Feeling super anxious about separation—should I do this?
June 4, 2017 5:01 PM   Subscribe

This was me a little over three weeks ago. I'm trying to make a big decision and I feel paralyzed. Here it is: I'm not ready to just divorce, but should I go ahead with my plan to separate from my spouse in another city for 2 months?

You all gave me great advice about my marriage and my overall situation in May. I've really been trying hard to get things in order since then (e.g., initial consultation with a divorce lawyer), while also trying to do my best to give myself mental breaks, days where I don't focus on this, etc. I'm trying to remember that change has to be incremental. But here's the back story to my question.
1. I've set in motion tentative plans to separate for 2 months in July and August and relocate to another city during that time. My spouse will be working out of town during part of that time anyway. I would return in September and evaluate things then. The purpose of the separation would be to clear my head and try to see everything as objectively as I can—I felt like my travel earlier in the year worked really well for that. I already took steps to discuss this with someone I would sublet from and with the necessary people at work (to set this up as a working vacation). Everyone has been positive about the idea. I do have some trepidation about this, which is why I asked the question above. I feel anxious about committing to it. I feel like the travel could just be distracting, expensive, and difficult without much gain. On the other hand, I've been having trouble focusing on my work, as mentioned in the last question, and this could give me space to just focus on myself and on my work during those two months. It would also help me decide whether I even want to live in the city I currently live in—whether the comfort I feel in this house in the suburbs is illusory at best, and whether I can feel comfortable somewhere else that's entirely different. There is certainly some aspect of it that is very much an adventure I need to have, after getting together with my older spouse at age 23 and not having significant solo adventures at all since then.

2. I've continued couples therapy with my spouse. We've had some difficult, frank discussion—I've tried to be as candid as possible about the issues detailed in my initial post. Inasmuch as I don't owe anyone due diligence, I feel better knowing I'm being as thorough as I can in terms of trying to address the serious issues we have from my perspective. Separating would of course interrupt that. But I'm been feeling like it's a necessary next step for me.

3. I've asked my spouse to go to individual therapy and made it clear that this is a condition for staying together and also to any possibility of having children together. I was thinking my spouse could at least start this and try to make some progress during the separation—or that if that didn't happen, it would be another data point. My spouse did call up a friend to get the number of the therapist they saw after a breakup, but so far hasn't heard back...and hasn't followed up.

4. We got in another fight about midway through the past few weeks during which my spouse called me lazy, which we discussed in our last couples therapy session. That's when I broached the idea of my going out of town to separate for a while, very clearly explaining the back story and how I'd scouted this out when I was out of town last. Then we had our sixth wedding anniversary a couple days later. Our cards to each other were certainly bittersweet, and I'm not sure either of us knew exactly what to say. We got each other gifts; my spouse's gift to me included a bag to take to the other city, which was a sweet gesture but one that did evoke mixed feelings. It felt caring yet almost overbearing somehow. (He's been asking a lot of questions about the safety of where I would be staying, etc.) And yet it also felt like about as good of a gesture as I could've expected, given our current situation.

5. Per discussions in couples therapy, we have spent some time together in the past week or so doing more work to set things up in our shared living space, with the idea of giving us a low-pressure space to connect and also a place for friends to hang out (a couple of my spouse's friends plan to visit and stay with us toward the end of this month, before I would head out). I'd been avoiding this (which is where the "lazy" epithet originated, in part) because it sort of felt like playing house, like a waste of time and emotional energy, like shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic, etc. But it was nice in some sense to have this set up. (I've been trying to separate feelings of comfort that are connected with the living space and material security from feelings that actually have anything to do with our relationship, as emotionally, our relationship hasn't felt like a safe space for me for a long time. But the house itself is nice and does feel safe.)

6. Unexpectedly, one of my spouse's family members offered us one of the final pieces we needed for this setup this week as well, a quality item of furniture. It's a very nice gesture, but I also feel guilty and weird about accepting it, knowing I have one foot out the door, so to speak. But I don't feel like this is something we could refuse, given that if we are still going to be here together at all for any time, it is a thing that we needed to get anyway. And I also don't want to start everyone talking about this during a month when we're going to need to see these family members several times for celebrations that have been planned for some time. (That's one reason I'm not leaving sooner, as I do care about my spouse's family and want to be part of these celebrations as much as I can be. I've seen all the kids grow up, and while I've long had mixed feelings about becoming close to my spouse's family, feeling like my spouse and I were teetering on the edge of not being together fairly often, I do love them and feel comfortable with them. They're not the problem.)

7. I've continued to see my own therapist and discuss all of this in detail. We meet again tomorrow.

8. After much thought, I've come to a really good place of acceptance regarding my former affair partner. This probably helped get me there a little faster than I otherwise would have. I laughed when I put all the pieces together and figured out what happened. It was still a little surreal that the wedding would occur so soon, but that did help put it all back in its proper context—as something that was inspiring and that felt good but that was also impermanent and a harbinger of changes I needed to make in my own life. I feel like I'm just about where I need to be with this, though the recent developments did make me doubt my own judgment (beyond the doubt inspired by the whole decision to have an emotional affair in the first place, of course). It has left me wondering whether I can really trust my perceptions of others' intent and how I would ultimately fare in the dating world. But that entire train of thought is a bit preemptive and not really anything I need to rush to figure out.

9. I've continued to exercise and try to make connections with people and go out more. I've also started taking metformin (along with vitamins B12 and D3) for my PCOS and started to make significant dietary changes, so hopefully at some point that will really start to do its job. (I did buy some myo-inositol and d-chiro-inositol, per one commenter's suggestion in the previous thread, so I have that as another option to try if the first option doesn't work.)

