One frequently asked question in the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community is:
What is in-home separation and how does it work?
On the BTR podcast, Anne interviews Lindsey, a member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community. Sharing her own courageous experiences of setting boundaries, including instituting an in-home separation, Lindsey offers valuable insight to empower listeners. Listen to the free BTR podcast and read the full transcript below for more.
What Is An In-Home Separation?
I knew I felt unsafe and I knew that something needed to change.
Lindsey, member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community
When a victim of betrayal and relational abuse makes the courageous decision to separate herself from abusive behaviors, she may feel lost, overwhelmed, and confused. Just how do you separate yourself from abusive behaviors?
One option that some women consider is an in-home separation. There are no set rules for how a woman can institute an in-home separation, but the general idea is that she and her partner are living under the same roof, sharing some degree of relational responsibilities (tending children, paying bills), but have detached emotionally and physically.
What Requests Can I Make in An In-Home Separation?
Betrayed women are conditioned to consider only their partner’s needs, and not their own. Here is a list of requests that you can make from your partner when you choose to begin an in-home separation:
- Sleeping in separate rooms
- Not eating meals together/cooking for each other
- Not doing his laundry/packing his lunch/ironing his clothes, etc.
- Scheduling the division of household responsibilities
- Scheduling time when he is with the children and when you are with the children
- Going to separate congregations if you are religious
- Not doing his grocery shopping
- Setting limits on when he can text/call/speak to you, and where conversations can take place
- Requesting a scheduled check-in to know if he is sexually acting out during the separation
- Requesting that he take a polygraph test during the separation
Why Choose In-Home Separation?
Sometimes women want to separate themselves from their abusive partner’s behaviors, but for one reason or another can’t physically move to another space.
In-home separations offer temporary safety (if your partner respects the separation agreement), while not causing financial strain on the family.
Further, in-home separations can preserve the current family dynamic if children are struggling to adapt to a more intense separation.
How Long Should I Maintain An In-Home Separation?
Many professionals tout specific numbers of days that couples should try an in-home separation. This is harmful because the purpose of the separation is not reunification, it is safety.
At BTR, we encourage women to avoid setting a number (30 days, 2 months, etc) and instead set a personal safety boundary around their decision. Once safety has been established and if the partner is living in a healthy, non-abusive way, she may begin to consider ending the in-home separation.
Here are some personal safety boundaries that victims may want to help them judge when the separation can end:
- I spend time with those who treat me with respect one-hundred percent of the time.
- I only speak with people who are honest and treat me with respect.
- I will not end the in-home separation until I feel that I am valued, safe, and honored by my partner.
- I enjoy life only with those who add to my level of safety (not diminish it).
What To Do When An In-Home Separation Isn’t Keeping You Safe Anymore
In this podcast episode, Lindsey eventually ends her in-home separation and begins an out-of-home separation with her partner. Why?
He wasn’t changing.
An in-home separation is rarely a situation that a couple can/wants to maintain long-term. Eventually, the abusive partner will choose to change and become non-abusive and honest, or will simply continue on the destructive path of betrayal and abuse.
When your in-home separation isn’t providing you with the safety that you deserve, it may be time to ask your partner to move out, for you to move out, and/or consider filing for divorce.
It is important for victims to understand that abusive men hitting benchmarks (going to therapy, attending support groups, etc) does NOT mean that they are changing. As women become empowered, they are better able to understand what real change looks like.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Supports Victims of Betrayal and Emotional Abuse
Victims of betrayal and abuse often feel overwhelmed and further traumatized by the many decisions that must be made post-discovery. Having a safe network to depend on is a necessity for every woman.
The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group meets daily in every time zone and offers victims the validation, support, and empowerment that they need on their journey to healing. Join today.
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
Lindsey, my friend, is back again to talk about separation. Separation is a really important boundary that some women use to establish safety. Lindsey has done both an in-home separation and now a separation out of her home. She is going to talk about her experience.
Can you tell us why you felt unsafe in your own home?
Lindsey: Pretty early on, when I started doing my own recovery, I learned how important it was to me to have my husband both working recovery, in a way that I could see—so he needed to share with me what he was doing or going to meetings and various other things—and then, also, that he needed to be honest with me.
The honesty has been a real sticking point in our relationship. When he went through another repeated experience where he had gone through two months of acting out behavior without disclosing it to me, that’s when I felt unsafe and I knew I needed to change something.
Anne: Did you feel unsafe before you found out he was lying to you or was there something in your gut that you knew was wrong and you just didn’t have “evidence” until you found out?
Lindsey: I definitely felt uneasy, that’s for sure, and I knew that I wasn’t seeing the recovery behaviors. He wasn’t communicating with me, so I knew that something was up. But, until I really had the direct evidence, I didn’t want to move forward. It was only a matter of months and I don’t move that quickly with making boundaries. It takes me a while.
An In-Home Separation Can Allow Time For Decisions
Anne: Once you determined that you felt unsafe and that your husband’s behaviors were unsafe, mainly that he had been lying to you, why did you choose an in-home separation for your boundary, at that time?
