One Year After Separation

November 5th, 2010 by Steve Pavlina

Erin and I have now been separated for more than a year after deciding in Oct 2009 not to continue as husband and wife. In this post I want to share some thoughts on what that first post-separation year has been like (after 15 years together as a couple, 11 of them married). It’s my hope that this may help someone who’s considering a similar relationship transition.

While the initial separation involved some stress and uncertainty for both of us, the picture so far has turned out pretty well. Erin and I remain good friends to this day, and we continue to connect on many levels.

Physical Adjustment

The first and most immediate aspect of the separation involved the practical matter of separating our households and living in two different homes. I know our situation wasn’t typical in this case. We had some significant advantages that made this part easier for us than it might be for most people. We already owned a second house that was vacant, and we had the finances to support two households and to furnish the second home.

So this part was mainly a matter of separating a bunch of physical items and then spending money to fill in the gaps. Erin bought a bunch of furniture, and I bought a second car for myself.

Some of those gaps are still there a year later, however. My house has some empty rooms that I haven’t bothered to furnish since I now have an excess of space. But all things considered, this is a minor problem, and there’s no urgent need to address it.

The crashing housing market in Vegas somewhat limits our options though. With the massive decline in real estate values, it would be difficult for either of us to justify moving at this time. But despite the increase in expenses from going to two households, we haven’t had any problem keeping up with bills and such. Our situation is stable. In fact, my web traffic increased this year because my business model adapts well to a down economy — it means more people looking for free content, and this site has tons of that.

Career & Financial Adjustment

We haven’t bothered to separate our finances yet, so everything there is still pooled. We’ve agreed to tackle this in the coming months, and I’d love to have that figured out by the end of the year, partly for tax and accounting reasons, but I suspect it will be challenging to work through all the little details since our career and financial lives are so interconnected.

The trickiest part is that most of Erin’s web traffic still originates from my site, so if I take down some of those links and develop my site differently, it could hurt her business, at least in the short run. And that in turn hurts us both. Eventually I’d like to develop my website in a more independent direction, but we need a good way of resolving the effect on Erin’s business.

I think it made sense for us to table this part of the separation until later though. When we first separated, the bigger issue was navigating the social and emotional transition. After that, Erin and I needed the chance to explore some alternative career possibilities. In what capacity might we continue working together? And where would it make more sense to work separately as individuals?

For example, Erin has developed her own professional intuitive training program, which is going very well. I’m not involved in that part of her work at all. Nor does she get involved in any joint-venture deals that I do.

On the collaborative side, this past weekend we delivered our 5th Conscious Growth Workshop along with a staff of several helpers, and it went incredibly well. I feel it was the best one ever, and the feedback from attendees has been wonderfully positive. Erin and I still seem to work well together in that capacity, and it’s a rewarding experience for us both. But now that we have no upcoming workshops scheduled, it’s time to make some decisions about whether we’ll continue to work together in this area. It seems likely that if we do more workshops, Erin will step away from handling the logistics, and I’d need to hire someone else to fill that role. It would make more sense for Erin to be involved in the content and delivery side of certain aspects… or to do her own workshops.

Since we’ve never gone through such a process of separation before, there’s a lot of experimenting and feeling things out. Cutting our career and financial ties abruptly would have been unnecessarily painful and difficult for us both. I like that we continued working together by default while giving ourselves the space to explore and experiment and ponder possibilities as individuals. It allowed us to transition at a reasonable pace without stressing ourselves out.

Since neither Erin nor I are money-centered people and since we both tend to be financially conservative relative to our income, it hasn’t been a big deal who spends what amounts of money on themselves, unless it would be something that costs maybe $5K or more. If she wants to buy some nice clothes for herself with joint funds, I really don’t care. I have enough of a sense of abundance that I know there’s plenty of money and opportunities for us both. We’ve both done a good job of keeping the income coming in this past year.

