Returning from separation
August 25, 2017 9:45 PM   Subscribe

I separated from my spouse for the summer. Now I'm going back. What should I be considering?

So this was me in May and in June. For those who read the previous questions or are just getting up to speed, here's where things stand now.
1. We separated, and I moved to another city for the summer.

2. I worked a lot but not too much, went out with friends, dated and made new friends, traveled to other new cities, tried new food, walked a ton, saw new movies and shows, went to museums and parks, and just generally escaped my own head. It's been good, full-body immersion. Dating was at times frustrating, in all the typical ways, but it was also affirming: I feel like a confident, attractive person with the potential to meet people with whom I'll really connect. I felt like I could be straight-up with people I talked to and met. I had a good time. I shed any sense of dread I had about finding new people, and I boldly put myself out there in social situations.

3. I found myself anxious in a general sense fairly often, felt a bit paralyzed at work at times, went on and off the metformin to see if it would help, and have worked through those feelings in phone sessions with my therapist. Going off of metformin seems to decrease my anxiety but increase (predictably) those amorous feelings again. I've got some doctor's appointments lined up for when I return to try to figure this out.

4. My spouse started seeing a therapist, though only in this last month, after a summer job that led to taking on more responsibility than expected and a new role. My spouse thrived there, and illness also didn't interfere with it. Going it alone for the summer was not the health disaster we feared it could be. If anything, our being apart was calming for both of us. We haven't fought and our conversations haven't been particularly edgy. Though that also feels like it could be a bit artificial. I have recognized things I like about my spouse and have found hard to find in others, which is positive but ultimately just one piece of the puzzle.

But now, with my return imminent, I'm trying to mentally prepare for what's next. Here's what I'm feeling.
1. Sadness and nostalgia: I love the city I've been in while we've been separated, and I'm sad to leave it and the friends I have here. Dating has also been a lot more fun than I expected, and I find myself wishing I could work out some kind of poly thing with my spouse when I return, just to keep that ongoing sense of discovery and fun and sexiness in my life. (My spouse would not ever go for that and wouldn't be pleased to hear about the dating, either. Please reserve judgment on that if you can—it was something I felt like I needed to do, and my therapist encouraged it.)

2. Trepidation: I'm worried that things seem fine and cordial now, since we've only been talking every so often, but that we're just on our best behavior, and that things will soon devolve once I return. I guess if they do, I know what to do, but it will be difficult. I've talked through plans with my therapist: how to keep up the new habits I've formed while here, making a list of things I specifically want from my spouse, etc. It's up to my spouse to hold up the other end of that. I'm afraid we'll fall back into the same patterns of avoidance and attack. I'm afraid my spouse will tense up and get sick again. I'm afraid we still won't be intimate and I'll go months more without that. I'm afraid we'll go back to our old therapist and fall back into old patterns just by seeing her. I'm afraid we'll travel together and it will either not go well or go deceptively well. I'm afraid that if everything doesn't go well, I won't know when or how to call it.

3. Anticipation: I am looking forward to being back in my own space and maintaining some of my new habits there. I'm looking forward to seeing friends back home. I'm looking forward to making some changes to my living space on the basis of things I've seen and experienced this summer. I'm looking forward to enjoying local food again. None of these are specific to my spouse, though.
So for those who have been here before—who have separated and returned, successfully or not successfully, for any value of "success"—or who have been in similar situations, what would you suggest that I keep in mind? What did you do that went well or didn't go well? As per my previous questions, my goal is not necessarily to avoid divorce, but rather to give this a fair trial, due diligence, with clear eyes and mind. Thanks again for any thoughts. Everyone's answers to the previous questions were also much appreciated.
posted by o_O to Human Relations (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I find it interesting that you mention that you miss your space, city, friends, right down to the local food but nowhere do you mention that you miss your spouse...? Most of your question outlines how great your break was and what you'll miss about it, including the dating. That coupled together with the conspicuous absence of wanting to see your spouse makes me wonder why you're going back, to be honest. There's no real mention of how they factor in or how you still feel about them. Without knowing that, it's hard to answer beyond it.
posted by Jubey at 11:04 PM on August 25, 2017 [33 favorites]

Why are you going back when it seems "cordial" is the best this relationship gets?
posted by KateViolet at 11:07 PM on August 25, 2017 [14 favorites]

Can you confirm whether it's logistically possible for you to not go back? It just doesn't sound like you want to.
posted by hazyjane at 11:08 PM on August 25, 2017 [4 favorites]

Since you asked what to think about and not if you should go back, I'll answer the question you asked:
For this to work, you and your spouse are going to need to have some clear, honest conversations about what is going on for each of you. This is hard. Have you considered getting a couples therapy to help you with this?
posted by metahawk at 11:41 PM on August 25, 2017

Yeah, I don't hear why you are choosing go back. Is it really what you want? It doesn't seem like it at all.
posted by blueberry at 12:07 AM on August 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

You mentioned a desire for children earlier - do you still want children? Keeping your spouse in suspension over whether or not you want the marriage to continue is not a kindness, but a waste of their time too. It's hard to strike out new when you have a known partner, but your summer apart shows you that you can do that and survive, even thrive.

