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Is there a “right” time to separate?

There’s never an ideal time to separate…

I remember my journey leading up to separation – I was 3 years out of university.  Leaving my partner was all I could think about for almost a year, wondering whether I was doing the right thing, when was the right time, should I wait and keep trying harder, was I the one being too selfish…

I’m relatively risk averse so I do the research, weigh up the pros and cons, consider all the alternatives and then make an informed decision.  For some reason, when it came to separation I just couldn’t make the call. I didn’t have the courage to end the relationship, no matter how much it wasn’t working for either of us.  It took a fairly catastrophic natural disaster one night for me to pack up my bags the next morning and leave… never to return.  In hindsight, I recognise I took advantage of that event as my catalyst to instigate the separation.  I didn’t need that storm to leave, but it gave me the gumption I needed at the time – looking back I wish I had the courage to make the call before the conflict got too much.

There’s never a “perfect” time to separate.  The same way there’s usually no “perfect” time to get married, or have children.  But how do you know when you’re ready, if there’s no “perfect” time?   Based on seeing thousands of clients in my 20 year career, as well as my own experience, in my opinion the right time to separate is a combination of a number factors:

  • You’re crystal clear on the reasons why this relationship can’t continue. We all know relationships are about give and take, but this goes beyond that – you’re not being selfish, you’re bravely drawing the boundaries that protect you: physically and emotionally.  You can’t change your partner, and they won’t change just to please you (well, not long-term anyway).  Real change has to happen because the person making the change wants it – needs it.
  • You’ve given it your best shot to reconcile. Once you have your clarity about the reasons why the relationship can’t continue, go and reality test them.  Don’t hesitate – pluck up the courage and see a counsellor – start with yourself first, because it helps to organise the messed up heap of scattered thoughts and doubts and when you’re ready, and if your partner will come along, you can try couples counselling.  After working with divorce for 20 years, I can definitely say that it’s cheaper and better to work on a marriage that can be salvaged, than to break it all up with regrets.
  • You have had some legal advice. It’s not being sneaky, and it’s not going behind your partner’s back.  It’s having the mettle to look after your interests, and also to find out how to best look after your partner too.  This is about making sure you understand what your rights and responsibilities are, and that you’re doing the right things in the right sequence – preparation for getting your ducks in a row.  There can be some pretty disastrous consequences, both financially and from a parenting perspective, if you take the wrong pathway.  A good family law specialist will be able to give you confidential advice to help you appreciate where you stand, and set you on the right path early on.  In many cases, having some advice early will mean you can keep things amicable and reach a resolution with minimal cost.  It’s the emotive blow-ups that cost a fortune, and can sometimes cost you your co-parenting relationship too.
  • You are still somewhat amicable. When you are truly certain there is no rescuing the relationship, and you have had some legal guidance, then you’re in the right space to take the steps to separate before things turn nasty and bitter.  Separation is hard enough, but if you hang on in there and the relationship festers, you’ll find yourself in a situation where you despise your partner so much that you will do anything to be free. I’ve seen it all time and again – some people turn to alcohol or drugs to escape, some get angry and take it out on their children, some use their children against each other, others turn to physical violence when their anger explodes, or go and have an affair to find some comfort or as an excuse to get out.  Have the strength to end your relationship with some civility – especially if there are children involved.

There’s no magic science to finding the “perfect” time to separate from your spouse.  But once you’re certain that it’s the right thing for you, taking an informed and sensible approach to separation will help reduce the conflict and give both of you the best chance of working co-operatively.  No one wants to spend a king’s ransom on legal fees – so keeping things as amicable and peaceful as possible means less drain on your finances, as well as your emotions.

Yes, it’s going to hurt.  Yes, it’s going to be difficult, and yes it’s going to be an absolute roller coaster for a while.  However, you now have a road-map on how to be be brave in making the decision to separate from your partner, and keeping your dignity in the process.  Keep focused on your outcome – you have a new journey ahead of you – where you reconnect with yourself, and build the kind of happy you want in your life.

If you’re considering separation, or are ready to take the next step in building your next chapter, feel free to call us on (02) 9523 3007 and we can help you build the courage you may need before taking that next step!