Without goals, the purpose of a separation or change in your relationship will remain unclear and is more likely not to produce the results you are wanting.
Without goals a separation has no direction. How often have I heard, “We tried a separation but nothing changed!” This often means there were no goals established or that goals were unclear or vague. When marriages run into trouble, there is often a battle over who is at fault. I often see each partner pointing the finger at the other and saying “This is what you need to change!” Relationships can improve when each partner assumes responsibility over his/her part in what needs to be different. Goals can be focused on each partner as well as on the relationship. Without goals a couple will have no way of measuring whether there have been any improvements in the relationship during the separation period.
Step 8 – Developing, Clarifying and Changing Goals for your separation, allows you to spell out who will be responsible for working on what during a specified period of separation. I define working on goals for your SELF as an “individual psychological separation.” You can start working on your individual goals immediately with or without support from your partner.
Individual goals focus on:
- Learning and changing your awareness, beliefs, thinking, feelings and behavior;
- Your perception of your SELF, your partner and relationship expectations.
Therapeutic Separation goals focus on both:
- Individual goals and relationship goals;
- What you will invest into your relationship as well as what you would like your partner to invest.
Examples of goals
Mary was easily triggered into anger and frustration by Dan’s silence whenever he didn’t want to deal with something important to her. He would either withdraw or shut down. She would stay angry for days and fantasize about a divorce.
- Mary’s first goal was to become aware of how frustrated and helpless she felt when this happened. These feelings would fuel her anger.
- Mary’s second goal was to reduce the intensity and duration of her first reaction and manage her anger. Mary knew she needed a better strategy to approach Dan, but first she had to manage herself. She didn’t like the idea that Dan’s withdrawal from her created such hurt, helplessness and anger in her. Mary had to learn to breathe, relax her angry and hurt reaction, refocus her thinking and plan on a different strategy to approach Dan.
Goals for an Affair Recovery – Wally and Helen
The first investment and commitment that Helen needed to make was to herself. She had to cope first with the shock and pain of discovering Wally’s affair and then learn how to forgive herself for the blame she took on. The affair triggered deep feelings of insecurity and anxiety that Helen carried around since childhood. Helen hated having these “old feelings” resurface and resented Wally for bringing them back. She hated herself more for allowing Wally to push those buttons. Helen needed to take her share of responsibility for the shaky state of her marriage and perhaps not hearing how desperate Wally was. But she did not need to take full blame for his actions nor declare herself unfit and unlovable as a partner. Without working on forgiving herself and not letting Wally’s actions define who and what she was, Helen could become quite depressed. This would affect the quality of her life and whether she would recover and rebuild with Wally. Let me make this very clear, recovering from one’s partner having an affair can be a major life stressor that not only takes time but effort as well. The question for Helen is whether Wally is willing and would be allowed to help in the recovery. Would Wally make the necessary changes that would earn back Helen’s trust and would she eventually forgive him?
Wally had to understand where he stood with the affair and why he chose to step out of his marriage with someone else. Could he be honest with himself and would he be willing to put effort into finding out why he strayed? He must be able to understand the difference between a new romantic relationship and his marriage of over eight years. Was his affair a message to Helen to get her attention or a way to transition out of the relationship? Wally felt deprived sexually and emotionally in his relationship with Helen. He justified reaching out to someone else to get his wants and needs met. However he does regret and feels very guilty for deceiving and hurting Helen. The empathy he felt for Helen after the affair was disclosed, surprised Wally. This allowed Wally the opportunity to decide whether he wants to end his affair and work on rebuilding his marriage. After his affair was discovered Wally’s attention turned away from his affair partner back to Helen and his family. Would Wally simply comply and do the right thing in ending his affair to avoid more guilt and conflict after getting caught? Some partners do not take the time to understand what they really want. They may make a hasty decision under crisis conditions to return to their marriage only to find out later that they really wanted out of their relationship. Other partners may hastily leave their primary relationship, only to discover that they have made a big mistake. Wally must decide whether to end his affair and be willing to reinvest and recommit to working on his relationship with Helen. Would Wally be willing to apologize and then do the work to help Helen heal and rebuild trust? He would have to accept responsibility for his part of his relationship with Helen that was not working. He would also have to accept a great deal of influence from Helen regarding what she needed from him to rebuild. All of this would be based on how well Wally knew himself and was willing to develop empathy with and for Helen. He must realize and accept how much he hurt Helen from his actions and decide whether he was willing to provide the necessary effort and energy for her healing that would take time. Wally knew he would have to start opening up and sharing his feelings and thoughts with Helen. His resentful silence and withdrawal from her fueled his decision to reach out to another to get his needs met. Wally would have to work on rebuilding his love and intimacy with Helen. This is based on what he has had with her throughout the years together and how important his marriage and family was to him. Is Wally ready to do this work and would Helen be willing to cooperate with his efforts to rebuild?
Taking Space – How to Use Separation to Explore the Future of Your Relationship
Available in paperback and ebook editions
Audio Course: How to Structure and Manage a Separation
Available for download or as a CD
The Separation Agreement
Available for download or as a hard copy