Lindsey: At that time, I knew I felt unsafe and I knew that something needed to change. It was almost a month between me knowing that there was dishonesty happening and me coming to the conclusion that an in-home separation was the boundary that I wanted to move forward with. Mostly because I just didn’t know what to do.
I was totally at a loss, but I happened to go to a retreat within that months’ time. It was the SAL Women’s retreat and, while I was there, I had some really amazing experiences with meditation that helped me come to the conclusion that I really needed to have safety within my home and I needed to have a place in my home that could be my safe place. For me, the easiest way that I could envision that happening was to have an in-home separation where I could have my bedroom be that safe place.
Anne: Let’s talk about safety for a minute. A lot of women listening might think, “Okay, he was lying to you, so you felt unsafe,” but was there any other evidence that felt unsafe? Which there doesn’t need to be, but I want to talk about this because a lot of women think, “Well he’s not yelling at me, he’s not punching walls, he’s not screaming in my face, so I’m safe.”
When, emotionally, they might not be safe because they’re trusting someone or they’re interacting with someone who’s lying to their face. Talk about how you came to realize that you deserved more than just “well, he’s not yelling at me.”
Lindsey: In my relationship with my husband, this is definitely the case. My husband is, in a lot of respects, a good husband and a good father to my children. He’s respectful, he helps around the house, he does all the right things, on the surface.
He’s not manipulative or abusive verbally, in some ways—in that he doesn’t try to put me down or other ways that I’ve seen in other people’s relationships. Obviously, the lying is abuse, in and of itself. But, for me, it was just these little red flags of things like not seeing him go to group, or he hasn’t gone to a group in a couple of weeks, or his therapy has been spotty.
All these little things that say to me something is off. Each one of those isn’t totally wrong, but when you look at the big picture, and you look at all these little red flags that are coming up and he’s not communicating with me, he’s not telling me what he’s thinking and what is going on in his recovery, that, to me, becomes a red flag that says, “Something is probably off in terms of his sobriety, in terms of his recovery.”
Anne: At the time, when you’re telling your family, “I don’t feel safe. I’m going to have an in-home separation” were they like, “Why don’t you feel safe? I’m confused, what is he doing?”
In-Home Separations Are A Boundary
Lindsey: Yes, absolutely. Honestly, even to this day, it’s something I’m not sure I have words to capture exactly what it means. Which is hard because, in a certain sense, you want to feel justified when you’re talking to your family or when you’re talking to your friends about the actions that you’re taking, so that’s a struggle.
It’s kind of a back and forth, continuing conversation with my parents, with my siblings, with other people who are aware of what’s going. It’s trying to share with them how I’m feeling, and, when I do come across podcasts or if I come across a quote from some recovery materials that I feel captures what I’m feeling, I’m more inclined to share that with them to help communicate, but it’s hard.
Anne: Do you feel like you’re better at communicating how you feel now, than when you first started the in-home separation?
Lindsey: Yes and no. In some ways, obviously, I’ve definitely grown in my recovery and read more, listened to more, gone to more things. In other ways, no, because it’s still something that’s hard to describe to somebody who hasn’t experienced it themselves.
For me, one of my personal boundaries for myself has been to say, “It’s okay for me to not be able to describe to somebody what I’m feeling.” That’s okay, and it doesn’t mean that my feelings are unjustified.
Anne: Both that, and then also, “It’s okay that I can’t explain all my reasons why I feel unsafe, but my decision to set a boundary is justified. I don’t have to justify it to other people.”
Anne: It’s okay, it’s just a tough position to be in. Okay, so you were doing an in-house separation for how long?
Lindsey: About a year.
Anne: During that time, you didn’t necessarily see his healthy behaviors improve?
Lindsey: I did for a time. He had a lot of external factors in his life change, so, for a period of time, he was doing really well.
Anne: And it felt different to you?
An In-Home Separation Can Be An Option For Safety
Lindsey: It felt different. He was consistently going to a 12-Step meeting. He was consistently meeting with a therapist. He was consistently doing 12-Step work and sharing it with me, not that I would always read it, but I knew that it was happening, and just regularly sharing with me where he was at. For a time, things were feeling better.
Anne: Let’s pretend, and I really mean pretend, for just a moment that, in order to change your abusive behaviors there’s no such thing as a 12-Step group, there’s no such thing as therapy, there’s nothing. All there is, is the changing behaviors themselves, let’s just pretend that for one second. Would you say his behaviors toward you and how that felt were improved? Or was it just he was going to group?
Lindsey: It actually reminds me of some conversations I’ve had with other women, who talk about being able to tell the difference between when their husband is acting out and when he’s not. For me, personally, I have not been able to tell.
Now that doesn’t mean that’s on him or it’s on me. I’m pretty unobservant, as a person generally. I just know that about myself and it’s one area where I have had to ask things of my husband accordingly because I’m unobservant. I’d say, “If you don’t tell me about what you’re doing, don’t just assume that I’ve noticed it because I don’t notice things very easily.”
There’s definitely that playing into it, but it’s also I don’t know that he was acting that differently simply because, in general, he’s a good husband and a good dad. His behaviors, generally, are pretty “okay.”