All of that said, I have a lot of anxiety surrounding the decision to actually execute the plan to separate. I think in part, given the history of physical abuse in my family growing up, I have a hard time calling it when I'm not, you know, actually getting hit and the abuse is all mental and verbal. I also have trepidation for some of the other reasons mentioned above, including just general anxiety. But I need to write back to the person I'd be subletting from in the other city, and the thought of not going ahead with this feels like failure and like I'll just be sitting here with nothing changing. What would you do? Should I go ahead and do this? How did it go when you were in a similar situation and decided to do so? What else should I be considering? Thank you for any thoughts on this and for reading or skimming what's above!
posted by o_O to Human Relations (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I feel you are focusing on what you want to move away from, rather than towards. I also feel most people think their relationships will get better "once XX happens". Instead assume your relationship will stay the same, assume your life as set up in the other city will also stay the same; now which direction to you want to move towards?
posted by saucysault at 5:24 PM on June 4, 2017 [6 favorites]

1. I've set in motion tentative plans to separate for 2 months in July and August and relocate to another city during that time. My spouse will be working out of town during part of that time anyway. I would return in September and evaluate things then.

You should definitely do this. Even if you have a terrible time and miss your spouse and home, you will learn something useful. and I bet you will have a good time, at least part of the time. If the anxiety or the cost is too overwhelming, you could scale it back to one month rather than two? but it would be good for you even with a perfect spouse and a happy marriage. in that case you would just think of it as a vacation instead of a separation.

I think just try to clarify in your own mind whether you're afraid if it goes well you'll feel you have no choice but to divorce, you'll have left no way out? or afraid it won't give you any relief or clarity and will all have been a waste, or if you don't feel dramatically better it won't justify a divorce? but however it goes, you'll still have a free choice at the end of it. and it won't be a waste, you will have space and adventure without giving up your regular working life. it'll be good. and if you've already decided in your heart to divorce but have to do certain things first and this is one of them, it's a fine transitional step.
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:43 PM on June 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

Gogogogogogogogogogogo. You need the space so badly. I think the relief and clarity you will feel from time apart will be immense and you'll come back with answers and a solid direction to take.
posted by Jubey at 5:54 PM on June 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yes. Absolutely. Go. Take the time and the space that you need, it is beyond okay to give yourself a chance to get clarity on a very serious life situation. Please do this.
posted by palomar at 6:19 PM on June 4, 2017

I didn't read your earlier question, but I read it now when you referenced it. There are a lot of resonances with your situation and my former marriage at its end. I also had an extramarital relationship (in my case, with my husband's knowledge and permission) that shored up the sinking ship for a while, and when that ended, I had to deal with the compound grief of that heartbreak plus the unvarnished awfulness of my marriage.

Also, I very strongly recognized what you wrote at the end here about not quite believing that abuse is abuse if it's not physical. I also grew up in an extended family with a lot of role models of extremely bad relationships (physical abuse, desertion, etc) and it was very, very hard for me to move past the mindset that the man I married must be a good guy because he never raised his voice or his hand, he didn't go out drinking and whoring, etc, etc.

In my case, I didn't really truly believe that the clearly shitty dynamics between my husband and I was abuse until I started having terrifying, atypical experiences that I now understand were traumatic response (terror, confusion, dissociation...) In short, I started to see signs that I was actually breaking in some fundamental way because of the interactions between my husband and me. I have always been an emotionally strong person and I didn't even know that was possible; I had no idea that there even was a limit like that, much less where it was. But it was crystal clear when I crossed it, and even though I got myself into therapy and got help immediately, done was done. A few years later, the divorce is now done and dusted, and it's clear that these traumas are here for the long haul. It's shitty.

I tell this long tale because I so wish I had left much earlier and just not sustained the damage. I wish my younger self had been able to say, "I've tried my best, this isn't working, let's quit while we're ahead." I want to convey to you that there is no prize for sticking it out in this misery. Get out before more damage is done.

Call it a day and devote yourself to learning what is it about the contours of your psyche that contributed to you being able to tolerate the early version of this bad dynamic--so that you don't end up slipping into a same-shaped relationship.

Last thing I want to convey: from what you've written, I think it's pretty likely that some of your reluctance to leave has to do with what you think you've done wrong (like your affair) and what you think you owe your husband, who's ill and who you do still care about. I would like to point out that sexual/emotional infidelity is what most people think of as "betrayal" in a relationship, in fact, there are lots of forms of betrayal in a relationship (John Gottman has written a really good book about trust and betrayal, definitely worth a read) and I would point out that your husband has betrayed your trust in a number of different ways. If both partners don't value the importance of earning trust, I think the marriage is bound to be undermined....

I wish you the best of luck. It's so, so hard--but God, you don't have kids, you have no idea how much harder it is when they're here. Please move toward extricating yourself from this marriage and start your healing in earnest.
posted by Sublimity at 4:25 AM on June 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

I haven't had this exact experience, but what is familiar from your question is that feeling of paralysis and anxiety leading up to a big change.

In my experience, this kind of anticipatory panic is actually the hardest part of doing something hard but necessary -- in your heart, you KNOW that you have to make this change, but you haven't quite pulled the trigger yet, so you just circle around and around it: can I do this, is this right, will leaving help anything?

But from what you've written it really does sound like leaving this marriage is the best option for you both in the long term -- and that you KNOW that. I bet that once you are actually taking concrete steps in that direction (starting with spending those two months away), you'll feel so much better -- because instead of worrying about leaving, you'll actually be doing it.
posted by attentionplease at 7:33 AM on June 5, 2017

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