Summertime can open the door to big change for those with a marriage on the rocks.
Summer invites us to break out of the rhythm of our weekly routines. For parents, the absence of the daily school demands usually means more unstructured time and more togetherness as a family. Depending on the nature of our marital struggles and where we are in facing them, the prospect of two-week family holidays or a string of three-day weekends can trigger hope for healing – or dread about extended time in close proximity.
When it comes to couples in crisis, a lot depends upon individual circumstances, but generally, summertime can provide an important opportunity to take a hard look at where things are, and then to follow up with constructive action. If things have gotten particularly tense and difficult, and both parties acknowledge this, the summer could be a good time to try living apart.
Why summer separation is good for marriages on the rocks.
Things are generally more fluid in the summer, so for couples with kids who are looking at the prospect of splitting up, it is usually the easiest time to explore separate living and parenting arrangements. Maybe one parent stays out of town with the kids for periods of time and heads back to town while the other parent comes out to be with the kids. Or one parent stays with friends or family and rotates with the other parent for periods in the primary home in what’s called a “nesting” arrangement. There may be opportunities for parents to take turns traveling with kids to see extended family. Then, too, kids may be away at camp or summer travel programs, which gives even more space for parents to try a provisional separation – or to work on their marriage.
Also, the ad hoc nature of summer vacation time allows many couples to shift living situations without having to make any official pronouncement (until they are ready). And depending upon the age and emotional maturity of their kids, this summer might not the time to discuss a potential separation or divorce with them.
For couples who have been struggling, but who have not been talking about it, summertime can make it harder to pretend that the marriage is still working. Often, one parent can be deeply invested in making everything okay. As parents, that is part of our job. But sometimes moms or dads can expend vast amounts of energy while merely managing to make things seem okay – for the in-laws, for the couple’s friends, for the extended family, for their summer community, or even for themselves. Summer is a good time to stop and ask yourself: “What is the point to all of this?”
Sometimes, Summer Simply Shakes the Cheated-On Spouse out of Denial
Also, it’s worth noting that if one member of the couple is involved in a relationship outside the marriage, vacations are often when affairs get found out. This is usually because spouses tend to be more attuned to each other when they spend extended time together away from the regular distractions. If an affair fit neatly into the well-oiled machinery of the usual workweek schedule, there is likely to be a lot more texting and emailing when the cheating spouse is away from their romantic interest for extended periods. A dramatic uptick in time on the phone – or secretive calls or texting – draws attention to the affair.
Sometimes, summer simply shakes the ignorant partner out of denial. If you’re having an affair, ask yourself: “Do I know I want to end my marriage for this relationship? Or is it time to double down on therapy and try and end this affair?” Or if you’re on the other end of the affair, are you ready to confront the possibility that your partner is cheating?
Marriage on the Rocks: Consider a Trial Separation
Let’s say you do decide as a couple to give each other some distance via a summer trial separation. The next question is how can you use that time in a way that will land you in the firmest mental and emotional state by the end of it. Think of it as, well, time to think.
Since founding UNtied, a women’s education and support network around the process and aftermath of divorce, I’ve talked to dozens of men and women about their first months of separation.
Many of us have found value in taking these two or three months to check in with ourselves in the deepest way possible. This usually doesn’t include partying it up night after night, or taking to Tinder for binge hookups. Beware of leaning on sex, drugs, or alcohol. Without getting into the ethical issues or physical dangers, these are tools of distraction, and what you need right now is to focus. Better to turn to tools and strategies that will help you stay fully checked in.
5 Strategies and Tools for Coping with a Marriage on the Rocks:
- Schedule time for reflection, whatever that may mean for you. Make it a daily ritual to meditate, take a walk, write down your thoughts. My good friend and colleague Jenny did each of these, and in addition, she booked herself a weekly massage.
- Discover the solace of books. Sometimes a great novel has a way of elevating heartbreak. Other times, even if you eschew self-help books, you might find true guidance in books by Pema Chodron or Brené Brown. I applied myself to reading the entirety of Martha Beck’s Steering by Starlight and even re-read chapters.
- Make a point of spending time with the close friends or family members who bring you deep comfort – the ones you never have to put on a show for, and who can listen without judgment. Even if it is just one or two people, they can be treasures.
- This is a good time to talk to a therapist regularly. If you are planning to be out of town often, work with someone willing to connect by phone or Skype.
- Consider joining a group where others are struggling with similar experiences. Maybe it’s Al-Anon, Parents without Partners, a church group, or a local divorce support group.
As for all of these options, try them out; if they don’t feel productive, move on. But be open-minded: personal growth is always at least a little uncomfortable. The point is to nourish yourself, to put yourself in a state where you feel strong enough to look at things clearly, and to pull in as much support as you can. It is your time to take stock and figure out where your head and heart lie. Do all this, and some answers will come – not just about what you want for your marriage, but what you want for the next chapter of your life.
A student of all things divorce-related, Elise Pettus is passionate about connecting divorcing women to each other as well as to the most experienced and competent professionals in all fields related to their needs. She is the founder of www.UNtied.net