If we had been at each others’ throats, it would have made sense to cut our financial ties sooner, but I’m happy with how things played out during the past year. There’s still a lot of work to be done here, but the only deadlines that matter are the ones we set for ourselves.

I do feel a little constrained though since I know our finances are still pooled. I think it will be nice for both of us when we finally separate our personal finances, so we’re no longer so accountable to each other for personal spending. That may take some getting used to after so many years with joint finances.

Relationship Adjustment

A big part of our separation involved changing how we relate to each other. That adjustment is still ongoing, but I’d say the main part of it played out within the first 3 months.

Erin and I both moved on with other partners, both sexually and emotionally, within a few months after we separated. That helped to energetically clear a part of our connection, making it easier to transition our primary connection from marriage to friendship. I’m grateful that this played out the way it did, not just for me but for Erin as well.

I put some intentional energy into this by visualizing new connections I wanted to experience, and the Law of Attraction worked as expected. When thoughts of resentment came up, I brushed them aside and said to myself, “Forget about that. What do you want to experience next?” That gave me a new sense of possibility instead of looking backwards to the past.

I didn’t just imagine happy outcomes for myself; I imagined a positive future for Erin as well. I still care about her and want her to be happy too. It certainly doesn’t do me any good if she’s unhappy, nor is it good for our kids. I honestly believe this transition is a positive step forward for both of us. Making that a reality, however, requires using our power constructively.

For me the best part of connecting with someone else was the extra validation it provided. First, the chance to connect with someone who was more compatible in certain dimensions quickly validated that the decision to separate was the right one. I didn’t feel I needed that kind of validation, but it was nice to have it anyway. Second, there was the validation that yes, love is abundant and there’s no scarcity in this area if I keep my heart open to new connections. After 15 years with the same primary partner, I found it rewarding to attract a new partner, to enjoy fresh experiences together, and to share lots of love.

I think that if I went through this whole adjustment process on my own, it would have been much more difficult. I’m very grateful for the way this aspect of the past year played out — and for the great friends who helped me along the way too.

Labels can’t really describe how Erin and I relate to each other these days, but I like to think of her as a part of my “spiritual family.” Ultimately I know that our connection will continue to evolve.

I didn’t feel any jealousy or attachment knowing that Erin connected with someone else. What I felt most was relieved. It was as if a cord had been cut, but in a gentle and nonviolent way. I want things to go well for her, but since I don’t have as much direct influence in that area anymore, this is a situation where I mainly have to let go and trust. However, Erin and I still watch each other’s backs in the relationship area. If either of us got involved with someone who seemed a poor match, we could trust that the other would speak up. In this manner we continue to help each other stay aligned with truth.

As Erin will admit, she has a tendency to downplay her power. It’s been gratifying to see her step more into her power as an individual this past year, as opposed to relying on mine. She’s becoming more confident, which I’m happy to see. Others have noticed this too.

On the flip side, I’ve had to do more to focus on my alignment with oneness and harmony instead of drawing so much from her in that area. It’s been an adjustment process, and I feel good about how I’m doing in this area so far. So in this vein, it’s nice to see that Erin and I are each locking in some of the gains we got from each other.

Social Adjustment

Since Erin and I had many mutual friends at the time we separated, this part of the adjustment was a bit strange.

Once our friends and family had a chance to digest the initial separation, they were very supportive overall. This made things easier on Erin and me emotionally.

However, as time went on, I noticed that because Erin and I spent much less time together as a couple, our social circles began to divide somewhat. There’s still a lot of overlap but not nearly as much as there was a year ago.

Partly this is because I decided to drop Toastmasters in the Spring, while Erin stayed on as President of our club. So I naturally drifted apart from many of my Toastmaster friends when I stopped going to the meetings. On the other side, I developed closer connections with different mutual friends, while Erin’s connections with them began to drift. Also, Erin and I both cultivated some new connections as individuals.

This separation of our social circles has been pretty gradual, so it wasn’t a big shock. I expect it will become more pronounced in the years ahead as we continue to forge new connections as individuals.

