Q: My spouse and I recently separated. I have no idea what being separated means. When we do get together it's to work out our problems and ends up in a big fight. We're in counseling, but there is no fun in our relationship now that we're separated. What should my expectations be?
Juli: There are two types of separations. In the first type, the couple is, for all intents and purposes, divorced without the stigma and finality of divorce. The second type, called a "therapeutic separation," sounds more like your situation. The purpose of a therapeutic separation is to address marital issues that became too difficult to deal with while living in the same home, with the goal of restoring the marriage.
It's very important for your separation to have a way back to intimacy that is clearly spelled out with your counselor. In other words, what specifically needs to change before you're ready to reunite? You should be working intensely with your counselor on the issues you have identified. Your counselor should advise you regarding whether or not it is safe to have related conversations outside the counseling sessions. Some relationships are still too toxic to talk about the big issues without a mediator.
While you need to have meetings to discuss the deeper issues of your marriage, your counselor may also recommend that you begin to date each other. When you go on dates, the purpose is to learn to have fun again and reconnect in a conflict-free setting. Believe it or not, dating is just as important as counseling to re-establishing feelings of trust and intimacy.
Most importantly, all expectations, including boundaries regarding finances, intimacy and time spent together, need to be clearly spelled out and agreed upon. Otherwise, you'll feel like you're living in "limbo" -- sort of married, sort of not. Don't give up! Some of the strongest of marriages have weathered the waters you're now wading through.
Q: I know I need to spend quality time with my wife and children, but my schedule at the office makes that almost impossible. How can I keep the home fires burning while also being the provider?
Jim: Sadly, long workdays are the norm for many of us. However, authors Mike Yorkey and Greg Johnson have created a list of ways dads can get back some of those overtime hours and devote them to their families.
First, Yorkey and Johnson suggest re-arranging your daily schedule. Have you considered going into work early? Then, you can beat the rush hour traffic for both the morning and evening commutes. If you do this consistently, you could save yourself several extra hours a week -- hours that could be spent with your spouse and kids.
Also, think about skipping a few of those long lunches that we all take with our colleagues. By the time you factor in parking, ordering and everything else, the lunch "hour" can easily stretch to two. Instead, pack your own lunch and just take a 30-minute break. Not only will it save you money, it might also give you just enough extra time to make your son's little league game later in the day, or your daughter's piano recital.
Finally, don't be so quick to take a promotion the next time one is offered. If it's going to require even more travel or overtime, it might be worth it just to stay where you are. Your family may need you more than they need extra income.
I'm not suggesting that you shirk your responsibilities at the office. But we can't allow our jobs to be all-consuming. There's a big difference between putting in an honest day's work and being a workaholic. With a little creativity, I believe busy dads can find a healthy balance between the office and the home.
Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.
Submit your questions to: ask@FocusOnTheFamily.com
Copyright 2011 Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, CO 80995
International Copyright Secured. All Rights reserved.