Pen and Moon

musings, life lessons & poetry from Theresa Jarosz Alberti

Tag: separation

Divorce Lesson #8

Dear Reader,

I find myself in the peculiar position of dating my own husband, who is living separately in an apartment across town. I’ve said it before—we are not having any kind of a “typical” divorce. I’m sure that’s been at least a little bit evident, from that first announcement we put out on Facebook and my continued blog posts.

But in the four months since this started, things have morphed and changed as we’ve talked and worked hard on issues that have come up. We’ve had more deeply honest communication, more openness and more tenderness than we’ve had in ages. There’s been self-examination by both of us, a commitment to personal growth, and a willingness to live in a place of uncertainty. And, perhaps ironically, separation.


In light of Our Strange Journey, Bob and I have come up with an “elevator speech.” As long-time Unitarian Universalists, the concept of having an elevator speech is a handy tool, a succinct and clear way to explain our uncommon religion to those who give us a blank stare when we mention it. For us, there have been so many questions lately about what the heck is going on with our relationship, and instead of long rambly answers, this will sum it up. (Granted, we don’t owe anyone explanations on this private matter, but especially for those in our local sphere, and also friends elsewhere, it will help clear up confusion.)


Divorce Lesson #8– The Elevator Speech


Here’s what we came up with:

“We are separating because we are co-dependent, and we are dating because we still love each other.”


We are separating because we are co-dependent… Co-dependent is common vernacular these days, but for anyone who needs a refresher, it means allowing another person’s behavior and feelings to affect oneself dramatically, and becoming obsessed with controlling a situation or another person’s behaviors.

Both Bob and I realize that our communication patterns and ways of relating to each other have gotten skewed over the years, for many reasons. Patterns like this can become entrenched, and then it’s hard to even be aware that you are operating in this unhealthy way. Bob saw it first, how unhealthy it had become for both of us, and we were staying stuck in many areas of our lives. For me, I realize now that I had trouble expressing certain emotions or being up front with him about certain topics. And I’ve been stuck in areas of my life that weren’t making me happy—my weight and health, my writing, self-confidence, my job search, to name a few. Bob has often told me that his co-dependence made it hard for him to be in touch with his feelings because he was overly in touch with mine.

This separation is giving us both some space to work on ourselves. Having that space between us isn’t very easy—it’s painful tearing apart old patterns, habits and routines. But we weren’t able to make much progress living together. We are working on a new way of being, called “differentiation.” I thank my current therapist for enlightening me about this new-for-me concept. In short, differentiation is the process of holding onto your unique self in a relationship—your feelings, your perceptions, your essence—without enmeshing yourself into your partner’s self. It’s allowing the other to have their feelings, while you learn to self-soothe to maintain your own sense of self. It makes a relationship stronger while maintaining personal integrity.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on differentiation and I’m so excited about it that I’ll be blogging more about it in the near future. It’s such a helpful concept and I’m amazed I haven’t come across it before.

Dating circa 1988... it's Throwback Thurs, after all

Dating circa 1988… it’s Throwback Thurs, after all

We are dating because we still love each other… Love has never been a question between Bob and I (which is why his sudden announcement to me came as such a shock). We’re best friends, we know each other better than anyone does, and the love is deep. It’s sad that this separation needs to happen to help us get healthier. But one thing we re-discovered through this whole upheaval is that we really do want to and enjoy spending time with each other. Our communications have changed and become more honest and introspective. And so we’ve decided that at this stage of the game, we’re dating again.

Honestly, it’s odd to be dating. When you’re with someone for 26 years, all sorts of habits and patterns and routines create this illusion of safety. It’s easy to take the other for granted. Now we have pulled ourselves away from all that– we are back to having to ask each other for time, for help, for a date, to talk. I’d forgotten how vulnerable all this is. When you ask for something, the answer might be no, and that doesn’t mean you should take it personally. It’s like having to walk on bumpy, unstable ground after decades of walking on flat rock. It’s a bit scary… but it’s also refreshing, and even exciting.

All in all, we don’t know how this will all play out for us. There are many possibilities. I must haul out once again my favorite Deepak Chopra quote on Embracing Uncertainty, which comforts me—

“I will allow myself and those around me the freedom to be as they are. I will not rigidly impose my idea of how things should be. I will not force solutions on problems, thereby creating new problems…I will step into the field of all possibilities and anticipate the excitement that can occur when I remain open to an infinity of choices. When I step into the field of all possibilities, I will experience all the fun, adventure, magic and mystery of life.”

That’s all I know for today—what we’re doing now, what our intentions are, and how we are both committed to personal growth to rid ourselves of unhealthy patterns and habits. Individually and together, we are a work in progress.

Hopefully, this will lessen the confusion for locals who see us out and about. We are an experiment happening before your very eyes. Stay tuned!