You don't write about your partner as someone who you think has made confirmed change, and if you want to have children, you'll be bound to that person for at least twenty years. You want a partner you think will be a great parent with you.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 12:22 AM on August 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think you should tell your spouse about the dating. I don't judge you for it at all, but it's not a trivial thing, especially since you're not entirely happy about going back to monogamy. Your spouse may not want to reconcile when they find out, but that's their choice, and it sounds like it wouldn't be an entirely bad thing for you. Keeping them in the dark is unfair.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 1:56 AM on August 26, 2017 [18 favorites]

So your spouse is doing all right alone? Seriously, why not make this final? Why are you going back?

I get the lurking sense from your posts that maybe you are going back because you feel like you need to take care of your partner due to their health issues even though they are not good to you, do not want to have children with you and do not even want to have sex with you. If this is the case, know that you are trading your life for theirs. It sounds like they are physically pretty stable and only ten years older than you - you'll be doing this for many, many years to come. Is that what you want? Do you want to look back at seventy (should America last that long) and say "now I'm free to have my own life, now I've fulfilled my responsibility"? I mean really, don't do that.
posted by Frowner at 3:37 AM on August 26, 2017 [22 favorites]

If "dating " has included sex with other people you should have STI tests done before you go back. Many are asymptomatic.
posted by raccoon409 at 4:03 AM on August 26, 2017 [4 favorites]

What should I be considering?

You should strongly consider not going back.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 4:41 AM on August 26, 2017 [10 favorites]

Agree that you should strongly consider not going back.

I did this kind of separation right down to living in a new city. I was happy. My spouse was not, and wanted me to come back. I came back, despite misgivings, the issues remained, and we finally separated and divorced a couple of years later.

I wish I had not gone back and just ended it then.
posted by corvine at 6:08 AM on August 26, 2017 [10 favorites]

If you're going to go back (and I don't see any reason why you should), think really hard about what you're hoping to achieve by returning.
- How will you decide whether you've given your marriage/husband a "fair trial"?
- What would a successful reunion with your husband/reaffirming of your marriage look like?
- What would have to happen for you to feel ready to leave for good?
- How will you feel if things continue as they are for 1/5/10 years?
posted by mskyle at 6:26 AM on August 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

Don't go back, you clearly don't want to.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 7:19 AM on August 26, 2017

Response by poster: I appreciate any and all advice. To clarify a few things in the light of day:
1. I am going back; it's happening at this point. I get that my heart needs to be in it, which is a challenge with all the back story here, but I'm willing to try. I'm not willing to try forever, and I think the burden is much more on my spouse to come to the table with a new outlook, but I'm also coming back with some perspective on things. I do have a lot of fears, though, which really boil down to "This may not work out and we may need to go through a lot more pain to confirm that. And then we may end up going through a lot more pain thereafter." I do see a lot of potential pain on the horizon. I guess I'm saying I'm willing to endure it. Maybe that unnecessarily makes me a glutton for punishment, though.

2. We do have a couples therapist, though neither of us is particularly into them, and we will resume those sessions when I return. I think we may need to find someone else soon, but I'm willing to go back to them for now. The goal of those sessions is sort of open-ended, to me—maybe it shouldn't be. I guess I'm not ready to call it and say one way or the other yes, I think we should stop trying to connect and focus on how to deal with each other through divorce, or yes, I think we should stop considering divorce and just focus on connection. Maybe that's a cop-out. I don't know at this point. That's one reason why I'm going back—to see if anything about my feelings has changed when I see my spouse.

3. I will get routine STI testing soon during one of the appointments I mentioned, not to worry. I understand the ethical and health concerns.
Thanks again.
posted by o_O at 9:49 AM on August 26, 2017

You sound like you are already emotionally divorced. It does not sound like you are going back to the other person in full faith, and THAT is why you shouldn't.
posted by tooloudinhere at 11:18 AM on August 26, 2017 [9 favorites]

I get that my heart needs to be in it, which is a challenge with all the back story here, but I'm willing to try.

Your heart needs to be in it before you go. It needs to be the engine driving your decision, not the cart you're dragging behind it.
posted by the return of the thin white sock at 11:21 AM on August 26, 2017 [18 favorites]

I think the most likely outcome is that you'll fall back into misery. The wild card is whether you'll have what it takes to make a more permanent separation: the self-esteem, energy, ability to separate from the guilt, and the hope and clarity that things can be better. That seems to be at the root of a lot of your fears, too.