I rather like this part of the transition because I feel I have more control over my social life now. I no longer feel obligated to accept social obligations that arise from being part of a couple. I can also connect as much as I want with people and situations that Erin may have avoided.

On the other hand, I also feel more responsible for managing my social life deliberately because I can’t passively rely on Erin to handle that part of our lives for me.

We still have some overlap in our social lives, but I think we both feel freer to decline invites that don’t interest us. For example, last night we had a poker game at my house with some CGWers who were still in town. If I hadn’t wanted to play poker that night but Erin did, she could have hosted it at her house without me.

Earlier this week, I went zip-lining with some CGWers in downtown Vegas, an activity I can’t imagine Erin doing. That same day Erin went hiking in Red Rock Canyon with a different group. While we could have pursued our separate interests like this while married, most of the time we didn’t. We gave too much power away to a disempowering concept of marriage, expecting that we should do a lot of things together (or skip them entirely if one of us objected). It’s nice to be free of those expectations and to feel good about saying yes or no as individuals.

I still feel I have a lot of work to do in the social area though. For most of the past year, I’ve reacted to what’s come up, but I haven’t been as proactive about seeking out compatible new connections. That’s partly due to the fact that I have a high enough flow of social invites that I can enjoy an active social life without having to be very proactive. I always have the ability to rest on my laurels and simply respond to the invites that come my way, and I know there will always be plenty of them. But I know I can enjoy a better social life if I consciously decide what I want and take action to make it happen, instead of just reacting to the chaotic social soup around me.

Family Adjustment

The family adjustment has probably been the most difficult part, and I haven’t been satisfied with the status quo here.

After we separated, we fell into a temporarily stable situation by default, but it’s unbalanced. This is an area where we need to work out a more conscious long-term solution. I think that may be tricky though since Erin and I don’t seem to want the same things in this area. Our family values are quite different.

Since the kids moved with Erin when we separated, she’s spent way more time with them than I have during the past year, and the four of us haven’t spent very much time together as a family.

I can’t say we deliberately decided that things would play out this way. I think things stabilized this way because of the difference in our family values and the priorities we set for ourselves after separating.

Erin grew up with a close, loving Jewish family that included a twin sister. To this day she remains close to her family and connects with them often. I can tell that having a close family is very important to her. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if she gets married again. She seems to have a strong nesting instinct.

For me that kind of family situation would be stifling. I don’t place a high value on security and stability. I love taking risks, and I’m drawn to new experiences and adventure. I feel best about my life when I’m pushing myself in the courage and power areas. If I don’t feel adequately challenged, I become bored and restless.

Throughout our relationship, I avoided, rejected, and resisted family get-togethers if I felt I wouldn’t enjoy them. I largely saw them as pointless, time-wasting fluff. Erin offered up similar resistance to some of my more adventurous ideas — she rarely rejected them outright, but her lack of enthusiasm was obvious, so it often felt like pushing through Jell-O to make certain things happen, so in the end I dropped a lot of things I previously loved.

For example, while living in L.A. before I met Erin, I might have an idea like, “It would be fun to take off to Vegas for a few days.” If it was 10pm when I got the idea, I could be on the road by midnight. I’d get there around 4am, and I’d play blackjack (counting cards) for a few hours till I made enough to get a hotel room.

While you could say that this kind of impulsivity is fine for a single 20-something but inappropriate for a man in his late 30s with a wife and two kids, keep in mind that the majority of the articles on this website were created with that same type of energy. I often go from inspired idea to published article within a matter of hours; when I get a good idea, I don’t hesitate. This aspect of my personality, while it may seem a bit unstable, has yielded many positive benefits too, not just for myself but for thousands of others. I feel I can do more good if I flow with this energy even more than I’ve been doing. But this also makes me seem, at least from a traditional societal perspective, like I’d be a pretty irregular father.

