Over the years, I have worked extensively with couples as well as individuals around the issue of separation. I have worked with couples and individuals who are in the process of deciding whether to separate, dealing with the decision one partner has made to end the relationship, and in the aftermath of a separation when trying to re-build their life and come to terms with what has occurred.
Through my experience, I have come to realize that there are times when it is just not possible for a partner to fully understand why the relationship has resulted in separation. The reasons for this may be due to a number of factors, including:
- the lack of insight or ability to reflect which makes it hard to be able to really consider what has led to this point;
- the unwillingness of the partner initiating the separation to give any details about their reasons; or
- if they do give details, it may still not be enough for their partner to fully understand.
Because of the emotional nature of a relationship breakdown, it can be very difficult to have clarity around what is occurring. And it can be extremely difficult to separate out what issues are yours and what belongs to your partner.
Even when a decision to separate is mutual, it is often hard not to experience this in some way as a rejection. Our defences often go up at these times as a way to protect our vulnerable self. These defences can make it hard to be objective in understanding our partner’s reasons for wanting to separate.
The reasons for separating may be unclear but not necessarily to both partners. One partner may be very comfortable with their reasons for separating but not able to articulate them clearly; they may choose not to share everything with the other partner; or they may not have a clear, articulate conception of all their reasons but ‘know’ or ‘feel’ that this is the right decision for them to make.
I have also come to understand that there are times when relationships just don’t work out. Sometimes, no matter how much effort one or both partners make, they aren’t able to improve things to a point where both are happy to continue the relationship. Hard work, love, or a great desire to keep the relationship going isn’t always enough to make it work. It can be hard to understand why this is so and in fact it isn’t always helpful to keep trying to understand. In some ways, this can keep a person stuck rather than being able to move forward in their own life.
I believe that what is often most helpful is coming to an acceptance that the relationship has ended, even if we don’t fully understand why. For people who need certainty, who like to really know all the ins and outs of things or who struggle with anxiety, it is much harder to let go and accept what is happening. For these partners, the need to know can be related to a need for control and the belief that the more understanding one has, the more in control one feels. The work for that person becomes about how to let go and come to an acceptance of a decision that one doesn’t fully understand the reasons for; and this is always a challenge.