation can help those of you out there that find yourselves facing a similar scenario.
Thank you all for your constant support and continued readership.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.