How can I make the best of a temporary separation from my husband?
September 11, 2016 8:48 AM   Subscribe

So – this question was me. The advice I got was so helpful that I’m coming back to ask for more. How can I make the best of a temporary separation from my husband?

Nearly 6 months have passed and my husband and I have been in therapy for the whole time. I’m also seeing a personal therapist. I have not revealed anything about my infidelity in the couples therapy but my own therapist knows about it.

In August I woke up one day and felt like I desperately needed to get away – a feeling which has eventually ended up with me moving out temporarily, for about 5 weeks.

We agreed, with our therapist, to have no contact during that time but on the day I left I felt so guilty and awful that I set a date for us to meet up once during the middle of the separation.

I am now nearly halfway through this time apart.

So far it’s been both incredibly peaceful and quite lonely. I have never spent so much time on my own and I’m enjoying it while at the same time feeling sad that things have come to this.

I’ve been reading self-help books and have found ‘Codependent No More’ incredibly helpful. I’ve been writing in my diary a lot too.

I’m also making an effort to get out and see friends, as well as exercising on a semi-regular basis.

I know that my husband would like me to come back with an answer of what I want in my future, whether it’s him or not.

So would the man I was formerly having an affair with (yes we’re back in contact after a long period of silence, only as friends though. I know this is probably a bad idea. He’s also told me that if I get back together permanently with my husband that we can no longer be friends or ever see each other.)

My question is: how can I really make the most of this time on my own? What would you recommend I do? It was so difficult and guilt-inducing to get to this stage, I want to make sure I’m really taking advantage of it.

You can email me at my throwaway email at
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I won't speak to all of this but I will say that someone who loves you and is committed to you would not make ultimatums or threats while you're separated from your husband. This is manipulative.

Stop seeing the other guy. Make space for yourself to really figure out what you want emotionally and sexually, absent the influence of this other guy.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 8:55 AM on September 11, 2016 [46 favorites]

What do you like to do? Do more of that.

If you've done that enough, do something new.

If you can do it with other people, so that you can make friends, definitely do that.
posted by amtho at 8:55 AM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Make friends with feeling lonely! That's a very adult thing to do.

Also. Get divorced.

It's time. You're going to be OK. Divorce is not failure, it's just time to move on.

PS - the next relationship you "move on" to is a a relationship with yourself.
posted by jbenben at 9:03 AM on September 11, 2016 [8 favorites]

It makes sense that you're lonely right now. You are taking a break from your old life and relationships, but you feel/know that it's only temporary, so it's hard to move forward with starting new friendships or relationships. Think about what your days are like right now, and think about whether there's anything that you either consciously or subconsciously have decided not to do because "it's only temporary". Consider what kinds of new things you could be doing instead if you felt that this was a permanent change.
posted by aimedwander at 9:47 AM on September 11, 2016

"manipulative" ha, what. Refusing to continue post-affair intimacy with a married woman who intends to stay that way is the one and only principled thing this guy could do. He is right both in not offering that and in communicating that clearly. Getting him back shouldn't be the reason for a divorce, but having him available for safety-net emotional support shouldn't be a reason to continue the marriage either. and luckily, now it can't be.

What you should do, since you ask, is figure out why you've set this up as a temporary separation when your husband is a man you are not attracted to and cannot tell the truth to. You owe a husband the truth, but you might be right about how devastating it would be to him and how little it would help. So, there's a solution to your dilemma: make him into a man who is not your husband anymore, to whom you don't have these obligations, and then you can put away some of the guilt. When the marriage is concluded, you may still be sad but you won't be pressured and uncertain about it anymore and that may make the sadness easier to deal with.

I think others are right that you shouldn't go for the other man right away once you're divorced, not because there's anything wrong with him but because it would help you to know that there's more than just the one man you can enjoy sleeping with and being with. Learning to be alone is important, but in your situation, learning that you don't have to give up pleasure for comfort seems important too. Being able to sleep with anyone you like without paying for it by feeling selfish, dishonest or married is a freedom you deserve and it is within your power to have it.
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:05 AM on September 11, 2016 [53 favorites]

Are you planning on getting back with your husband, or do you think you will divorce? I have a suspicion you are trying to nerve yourself up to get that ball rolling. And yeah, it is hard. But it is also easier than you think. The worst part is being in the limbo between states- not yet fully separated, not yet fully free.

