If you’ve ever been separated, I don’t need to tell you what a stressful, heartbreaking experience it is.
It’s also so awkward and embarrassing to have to explain to everybody what’s going on. You don’t want their pity, or for the kids to get scared or start asking really hard questions.
You just want to fix what’s broken and get back on track already.
Toward that end, I want to share a four-step game plan that hundreds of students have used to make their marriages last and thrive after a separation, even if he said he was never coming back.
It can be done, as many students on our campus have done it, and if you’re committed and courageous, you can do it too.
1. Forget Your Troubles, C’mon Get Happy
This first step is the most counterintuitive, but it’s also indispensable. And the irony! While you’re in the most agonizing emotional pain of your entire life, the challenge in front of you is to get really happy.
When my marriage almost ended, I learned the hard way that only happy people have happy relationships.
I thought it was the other way around, where my happy relationship and loving husband would make me feel happy. Instead, I sucked all the life out of the marriage by getting progressively unhappier then staying stuck there waiting for my husband to make me happy.
And that was excruciating for him because he couldn’t. He had an unhappy wife. Couldn’t please her. Couldn’t make her laugh or even smile.
Never mind that it was also excruciating for me to be miserable.
The solution for both of us was to somehow, some way get happy. To find things that delighted me and do them, even if—especially if—they were frivolous. Like playing volleyball and word games on my phone and listening to a funny podcast.
That led to smiling then laughing then to being pleasable.
Suddenly I wasn’t such a downer to be around anymore because I remembered who I am: the Girl of Fun and Light.
You have that inner just-wanna-have-fun girl in you too. If you haven’t seen her in a while, this is the time to ask yourself whether tap dancing in the living room, going to the forest or watching a comedy would light her up.
This step of getting happy may seem pointless and too hard to do right now. And that’s understandable when there’s a big hole in your world.
The way to patch that hole, in my experience, is with smiles, laughing, singing and dancing.
2. Smile Campaign
Once you’ve found your way to being happy again, your face will surely show it. That means you’ll be smiling all the time, at everyone you see, especially your husband.
Maybe you don’t see him much. That’s okay. You can practice your megawatt smile for when you do see him by smiling at everyone else—your kids, store clerks, colleagues.
This will demonstrate that the scourge of unhappiness you were previously suffering from has been cured. It will also let him know that you’re happy to see him. Isn’t that true?
Of course you’ll be even happier when he comes home and declares that he loves you forever and says he’ll never leave. You’ll smile really big then, right?
The road to that happy ending is paved with smiles.
He might even smile back. Or try to make you laugh. Maybe you’ll start laughing together, which is exactly what happy couples do.
3. Restore Emotional Safety
One of the things that made it feel so good to be together when you fell in love was that you both thought so highly of each other. You weren’t focused on his shortcomings, and he wasn’t focused on yours. So it was safe to dream big and talk freely without worrying that you’d get hurt.
Of course, you did get hurt and so did he. You’re both so hurt! So it can feel hard to restore that emotional safety now that it’s been shattered into a million little pieces.
But a great way to start is by owning your part in the breakdown.
This might seem crazy if he’s the one who separated and you didn’t want that. You may feel he’s the one who should be apologizing.
I remember feeling the same way. It felt so unfamiliar to travel the high road by being accountable for my small, tiny, insignificant part in the breakdown.
But once I did it, I felt empowered. I was no longer a victim because I was choosing to take responsibility for my part of our dances. Some awful things were done…and I’m the one who did them. Some mean things were said…and I’m the one who said them.
That accountability went a long way toward restoring emotional safety, which helped resurrect our original connection.
It also made me feel really good about myself. A lot better than the old victim me ever felt.
4. Set Your Intention
If your husband separated from you, you might think you’re not the one who gets to say what happens next with this marriage or whether it survives.
But I wouldn’t be so sure!
Because one of the ways I see wives save their marriages from separation and make them better than ever is by asking herself what HER intentions are for the marriage. It may seem obvious—of course you want your marriage, which is why you’re reading this blog right now. You’re fighting for it, which I admire very much because marriage is so important.
In our Ridiculously Happy Wife group coaching program, we have a popular training about talking to your future self one year from now. It’s about envisioning what your life is like and finding out how everything went your way.
One thing I love about this training is that women often share with me how spooky it is that when they got their miracle in their marriage, it was exactly what they had envisioned from doing this training. They were dancing together on a trip or expecting a baby or moved into a new home, just like she had imagined back when she first talked to her future self.
So it’s worth asking yourself: What is your vision for the future of your marriage?
As Kermit the frog sang, “Life’s like a movie, write your own ending. Keep believing. Keep pretending.”
How would you show up if you knew for sure that your movie had a happy ending? Would you be happier? Would you smile more? Would you be more accountable for your part of the breakdown?
Because that’s what I see women do who fight for their marriages and win.
I’d love to hear one way you’ll show up differently today…