Freedom, Courage And Splitting Up

02/06/2012 08:25 pm ET | Updated Apr 07, 2012

Separation can bring sorrow to a family, but it also brings freedom.

Psychologist and writer Eric Fromm wrote this about "dissolving an unhappy marriage":

"The stock argument of parents in such a situation is that they cannot separate in order not to deprive the children of the blessings of a unified home. Any detailed study would show, however, that the atmosphere of tension and unhappiness within the "unified" family is more harmful to the children than an open break would be -- which teaches them at least that man [or woman] is able to end an intolerable situation by a courageous decision.

The key for me is what comes after such a decision. You see, I believe separation isn't a dead-end.

A full year after we separated, I wrote this in my journal as my wife and I negotiated the financial details of the separation. I had spent most of the last 12 months trying to find a way to inject life into the relationship. It hadn't worked.

February 2, 1997

So I find myself on a cool morning -- alone in the house, staring at a future of maintenance payments and sharing the children, with no hope of getting back with my wife. It's a hollow feeling, tears in the eyes, hole in the stomach, Grandpa. I don't know what to do. But at least I've learned that it's OK to do nothing. To wait. To give myself time to heal. I'll need it. Nothing means more to me than my family. The separation is the end of my best, strongest, greatest, most-loved dream. I feel shattered -- like broken glass on the ground.

Rock bottom once again -- even after a year of learning and hope and some happiness. The point here for me is not the sadness. The point is that my heart was broken many times during the separation. (As if once wasn't enough.) And each heartbreak presented a choice: despair and turn away, or accept and try to learn.

Because I could find no absolute resting point, I came to understand that for me, separation was like life -- a process.

Once upon a time, I thought of my separation as a terrible disaster that, once experienced, could be put in the past. Separation as a single point in time. Because it was limited in duration, I imagined I would eventually be able to put it behind me, and ultimately forget it.

But the truth for me is the opposite. Marriage can end, but separation is forever.

A New Zealand psychologist and researcher published a review of dozens of studies on children of separation. Dr. Jan Pryor believes evidence supports taking the long view.

Most people see the separation as the important event, but really it's just a part of a process beginning before separation and carrying on afterwards. People keep talking about the effects of divorce, but it's the factors associated with separation, like a change in home or school and parents re-partnering, which are potentially as damaging for children.

And not just children.

I now accept that my separation will last as long as my life. But it need not be in the forefront of my experience.

The journey image is most fitting for me. I took a dramatic turn on to a new road when I separated. And my life will always be affected by that turn. But as I accept its importance and its presence, I also set myself free to experience new things.

I call this my sad freedom. And strange as it might sound, the more I give the separation its due -- accepting the loss -- the freer I feel. Lightness becomes my companion, and my spirits lift and sometimes even soar.

After I separated, I spent much of my time in accommodation limbo. For months, I worked to save my relationship and therefore stayed in temporary digs, hoping that one day I would return to the marital home. I didn't get a room of my own until eight months after the initial separation.

It was only after I did get a place, sharing a house with two others, that I discovered what was most precious to me -- my liberty.

My journal records the moment:

August 5, 1998 --

I slouch on my bed as I write. My keyboard in my lap. My head propped against the wall. My first home away from home, this room. It's about four paces by six paces. Wooden floor. Big window I have to use two hands to lift open. The only furniture borrowed from my flat mate. Fire-engine-red bunk beds, my sagging single bed and some drawers. I decorated the walls with the kids' artwork. I still use my sleeping bag as my blanket and a paper bag for my clothes hamper. This ain't established living, Grandpa. But I like the informality of it. No essential lacking. No pretensions... I decided in my twenties that you don't own possessions. They own you. I feel free with less things.. And though when the boys stay here, they sleep in the same room with me, I don't feel cramped in here. It's my room. MY room. Sanctuary. Peace. With a window to the outside.

Peace and freedom and love. I may sound like a 60s reject. But for me, these qualities are at the heart of life. It reminds me of an old song my dad used to sing:

The moon belongs to everyone,
The best things in life are free...
The blossoms in spring, the birdies that sing,
The sunbeams that shine, they're yours, they're mine.
And love can come to anyone,
The best things in life are free.

You may be laughing at this. It may strike you as stupid and sentimental. So be it. For me, it's the truth.

For more by Steven Crandell, click here.

For more on relationships, click here.

For those interested in reading the earlier posts of this series, links are provided below:

For Men Who Have Everything, Including a Broken Heart, #1 #2 -- Grieving is Healing #3 -- Beware Precipitous Action #4 -- Love Thyself #5 -- Deal with the Real #6 -- Blame is a Trap #7 -- Create Multiple Explanations