And rebuilding your life is hard... all the comfortable routines of married life are gone. Memories of places and things that were 'us' are now 'then' and 'when we were a couple'.
But you have a chance to build a better life for you, one you chose, one you want, one you will thrive in. It is hard and scary, but there is a reason the quote "And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom" is so popular.
posted by Jacen at 11:16 AM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have been in a situation where I had been unfaithful and needed to end my engagement. It was incredibly difficult because I had gotten so used to the relationship, it wasn't good but it was known. I often told myself that I should be grateful to have him and that it was likely the best I could do, but underneath my attempts to polish it and make it shine bright, I always knew it wasn't right. Eventually I felt like being tied to him was incrementally killing me, the inside spirit part. When it all came apart, here's what I did:

Made a real effort to see who I was and what I wanted in my life, turning over the question "Is settling for comfort what I really want, or is there more out there?"

Putting my time into connection with people who cared about me and only wanted me to be happy, with or without him, taking in their acceptance

Trying to find things that made me feel feelings again, breaking through the numbness that had kept me in the relationship (poetry, music, nature, travel, humans, creativity)

Telling myself that it wasn't solely "my fault" and that it takes two people to make a relationship where they have to hide themselves to get by

Cutting all my hair off (certainly a somewhat stereotypical thing to do but feeling physically different actually really helped)

Destroying some symbols of the pieces that were killing me (burned them in a sink with my best friend, wrote them on rocks and threw them into the river, wrote them on eggs and did a ritual where we announced their departure and then threw the eggs at trees to smash them way out in the woods)

Since then I've met a new partner who connects with me in many ways, adores me and I adore him, and is a person I can be completely real with, no false front required. It's the scariest thing in the world to leave the known for the wide outer world, but there is so much more love out there, love that can sustain.

Good luck searching yourself out. Memail me if you want support.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 11:45 AM on September 11, 2016 [13 favorites]

Honestly, I would make an online dating profile and try to find myself at least a few dates just for coffee or a drink.

I learned a lot about myself while dating other people. It also gave me an idea of what the single life would be like waiting on the other side of divorce. And it gave me more "data" for assessing my significant relationships, the good and the bad.
posted by lizbunny at 5:02 PM on September 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

I believe that divorce is sometimes best, but the facts you shared in this and your prior post don't suggest it. Sexual compatibility is only one piece of a life partnership and it is one that I believe any two people who love each other *can* cultivate with help. You might want to seek out sex therapy together if you stay together to see if you can learn to connect in that way.

Agreed with the others who recommended staying away from the other guy --- he shouldn't be a part of your leave/stay analysis.

Also, don't distract yourself too much by excessive socializing. Live your solo-life as you would live if you got back together with your husband and things were better. That will give you a better sense for your feelings without super stimulating you and making your break seem like the great life you can't have with hubby.

Life partnership isn't about high intensity thrill all the time. It's about sharing a path and giving constant support. If you can learn to rebuild respect for your husband and learn together to have the sexual chemistry you have clearly been lacking, I have hope that your partnership can survive this rough time. It's also totally normal to feel lust (and even love) for others over the course of a long term relationship --- it doesn't mean your marriage is inherently unsalvageable.

My best friend recently took a break from her husband for similar reasons (early marriage, new crush, ambivalence about kids). They did sex therapy, couples therapy, and made some changes to their individual pursuits of happiness within the marriage and two years later are stronger than ever with their first child and a *real* sex life.

Whatever you choose to do, you will be okay! You will make it through. There is no right or wrong path and there is no storybook ending.
posted by qapla at 8:07 PM on September 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

If you tell your husband about this little fling you had -- and are still having -- it will be to assuage your guilt, to take the hurt and guilt you're feeling about that, to kick free of it. Okay, so far so good. But that hurt and guilt isn't going to leave, it's just going to be transferred to your husband. And he might be totally cool with it, and accept it as an aberration of your true self as you tried to find your way out of the stuck marriage you two were in. But it could wound him grievously. And that whether you stay together or not. We don't have the right to hurt others to let go the hurt we're feeling.

I do not see your marriage being over. I see it as the place where the work begins, the true work that's involved in love. Sex is very often the first thing to go in a marriage that's not being taken care of; you get walls built between one another, and it's hard to fuck through a wall of things unsaid, of sadnesses not expressed, of anger held inside. You reached a breaking point behind all of that, and got your cookies and moved out. Good. You'll be much more likely to see things that you couldn't see when you were hung up in it, the dailyness of it, the grind of it.

I hear people say "Oh, it's not what I thought it was -- I'm just so disillusioned." I tell them "Great! That's really great! You're no longer living in an illusion! Now you can begin to live in your marriage, to grow your marriage, to turn it into the place you want to be."