During our marriage Erin and I settled into a bunch of compromises to appease each other, but it wasn’t what either of us really wanted. I think there’s simply too big a gulf in our values for us to be compatible in this area.

My early experiences of family led me to much different values than Erin. My Catholic upbringing led me to associate things like control, conformity, denial, darkness, and unhappiness to the concept of a close nuclear family. I became much happier after I moved out. I grew to place a high value on independence and the freedom to make my own choices. I learned to create my own social support instead of trying in vain to feel supported by blood connections whose beliefs said I was doomed as a non-Christian.

Erin, however, wouldn’t feel very secure with the sort of independence that I thrive on. For her it would likely feel too stressful and ungrounded. For me it’s exciting and rewarding to be put into a position where I must think on my feet in real time.

We’ve both made many shifts to move away from the biases in our upbringing, but there still remains a pretty significant compatibility gap there. In my opinion, this makes a traditional co-parenting arrangement unlikely to work for us (if such a thing can be called traditional).

Erin and I each have different views of parenting in general, so our parenting styles will simply not be the same. It’s safe to say that our ongoing influences on the kids will be rather unique and different. Throughout our relationship, that’s always been the case. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it could be of great advantage to our kids.

Many readers of mine have pointed out that I haven’t really written anything about parenting. That’s not an oversight on my part — it’s deliberate. I personally feel that parenting advice is largely B.S. For each parenting book you’ll find that pushes one parenting philosophy, you’ll find another book suggesting the opposite. And sometimes those books are written by the same “expert,” published years apart. Such parenting advice largely involves people sharing subjective values with very limited experience, and it’s often bad advice in my opinion.

The bigger issue, however, is that what’s actually been measured with respect to how children turn out has little to do with what we’d classify under the label of parenting. The biggest influencers are actually who the parents are, rather than what they do. Specifically, this includes the parents’ socio-economic class, their level of education, and how old the mother was when she had her first child. Factors like whether parents read to their kids frequently or whether the kids are spanked or not seem to make little measurable difference in how the kids turn out, at least to the extent that this has actually been measured.

In other words, parenting has much more to do with who you are — with your own level of self-development — as opposed to what specific actions you take in terms of raising your kids. The bulk of your parenting success is determined before the pregnancy even occurs.

Initially when Erin and I look at this situation, it seems like we might have to compromise. But I don’t see that being a solution that would make either of us happy. I suspect that our ultimate long-term solution will look very non-traditional, but I think it has the potential to be great for everyone, especially the kids.

Erin has the capacity to provide a stable, nurturing environment for the kids. I have the capacity to bring some kick-ass growth experiences into their lives. I can already see that my kids have aspects of my personality that I can nurture in ways Erin simply won’t be able to do. And of course the reverse is true as well.

While the kids are still fairly young (currently ages 10 and 7), Erin may play a bigger role in their lives. However, as they become teenagers, I think it would be awesome to travel around the world with them and give them a real education as opposed to having them sit in a classroom and read about things they could be seeing and touching.

I think this is going to take a lot of experimentation to figure out what works best for us. Ultimately we’re going to have to craft our own unique version of a family. It’s too soon to tell where this will lead, but I’m confident we can work things out.

Deep down, I value what Erin does for the kids. And I believe she values what I can do for them as well. However, I think both of us still harbor some resentment towards each other in this area, and we need to work through that first before we can move forward. Partly I’m disappointed that Erin isn’t the Adventure Mom I wish she could have been, and I suspect that she’s still coming to grips with the fact that I’m not the Jewish Family Guy. Until we can really let go and forgive in this area, not just superficially but at the level of true acceptance, it will be difficult for us to move forward because we’ll keep hoping for the other person to “get with the program.”

I think our family situation will improve greatly once Erin and I figure out how to share our best selves with them in our own unique ways, even if those selves don’t mesh well within the same household.

Lifestyle Adjustment

A big part of separation is having the chance to write some new chapters in one’s life story as an independent author instead of co-writing everything as a couple.

