When is it a good idea to have a trial separation?
My husband and I have been together for five years, married two. Lately our relationship has hit a really rough patch.
I could sum it up by saying that Jim no longer makes our relationship a priority. Since last September he’s been an associate at a law firm and spends a lot of time at work, so we don’t spend much time together. Because of his job demands, he often breaks commitments to me. He even cancelled our anniversary trip to Maui last month at the last minute.
He’s also made a work friend, Brian, whom I don’t like because this guy is always flirting with Jim. Jim tells me it is harmless and although I asked him not to spend time with Brian, they often hang out. I resent that he is spending a big chunk of the little free time he has with this guy. I don’t go because I can’t stand Brian, who of course is single.
I have a much less demanding job and more free time, so I do the bulk of the shopping, house cleaning, etc. But I’m starting to resent this imbalance. I’m also lonely and sick of coming home and making dinner and then he calls and won’t be home till 11 p.m. This happens a lot.
Jim points out that his large income helps both of us but I don’t see the point of making a lot of money when our life together is nonexistent.
When I’m at the gym I casually chat with guys and find myself wondering if there might be someone whom I’d have a better time with and who would be more interested in a connected relationship.
So I wonder if it’s a good idea to take a break. See what else is out there. Maybe I’ll find someone who actually wants a connection with me and who is more available for a relationship. Or maybe I’ll find out I’m in a grass-is-greener mindset and what we have is as good as it gets.
And maybe Jim will realize if I’m not around that he actually wants to have more of a life with me and stop taking me for granted.
What do you think?
Are you really wanting to end your marriage without admitting that you want out? If so, why bother calling it a trial separation? Are you thinking you’ll come off looking better if you give the appearance of wanting to make an effort?
I’ve seen trial separations help when the couple is in heated conflict and needs to cool off before they can figure out how to proceed. And when there is a lot of tension, a couple may be able to better work on their marriage when they aren’t literally on top of each other.
But the key — if you have any interest in staying together — would be to actually work on your marriage while you are apart. Otherwise, you’d be coming back to the same problematic relationship if you were to reunite.
You haven’t given any reasons why you’d like to actually stay with Jim, except the possibility that relationships don’t get much better than the one you have. If that’s your thinking, please know that with effort, relationships can be far better.
By your account, Jim has one foot out the door. But you also have a foot out the door. And you’re focusing your attention on Jim’s feet, not yours. Your letter doesn’t mention anything you are doing, or have tried to do, in order to address the problems the two of you are having.
If you do have reasons why you’d like to stay, could you talk to Jim about your concerns instead of allowing the distancing to continue? Initiate discussion about what each of you thinks is necessary to sustain this relationship? Ask Jim to step up his commitment to you and to the relationship, while also stepping up your own commitment to strengthening your marriage?
Walking out in hope that Jim will realize how much he misses and needs you would essentially be punishing him so that he behaves more to your liking going forward. I believe you’re making similar moves right now, such as your treatment of his friend Brian. You could easily push Jim away and poison your relationship with these passive-aggressive behaviors.
So the main question isn’t a trial separation. It’s whether or not you want a better marriage. If you do, roll up your sleeves, and do your best to enlist Jim. And if the two of you find you can’t do it alone, find a couples therapist to help you chart a new course.
Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at michaelradkowsky.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@michaelradkowsky.com.