Maybe you could try to collect your memories of this time, the ones that'll help you connect to this vision of life on your own. E.g., you could identify three really great images (the sparkling fun of a date, the comfort of your own place...?) and store them away in as much specificity and vividness as possible. Songs, smells, all of the senses, can help you keep from sinking completely back in the swamp of misery. (When I broke up with a verbally abusive ex, it was one pop song that made me want to dance and a type of food that he hated that reminded me how I could feel and the positive things that I could have in my life.)
posted by salvia at 11:27 AM on August 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

When I was around 27 I had a year of long distance separation before getting back together. My heart was not in it and the time we spent together afterwards was wasted, as yours will be.
posted by ftm at 11:41 AM on August 26, 2017 [5 favorites]

Okay, having now read all of your questions, I'd also suggest making more dating or affairs off limits to yourself until you've broken up (or at minimum gotten your partner's consent, but you said that they wouldn't go for it). It seems like at times, it's given you just enough happiness to make your life bearable and keep you from confronting this big structural problem. It seems like maybe it was a catalyst, or training wheels, that you no longer need. And while I don't judge you, there is a pretty clear moral issue here -- if the only way to stay with your spouse is to deceive them, then the relationship is dragging you down compared to the level of peace and self-respect you could have if you were on your own or with a partner that you were able to be open and honest with.

A few other pieces of advice:
- A breakup is not just the end of one thing; it's the
of the next phase, so I'd give some thought to how you want this time to go, and how you want the breakup to happen if it does. How do you want to look back on yourself behaving? How can you leave from a position of self-confidence (and not, e.g., in a flurry of their anger at discover the cheating)?
- If you think your couples counselor is bad, I'd get a better one ASAP so that you can feel you got your due diligence out of the way. Or just decide that they're good enough. It's probably a waste of time to linger in this "maybe we need a better one" stage.
- With your own therapist, maybe start looking at all the things you have to confront to feel okay about divorcing. For example, if it's "will my parents judge me?" either decide that they won't or you don't care, or actually check in with them. If you can knock down the barriers one by one, it can free you to make a decision out of your hopes, not your fears.

Divorcing is going to be painful. But it is the price of admission to the world of being single and being free to form new romantic connections, move, and so on. Good luck!
posted by salvia at 11:45 AM on August 26, 2017 [9 favorites]

That's one reason why I'm going back—to see if anything about my feelings has changed when I see my spouse.

That's fair.

You have a few data points, one of which is - it sounds from your account of your separation - that you seem to have been happier without them around. For many people this would be all they need to know, but you are thorough and you want another data point, to see how it feels to be with them now that each of you has had time to experience life apart. That's ok. It's a big decision you are making. Fine to be thorough with your data collection.

Just keep collecting the data for a while. Maybe keep a diary, every week at least, to keep notes. Is your sex life better with them or without them (don't cheat on them, that will screw up your data.) Are you a less honest and kind person with them, or more? Are you happier, calmer, with them or without? And most crucially: are you on the path you want to be further down in ten years? You described your marriage as sexless and offering no prospect for children earlier, so if those are still priorities for you, figure out if you're going to get them in this marriage now or what. And make a bargain with yourself to put a deadline on it: six months or whatever feels right. Check your data and see what decision it leads you to.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:13 PM on August 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

You're happier without your spouse and you're wasting time - potentially years of your life and theirs - by going back. An open or poly relationship is not a solution to avoid a primary partner you don't want to be with. The affairs are a bandaid. You're also not giving this a fair trial, because you're acting like a single person and withholding key information from your spouse.

I've been here before. I went back, because love, guilt and nostalgia. I ended up wishing I'd called it years earlier.
posted by wreckofthehesperus at 1:13 PM on August 27, 2017 [5 favorites]

I'll take a stab at answering what you should consider in going back to your spouse. You say that you want to see if your feelings have changed. Ok, so give yourself a time line. If things haven't changed in x months, then be ready to call it quits.

Other things:
Do you want to be with your spouse forever, have kids with him and parent together with him?

How do you want your relationship to look like? What are your needs? Who and how do you want to be in this relationship?

Do you feel like you can trust him with your feelings? With your life?

Basically pay attention to how the relationship and your life are looking against what you want. If you're not getting what you want, and you've talked to him about it, you've been to therapy, you've done everything you can and nothing changes, or changes too little too late, end it. I'm also worried about you trying so hard that you get burnt out and you have nothing left for yourself. Don't pour everything into trying to make this work. If it's not working, it's not. You're not bad people because of it.

Please keep us posted. We're rooting for you!
posted by foxjacket at 5:57 PM on August 27, 2017

What should you consider?
  1. What do you need to be happy and fulfilled. Be specific.
    • do you need a specific amount of together or alone time?
    • Do you need a specific amount or type of communication?
    • do you need specific types of affection?
  2. What did you like about dating, besides the novelty factor?
  3. What traits to you value most in a partner?
  4. Which of these traits does your spouse have/which are lacking?

  5. Why do you want to try again?

  6. What old habits would be triggers for you? Do you believe that these behaviors are truly gone

  7. If you truly think you would like to be open/poly (and not just use others to replace intemacy that is missing in your primary relationship) why don't you want to discuss that with your spouse?Communication is what will make this work, if that's a need for you it should be an option to discuss.
Things I wouldn't try to question to closely at this point is "what's my specific breaking point", "how long am I going to "try"".

I recommend avoiding those because I view them as intimacy killers. If you're going to try to rebuild, then try to rebuild. But setting a bunch of super specific timelines or boundaries really just smacks of running out the clock - which is a waste of both of your time.
posted by dadici at 1:06 PM on September 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

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