This is an area where I felt very held back in my marriage. It was such a freeing experience to finally explore things I wanted to do that were perpetually on the back burner.

The biggest deal for me lifestyle-wise was traveling. I love to travel, but since Erin isn’t a particularly resilient traveler (she’ll readily admit to being very particular in this area), I didn’t travel nearly as much as I’d wanted to. For so many years, this was a bottled-up desire.

I had the option of traveling alone of course, but I really wanted to travel with an intimate partner. I love the shared experience aspect of traveling, and for me it’s almost an essential part of an intimate relationship. Traveling together adds some delicious intensity. And I honestly love the romantic aspect of exploring a new city with someone, eating new foods together, strolling through interesting museums, etc.

It was clear that Erin wouldn’t fill that role with me. If Erin were to travel the way I enjoyed, it would be too stressful and overwhelming for her. We just have very different tolerances in this area.

So this year I made it a priority to explore this part of my life. I spent about 9-10 weeks out of this year traveling so far, including a weeklong trip to Puerto Rico, 3 weeks in Canada (Ontario and Quebec), and a 23-day road trip through 9 U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces. I also spent many days in Hollywood, Costa Mesa, and Santa Fe.

I loved all of it! It felt like a stifled part of my spirit finally had the chance to escape its cage. I expect to do even more traveling in the years ahead, especially internationally. Europe is definitely in my sights. But before I go too far in that direction, it makes sense to work through the financial separation with Erin. This year was just a taste, but it was enough of a taste for me to know that this is the right path for me. Ideally I’d like to spend at least 3 months out of the year traveling.

There was a little bit of resistance from some people who felt it was irresponsible for me to spend so much time traveling with my new girlfriend, but this was so obviously part of my “path with a heart” that I couldn’t take their objections seriously. They’re simply filtering my experience through their own values. I have no regrets about exploring this part of my life. It’s been long overdue.

Erin has also felt free to explore paths that I never would have gone along with. At first my reaction was a bit judgmental, but then I realized that she’s her own person, and it just gave me further validation that separating was the best thing for us both. I’m glad she felt comfortable going her own way and being able to tell me about it. Even so, we probably still have some unreasonable expectations of each other that we need to release and forgive. I think we’re doing pretty well in this area so far.

I expect that as time goes on, our paths will diverge much more than they have already. It will take time for our individual values to grow stronger and to express themselves more fully. Partly this is because we still have some factors, like our joint finances, acting as a drag.

New Relationship Exploration

A number of people have asked me if I’ve been monogamous or polyamorous lately. I think the most honest answer is that I enjoy aspects of both. Using either label feels too limiting. It’s really a matter of perspective. This is an area where I’ve had to abandon the labels and simply follow my heart.

Rachelle has been my primary intimate partner during this year. We’ve agreed to maintain an open relationship, but in practice we don’t exercise that option too frequently. We’re both pretty selective, and we don’t consider ourselves promiscuous, but when a fun opportunity presents itself, we enjoy playing with others too.

I like the intimacy and depth of a long-term, one-on-one relationship. That kind of connection can provide lots of joy and growth for both partners, so it feels wonderful to have it as part of my life.

I also enjoy the variety and spiciness of connecting with multiple partners, as long as they’re the right partners who are willing to co-create a sensual experience within a space of unconditional love, non-judgment, and playfulness. I don’t think I’d want to have a threesome every week, but every once in a while with the right person, it’s a welcome exploration.

I could have done more in this part of my life this year, but I largely played it safe. Adjusting to the separation made my life complicated enough. I didn’t want to complicate things further by trying to take on too much. So anything that seemed iffy or not quite right, even though it might have led to some fun growth experiences, I largely avoided. In the future I may take more risks in this area, but for now I’m happy to look back on some fun shared experiences that were good for all involved… and no broken hearts.

After reading the above, some people would say that I want to have my cake and eat it too. They’d be right.

