Last week's post was the first of a two-part series on how to "do" an in-house separation in a way that is more likely to result in healing. Today we continue (after having looked at space/job division, intimacy and communication) with communicating to others.
Communication: There is also the issue of communicating the separation to children and others. Work out ahead of time who, how much, and how you will tell various individuals. Regarding friends and family, therapists advise that you communicate the situation only to those you both feel are safe. It is best to be very selective and agree on this. Communication to children needs to be age appropriate. See Chapter 4 of Beyond Betrayal for more on communicating to children.
Special events: Work out ahead of time specific plans for upcoming special events, children’s school events, vacation, sporting events, family events, weddings, church, etc. Who will attend what events? Can you both attend some events? With separate transport? An agreement to avoid being in the same vicinity? If not, consider splitting the events (e.g., each spouse takes turns with a child's event; church, etc.).
Goals and length of time: The best therapeutic separations have a clear goal associated with them. This might be a specific recovery benchmark, e.g., 90 days of sobriety, 60 days of daily check-ins initiated by him, completion of a full therapeutic disclosure, 90 days of no aggressive communication or gaslighting, etc.
It might be the passing of a certain amount of time in which you are both seeking support: 90 days of counseling, group work, coaching, etc. In the latter case it's common to "reconvene" after the time has elapsed and assess where his recovery and your sense of safety are at. In a recent post I discussed how to assess his good recovery progress. Safety and good recovery frequently go hand-in-hand, but you may have specific safety needs, that are less related to his recovery, which you can also set as a goal for the separation.
If there is anything which could happen to cause one or both of you to end the separation and proceed immediately to out-of-house separation or divorce this should also be discussed. Ideally, you should be as specific as possible. Common causes of moving suddenly into full separation include relapse into addiction, violent/abusive behaviors, discovery of lying/hiding behaviors.
What happens next
At any stage in this process it is helpful to have a couple's counselor/coach involved. This is particularly the case at this stage where she might need support in communicating next steps, assessing his recovery progress or her own trauma healing progress. Similarly the couple may need help creating new goals to go along with their next steps.
Ideally a clear set of "possible next steps" should be agreed upon at the outset of the in-house separation. These include both "next steps," if it has been deemed that the recovery benchmarks have not been hit within a reasonable amount of time, or if they have.
In either of these scenarios, the wife's feelings of safety at the time will be an important factor. Thus, we call these "possible next steps," because ultimately there is no guarantee any of these exact courses of action will be followed.
If benchmarks are not met: If he has failed to meet the benchmarks and she feels safe enough now with the thought of him going out of the home, the potential is there for a therapeutic out-of-house separation. If this is not an option, there may be a way to create more space within the current in-house separation (e.g., less verbal communication, sharing of duties). Another option is to keep the in-house separation at the same level for a second period of time. In any case the separation should ideally be kept going until all parties (including any outside parties facilitating the process) are agreed that current goals have been reached.
Please note than in cases of physical or sexual violence, or any type of abuse that causes you extreme distress it is best that you move directly to an out-of-house separation – something that is possible for most people even during lockdown. In fact, where abuse is a pattern please consider preparing a safety plan for yourself.
If benchmarks are met: If the recovery goals for the therapeutic separation have been met, or the time has elapsed with enough forward progress for the relationship to now feel safer, there are multiple options for moving forward. These include maintaining the current level of separation temporarily (while she works to enhance feelings of safety/trauma recovery in other ways); begin to interact more frequently/more intimately than within the boundaries of the original agreement; begin to share more spaces (e.g. living room, bedroom) and combine responsibilities (except where the new arrangement has proven to suit the couple well and been conducive to their healing process).
Allowing ourselves to be more vulnerable and intimate with someone who has betrayed us is often a bumpy process. Let's bear in mind that even if we say, "Yes!" today, we can always say, "No, let's go back to the former boundaries" tomorrow. However, where good quality recovery is ongoing, including trust building, and we want to maintain the relationship, we may need to be working with someone (and let's remember that God is also putting up His hand on this one) on how to enhance our feelings of safety. In that way our trauma doesn't become a barrier to our own goals for ourselves and the relationship.
And this work, with God and people trained to walk women through betrayal trauma, generally serves women well whether or not the relationship survives the betrayal.