Divorce Lesson #1: Stay in the Present Moment

Divorce Lesson #2: Love Is All Around

Divorce Lesson #3:  The Freedom in Hopelessness

Divorce Lesson #4:  Do It Your Own Way

Divorce Lesson #5: Thanksgiving– Changing It Up

Divorce Lesson #6: Don’te Pre-Suffer (or Post-Suffer, Either)

Divorce Lesson #7:  Re-(Blank)-ing Myself

**To get email updates on upcoming blog posts, please subscribe in the sidebar, or scroll down to the dark area at the bottom.

*All photos courtesy of me.  🙂




Divorce Lesson #7

December was a hard, sweet month. Hard for the busyness, the book, the surgery, the time-crunch of the holidays. Sweet for a special get-away we had, touching moments, a loving Christmas, and much closeness. But hard again for the anxious countdown to January.

Bob moved out of our house in early January into an apartment. It was an upsetting time for both of us, a wrenching apart that we knew must happen, even as we’d been relating to each other in new, more honest and tender ways. Living apart is something we both agree will help each of us, individually and together, in the growth we want to happen. Knowing that doesn’t make it any less painful, this big change after 26 years.

A month before he moved out, I was tossing and turning one night, angry and anxious about life, and wanting to find a way to empower myself in the face of such hard times. I didn’t want to just sit in a corner, crying and bereft after he left, a mournful victim (even though that’s kinda how I felt). That night, an idea flashed through my mind like lightning. I would have a party (you can read the invitation here).

I wanted to make something new.

We have a small hallway in our house where 5 doors come together. It’s had crappy, boring wallpaper up there since we moved in almost 24 years ago, some of the last remnants of the previous owners (who wallpapered everything). I’ve wanted to do something with it for a long time but didn’t have the energy.

But what if I had a party, inviting people to come over and paint those walls with words or images to cheer me up? What if I wore minimal clothing and let them paint me too, to give me some armor for the challenges ahead? What if people brought poems or jokes to share, and everyone could be cheered up by this party, since January and February are such tough months to get through in Minnesota?

Bob 28

This idea felt so exciting to me, full of a creative spark and a silliness that are essential elements of my personality –elements that I’d unfortunately buried deep inside myself for too long out of fear and insecurity. Now I wanted to uncover them. I planned my party for the week after Bob’s move, giving me something to look forward to.


Divorce Lesson #7:   Re-(Blank)-ing Myself


Re-(Blank)-ing Myself? What kind of a title is that?   It reminds me of Match Game, the old game show from the 70s, which Bob’s comedy troupe Vilification Tennis hilariously reprises on stage during some of its performances. Imagine Gene Rayburn saying, “When Theresa’s husband moves out, she suddenly feels the need to Re-(Blank) herself.”

I chose this odd title as I was searching for a word to describe this stage of my life. What am I endeavoring to do with myself? Re-discovering? Re-designing? Re-making? Re-creating? Re-defining? Re-building? There isn’t one term that seems adequate. It’s all of the above, and then something more.

It’s throwing off the masks and the burdens, the fears and the numbing to uncover myself, to dig down deep and remember who I really am underneath all the crap. As Bob says, I’m learning to validate myself and not need anyone else to do it for me. I like that. I have a ways to go to get there.

Me crop

I’m thinking of the girl I was before the age of 10— excited, silly, funny, smart, creative, happy, imaginative, playful, generous and kind. She had a spark to her, an excitement about life, eagerness, believed in magic, loved to play and make things, and make things up.

And then the hammer came down. She started hearing messages that she was fat, stupid, lazy, wrong, and that she needed to change to be acceptable to others. She started believing it all and worked hard trying to change everything that was “wrong.” Being liked and loved by others became more important than liking/loving herself. She waited for others to validate her, and eagerly bowed and bended and reshaped herself to become pleasing to others. She stopped really being herself, unable to express feelings and thoughts unless she was absolutely sure others would approve. She lost herself, for a long, long time.

I want her back. I want to let her be free, even if it’s scary to be open and vulnerable, to risk others not liking it. I want to let her shine through me again, for it seems like she holds my essence. I can feel her. She is beautiful.

And so, inspired by her, my Paint a Happier Mood Party was born. It’s the first party I’ve thrown all by myself. I worked hard prepping walls, cooking, shopping and getting painting supplies.

On January 10, thirty people came over and joined in the spirit of the moment, giddy to paint my walls and paint me, sending lots of love my way. I think we really did cheer up the winter. It was a fabulous day and I’m so grateful for all of it. Now I have these wonderful walls to look at every day. That little girl in me is pretty pleased.

Enjoy the party slide show below, with photos courtesy of Ayanna Muata and Bob Alberti.

**Want to catch up? You can read previous Divorce Lessons  by clicking on the titles:

Divorce Lesson #1: Stay in the Present Moment

Divorce Lesson #2: Love Is All Around

Divorce Lesson #3:  The Freedom in Hopelessness

Divorce Lesson #4:  Do It Your Own Way

Divorce Lesson #5: Thanksgiving– Changing It Up

Divorce Lesson #6: Don’te Pre-Suffer (or Post-Suffer, Either)

**To get email updates on upcoming blog posts, please subscribe in the sidebar, or scroll down to the dark area at the bottom.



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