When my husband suggested – well, demanded, really – that we separate, I was shocked. Not surprised, no (I'd been fantasising about the same thing for ages), but well and truly gobsmacked.
Thank God he did, though – because without the trial separation, we never would have had the chance to miss each other, realise we loved each other, figure out what mattered most to us and put in the effort to repair our relationship.
Here are my top 10 tips for surviving a trial separation:
1. Sort out money
First things first, agree on the amount of maintenance he is to give you. Oh – and demand he organise it to go into your account by direct debit the day after he gets paid every month or fortnight. This will save you and the kids going without and having to 'remind' him all the time.
* Potentially hideous, get this bit out of the way fast.
2. Stay well away
Chances are you can't stand the sight of each other at the moment anyway, so this part is comparatively easy. And now is the time to seriously consider what you will do if it doesn't work out. The kids are your prime concern and their welfare is paramount.. Get in touch with old work colleagues and start feeling in control, competent and independent again. The sadness passes, then strength and sorted-ness set in and soon after that, excitement. Honest!
3. Diss him
Talk. A lot. Rant, rave, – to good friends who'll listen and be on your side, making the right noises whenever you pause for breath, muttering 'what a d**k!' and shaking their heads in disbelief at appropriate intervals. Or talk to yourself – whatever it takes to get it all out there, off your chest and into the ether – just do it.
Never in front of the kids, though – that's the first and biggest no-no in the relationship refurbishment rule book.
4. Bang on some more
Friends can only take so much, so put a sock in it once you feel their sympathy/attention waning and talk to a relationships counsellor instead.
Lots of women love nothing more than talking about their feelings, but traditionally, most men would rather drink nuclear waste. This is understandable (sort of), but do try to get him to go with you. Because if he does, he might start to get a clue about how things have been for you. Might.
You're the adult in this situation, remember! So don't interrupt or leap to your defence when he's talking about how he feels (next to impossible, I know, but really worth a shot), because you just might learn something new about him and catch a glimpse of the way he sees things. Even if you disagree with everything he says, let him speak. Repeat in your own words what he just said, to show him you understand and you've been listening. Then go and punch the pillows, raging internally about how selfish, childish and pathetic he can be.
If you haven't done any paid work since you had the kids, grab this opportunity with both dish-pan hands. A little bit of extra cash can give you a great sense of independence and worth. And being out and about in the world will help you see what you've been missing. You'll also realise you were right – staying at home with kids IS harder than going out to work! Sign up for that course you've been keen to do and do some unpaid voluntary work. You'll feel saintly and selfless, focusing on stuff other than you, your kids and your relationship.
7. Make lots of lists
List the things you hate about him. It may take some time (let's face it, it's going to be a long list), but it's a fantastic way to sort out your feelings. Then list the things you love about him. Now make one final list of two columns – the things you want/need him to change about himself in order for it to work between the two of you and the things you're prepared to work on changing about yourself.
It's tough, being brutally honest with yourself, but we all know it takes two to stuff up a relationship, so there must be something your near-perfect self could work on, right?
8. Go out heaps
If your estranged other half has the kids for a couple of nights every fortnight, here's your chance to see whether the grass really is any greener on the single side. Just think, you might make some new friends. The possibilities are endless when you re-open yourself to the world – so hit museums, art galleries and gigs as well as de rigeur salsa classes and clubs. And walk! Not only might it help you shed some excess poundage and keep your face out of the fridge, but more importantly, it'll give you time, space and freedom to really think.
9. But stay in a lot, too
Do make the most of your child-free nights and really slob out. Go on! Enjoy the freedom of going to the loo by yourself and finishing a whole cup of tea while it's still hot(ish)! Put those pilling old trackies on, get the Galaxy block(s) ready, have a glass of wine and make busy with the remote. No change from the norm for you there? How about hitting the sack at 7:30pm with nothing but a good book (see below) and a pair of industrial-strength earplugs? You might even have your first uninterrupted night's sleep since you found out you were pregnant. Sleeping alone does have its up side...
10. Baby steps
When you feel ready, suggest a picnic or a playdate or a Friday family fun night at his place (so you get to see how he handles the kids and a home without you) and be nice. Keep any criticisms to yourself and if it goes well, move onto a grown-ups date.
Get a babysitter for the kids and go out for dinner or a movie (or both) together. Don't talk about your issues, just have some fun rediscovering why you fell for each other all those crazy, kid-free years ago.
Above all, don't think of a trial separation as the end of your marriage, but rather a second chance to rebuild and restore your relationship.
Fancy snuggling up with that good book we mentioned earlier? Mink's books A Mother Dimension, The Pissed-Off Parents Club and Just Another Manic Mum-Day are all available at www.amazon.co.uk