Let's Talk About Separation

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Emily McGaughy

I haven't seen my wife in two weeks.  No, we're not a bicoastal couple.  No, neither of us travel for work. 

We've separated.

Char and I own a tattoo shop here in Dallas - Gold Dust Tattoos & Fine Art.  Although we're business partners, Char is the primary person in charge.  She has been a tattoo artist for 8 years; I'm not an artist.  Obviously, she has a more comprehensive knowledge of the industry which allows her more authority with regard to the business.  It's a partnership we've negotiated; we understand our individual roles and responsibilities and, in general, we each hold up our end of the bargain.  Although my wife oversees the daily operations of the shop and is physically there far more than me, she includes me in all important decisions.  She listens to my input and we run things based on the vision we've created together.  

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All that said, my wife being the primary person responsible for Gold Dust means she is occupied by it on a much deeper level.  She's also a workaholic and a perfectionist.  I'm a homebody and an introvert; having the house to myself is something I revel in.  So, I do my best to keep things together at home - both because I enjoy it and, in doing so, I'm allowing her to use her time and energy on the business.  It works for us.

But, again, I haven't seen my wife in two weeks.  We're in the process of expanding the shop and have taken over the space next door in addition to our current space.  We're hoping to better accommodate our growing clientele and have more workspace for our artists.  In preparation for the expansion, Char has been engrossed in renovations.  To give you an idea of what I mean when I say "engrossed" - she's worked in the new space an average of 14 hours a day for the last week.  She wakes up early in the morning, sometimes leaving while I'm still asleep, and returns home well after dark, often when I'm already in bed.  Even the few minutes we may have together when we first wake up and just before we fall asleep are a far cry from quality time.  During the little time we're home together, Char is mostly either too exhausted or distracted, or has brought work home with her.  Although we may have a quick chat about our day, she's generally not in an emotionally available place.

If the expansion and all the additional demands that come with that had happened even a year ago, our relationship would've likely been rife with arguments and snarky comments - not because we would've stopped loving each other, but because we missed each other and weren't yet emotionally mature enough to deal with that in a healthy way.  Rather than accepting this phase as just that - a phase - a period that is temporary, we would've felt guilty for not spending more time with each other while simultaneously allowing resentment toward the other to manifest.  We were trapped by some abstract set of expectations leading us to believe that married people should forgo their own individual passions if they mean not making it home in time for dinner as a couple.  We bought into the lie that taking some time and attention away from the marriage and focusing on our work and creative ventures would inevitably lead to the demise of the commitment we'd worked so hard to build and sustain.

Thank god I now know better; thank god we know better. 

I haven't seen my wife in two weeks.  I miss her and she misses me.  Because we've had the opportunity to miss the other person, we shared a sweet moment of expressing this to one another yesterday.  It was one of those heart-fluttering, butterflies-inducing, romantic moments that don't always happen as often as we'd like in long relationships.  It felt great. 

I haven't seen my wife in two weeks. 

Because we've been spending time apart, I've had the time and energy to do things for myself - taking care of my house, lots of yoga, cocktailing with friends, writing.  It's been nice to reconnect with me and just be Emily, rather than Char's wife.  Because we've been spending time apart, she's had the time and energy to prepare our business for an expansion that we hope will be great for both her career and for our future together.  I'm falling in love with the things that make me happy.  She's falling in love with the things that make her happy.  We're separately together; we're supporting one another in a new, much deeper way.  And we're finding ourselves more attracted to the other as we watch her go after her passions.

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So, I haven't seen my wife in two weeks.  Would you kill me if I said these two weeks have been fabulous?  Would you tell me I'm doomed for divorce or that my wife and I are no longer in love?  That's okay with me.  I've let go of the idea that it's my responsibility to sustain a marriage that is pleasing to others.  I tried that for years.  Not only is it impossible to achieve, but the pressure of living up to the standards of others is a great way to slowly chip away at the foundation of a committed relationship.   

I haven't seen my wife in two weeks, but I'm not suggesting that this loving separateness is for everyone.  I am, however, suggesting that building a marriage that provides love and happiness to each partner is for everyone - at least those of us who are or desire to be married.  And that looks different for each couple.  I've always been a bit of a loner, an introvert, someone who requires solitude.  The constant pressure for togetherness isn't something for which I was built, nor is it for my wife.  So, here we are, in an oddly beautiful new way of being together - allowing for separation when wanted and needed and being reminded of why we love each other every minute we're apart.

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Here's what y'all had to say...

"The better relationships we have with our friends and co-workers on our own, the better relationship we have together."

"I know my wife isn't into camping for four days at music festivals.  This doesn't keep me from going nor guilting her into doing something she'd hate.  I go with my friends who do enjoy it.  I'm happy and she's happy.  Out of respect, I'd never take off on a trip or make plans on a date that's special to us or if she felt very strongly about me not going for safety or other rational reasons."

"Of course I want always want my wife by my side, I love her.  But smothering someone isn't love.  And hell, I'm wild.  I will always be wild."

"She's free to take the independence she needs without fuss from me and vice versa."

"We make a point to schedule alone time and  separate friend time.  It's always nice to talk to each other or see each other after a 'break' even if it's just an afternoon apart for coffee with a friend."

"We work opposite shifts and it would be very easy to stop life, so we could see each other for five minutes in passing.  Instead, we do what we need to do and, if we get to see each other on those days, great.  We also hold each other accountable by sharing our needs and enforcing boundaries.  Relationships aren't really a fairy tale; they take a lot of work."

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