Beautiful weddings are so easy. Throw a few grand here and there, put on some glad-rags, get up in front of well-wishers and say "Yes! Yes, I do!" Any fool can have a beautiful wedding, and most of them do. But there comes a time -- you've reached it -- where looking at your wedding pictures and fingering your wedding gown just don't warm you any more.

The wedding is over.

The marriage has begun.

I'd be willing to bet that if you pull the plug on this marriage, should you find another marriage to step into, you'll reach the same stand-off. Why not just face it down here, why not deal with it now? Your husband sounds to be a fine man, perhaps working alone with each of you having your own therapist, and then working together with a competent marital psychotherapist, could be you'll be amazed at the intimacy that you two will be able to share, one with the other.

And should you find that intimacy, and trust, it will carry over and into your bedroom. And should that come to pass, it'll be a genuine intimacy, and a good one, and you'll not make love to him, and he'll not make love to you; rather than making love *to* one another you'll find yourselves making love *with* one another. A huge difference, and a good one.

I may of course be off track here; sometimes people are just incompatible. But you don't know that you are incompatible with one another or not. Were you to ask me, I'd say that you're in a perfect place to find out. I hope that you will stand still long enough to find out.

Good luck.
No matter what, pull the plug on the back door man. He's unprincipled, and he's playing upon your vulnerability, and preying upon your vulnerability. And so are you. I say shut that door, for good, and put some big honkin' nails in it so neither of you try to step back through it. That's just a fairy tale. Close that door and find your way without those sorts of distractions.
posted by dancestoblue at 6:06 AM on September 12, 2016 [5 favorites]

Life partnership isn't about high intensity thrill all the time.

This is really an awful thing to say to somebody who has been having undesired obligation sex with someone she does not want to have sex with for decades. She's never HAD a thrill of any intensity except that one time. Many women have done this once or twice, fewer have done it throughout an entire relationship, fewer still have done it for an entire marriage. But sex as grim endurance in trade for someone being nice to you didn't used to be rare for women; it used to be "the deal," as it were. It's not anymore. She doesn't have to lie back and take it and she shouldn't be talked into trying even harder to tolerate the intolerable. I think we are all familiar with the phenomenon of being made to feel bad for not wanting to sleep with a nice man just because he's so nice - don't we owe it to him and ourselves to try to want to? Don't we owe it to him to pretend we already do want to? Doesn't marriage make it extra required? (No; no; no. Marriage obligates you to be truthful or to leave or both; it doesn't obligate a woman to open her body to sex and childbearing she doesn't want, like, or enjoy.)

Sex therapy might help to get her over the trauma of half a lifetime of unenjoyed sex, although it sounds like one experience of decent sex was enough to do that already; it is not an appropriate use of any kind of therapy to psych oneself up to force oneself into more sex one doesn't want.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:11 AM on September 12, 2016 [11 favorites]

The crux of the question you wrote last time was that you aren't sexually attracted to your husband and didn't enjoy sex with him. Now that you aren't feeling pressured to have it, how do you feel about not having sex with him? Are you relieved, or do you miss it? If he walked in right now and was like "hooray we're back together, let's have some sex!" how would you feel about it?
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:06 AM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

People who say marriage is hard and boring and unexciting are simply having that experience. That's not universal. Marriage can be delightful and electric and intimate and sexy as hell. It can be fun everyday.*

Have the marriage you want, not the one sorta-happy people think you should settle for.

*Sample size of one 10 year marriage with 2 kids.
posted by French Fry at 9:28 AM on September 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

My friends found this book to be really, really helpful when they were in similar circumstances. It basically outlines specific terms and goals for a separation, agreed to by both of you. When you come back together at the end of the agreed upon time period, it is with the understanding that you will make a decision one way or the other about the future of the relationship. Because both parties agree to the terms, both are on equal footing during the separation. It lets everyone have a hand in making the choice about the relationship. It also takes away the possibility of one party keeping an open-ended separation or decision hanging out for an indeterminate period of time, which was the piece that was ultimately the saving grace for my friends. Rather than the person who was unfaithful feeling torn about caring for both partners, they were moved to decide one way or the other. The partner in the marriage regained some control and did not feel that they were left to hang and wait until their partner made a choice between being with two people. Ultimately, their marriage ended, but they remained on decent terms and have grown to be close friends again years later.
posted by goggie at 1:28 PM on September 12, 2016

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