I do indeed want the best of both worlds — the depth that comes from real intimacy and the variety of multiple partners. I see no reason those should be in conflict, as long as I continue to attract people with a similar mindset. So far this is going well, and I expect that it will keep getting better as I keep stretching.

To reach this point, I had to do a lot of introspecting about what I wanted. Then I had to acknowledge that it was indeed possible. And then I had to cast off a lot of socially conditioned baggage in my beliefs about what a proper relationship is supposed to look like. The real truth of course is that we can create whatever we desire in our hearts.

I’m sure I still have some baggage to release in this area, but it’s nice to see that the people I’ve been attracting into my life this year have been helping to expose areas where I’m still holding back — and gently, sometimes teasingly, nudging me forward. For me this has been a fun adventure.

After separating from Erin, I had a much better idea of what I didn’t want as opposed to what I did want in terms of new relationships. So I actually set an intention to attract something fresh and new instead of trying to lock down all the specifics. Having a particular relationship structure wasn’t as important to me as attracting a compatible, open-minded partner who was willing to explore and experiment.

One of the reasons I was drawn to a relationship with Rachelle was that it was guaranteed to be something new and different. Since her home base is in Winnipeg, Canada, about 1300 miles away from Las Vegas, I could predict from the start that there would be some unique challenges and opportunities if we got involved. That has definitely been the case.

Our relationship has been very loving but also pretty intense at times. We’ve traveled to more than a dozen cities together this year, but we’ve also spent about half the year apart from each other. I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve hugged goodbye at airports (and it’s about to happen again in a few more hours), but that just makes the reunions so much sweeter.

At certain times when Rachelle and I have been apart for a few weeks, I could even have claimed to be celibate. This long-distance element has given me the opportunity to explore a new relationship while also having plenty of space to rediscover myself as an individual. As strange as it may look from the outside, it was exactly what I needed at this time in my life.

If I’d gone straight into a full-time relationship with someone local to me, I’d probably have felt stifled, like I didn’t have enough time to reconnect with myself as an individual. But if I’d kept to myself for 6-12 months, I’d have felt lonely and disconnected.

I wanted to explore both aspects, and instead of having to choose between them, I got both. I’ve had the space to get to know myself as an individual who isn’t part of a couple. But I’ve also been enjoying a close, intimate, loving connection. I’m grateful that such a perfect, personalized solution manifested so readily.

Conscious Separation

If I had to give us an annual report card, I’d give myself and Erin an A for how we’ve handled our separation thus far. We still have more to do, but deep down we still love and care about each other, and things have a way of working out well for us both when we act from that place.

Our separation has pushed us both to grow in new and different ways. It’s safe to say that we’re both better off today than we would have been if we’d stayed together as a married couple. I think everything played out as it needed to, and I have no real regrets about it.

It’s hard to predict the road ahead. I can’t say for certain where our paths will lead next. But for right now, I’m okay being in that space of possibility and potential. I don’t feel a need to lock down all the details for a greater sense of security. I feel much more secure when I’m actively exploring and learning as opposed to when I think I have everything figured out.

I don’t regret being married. I think it’s a good thing that I was married and that I had kids. I also think it’s a good thing that I’ve been going through a separation. This journey helps me understand human relationships from different perspectives, which makes it easier for me to personally relate to other people’s relationship challenges and to potentially share insights that others may find helpful and practical.

Gratitude

Looking back on the past year, what I feel most of all is gratitude. I’m grateful not only for how things turned out but also for all the growth experiences that Erin and I shared together as a couple. We really learned a lot from each other, and we emerged from our marriage with a lot of self-development under our belts that now serves us well as individuals.

As many people say after they go through a separation, “It was hard, but it was worth it.” Making the decision to separate was indeed very difficult, but it was such an important step to take. I don’t see blame or regret or failure as I look back. I see lots of cool memories and positive lessons. And when I look forward, I see heart-centered connection, exploration, and adventure. :)


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