Anne: “Reasonable” or “healthy.”
Anne: They seem that way to you?
Anne: For you, it was just that you knew he had a history of porn use.
Anne: You can’t necessarily tell from his behavior whether or not he’s using it or not, all you could see is he doesn’t seem to be interested in meetings and therapy. That was your indicator that you were probably unsafe because you’ve got somebody with a history of lying to you and somebody with a history of using porn.
Anne: I’m thinking right now that those of us who can clearly see through their behavior, they’re very irritable, we’re kind of lucky maybe. The behavior is so much more extreme, but the weird thing is it doesn’t mean you’re in any less danger from being lied to.
Anne: I’m not saying that we’re lucky it’s just an interesting dilemma and the spectrum of these abusive behaviors is so vast, and it can look so different.
Lindsey: Oh yeah.
Anne: Okay, so you’re separated in your home for about a year. You’re living upstairs and he’s living in the basement.
Anne: I am personal friends with you, in the same state and the same place, and so I know you’ve been making an effort to have friends come over in the evening when you’re lonely and you’ve been learning new skills on how to navigate a life where you’re separated from your spouse. Now, after about a year you found out that he was still lying to you and using porn.
Lindsey: I wouldn’t say still lying. He wasn’t lying to me for that whole year. There was a two-month period of time, that I know of, where he definitely was.
Anne: And he could have been, you just don’t know yet.
Lindsey: He could have been.
Anne: After you found out that he had been lying to you again, you took some time.
Anne: Let’s talk about that process of what to do now. You’ve been separated in your home, then you find out he’s been lying to you again, he’s been using porn again. You’ve already been separated in the home, so now what do you do? Talk about how you felt and the process that you went through to determine what steps to take next.
Lindsey: I actually need to back up a little bit, because that process started a little bit before I knew that he was lying to me. I had had some other pretty big indicators that something was really wrong.
How Can An In-Home Separation Help In Situations Of Abuse?
Anne: Can you tell us what those were?
Lindsey: I had a conversation with him shortly after one of his therapy appointments. He was on his way out the door, so it was not a good time to be talking but I had just asked him about how his therapy went and he was sharing with me about him being in a slump—how they say they’re in a slump—that he had shared that with his therapist.
The therapist had been working with him on trying to determine what his motivation for working recovery was, kind of doing pros and cons of working recovery and not working recovery. They had been doing a couple of different exercises and then he shared a question that the therapist had asked him, and it was basically saying, “How long do you think this is sustainable to stay in this slump?” And then he told me that his answer to the therapist had been something to the extent of, “Well, that depends on my wife.”
Anne: That depends on Lindsey.
Lindsey: Yeah, and I was like, “Oh, that’s not okay with me.” I don’t know if I could put words, at the time, to why that wasn’t okay with me, but that did not feel right. I want his recovery to be his own. I want him to be motivated to do it for his own wellbeing and I don’t want him to feel that it’s okay to not work recovery as long as I’m not making his life unbearable.
Anne: Or harder.
Anne: It’s like, “Well, if she doesn’t bug me anymore now, then maybe forever. It just depends on Lindsey.”
Lindsey: Granted, we talked about that conversation later. He didn’t intend it the way that I interpreted it. That said, it still came across, really, as a big red flag for me. At that point, that was actually the first time that I had ever considered the reality or possible reality of an out-of-home separation, and that scared me. It terrified me. So, the thought had been planted a couple of weeks before.
Anne: Before we go on, can you put into words why, if all other behaviors seem healthy, why lying and porn use to you is unacceptable?
Lindsey: Yeah, absolutely. The lying is just not an okay foundation for any relationship because, if he’s lying about this, who knows what else he could be lying about. Yes, on the surface of the things that I see and experience, seem to be okay but who knows.
Anne: Like you said, you’re not the most—
Anne: I know you personally and you are, but it would be interesting to see if someone else were in your situation if she was like, “No, these things are really bad, these other things,” that maybe you’re not recognizing.
Lindsey: Yes, absolutely.
Anne: That would be interesting to know.
Lindsey: Oh, I’m sure it would be very different.
Anne: Or if she was like, “I agree.”
How Can Boundaries Help Me?
Gail Dines was on the podcast previously, if you have not heard that episode please go back and listen to it, she’s amazing. She was saying women, “Even if nothing else is going on you do not want, you cannot accept porn in a relationship period. It is an abusive act and it’s not okay.”
I’m proud of you for admitting that, even though you don’t exactly know how these behaviors are affecting me, I know that it is, and I will not accept it.
Anne: That is a really brave thing to do.
Lindsey: For me personally, pornography is something that goes against my values, my spiritual belief system, so that, also, has been very clear from the start. This is not okay. Before I found recovery for myself, I knew it was not okay, but I didn’t know that anything could be done about it.
I would be told by bishops what felt, to me, was contradictory statements. Like, “Recovery is possible, sobriety is possible and yet addiction is going to be a lifelong thing.” I didn’t get how those two things that felt to me like opposites could both be true.
Anne: It’s possible for him to change but if he doesn’t it’s actually possible for you, the victim, to find peace and happiness. It’s taking a long time.
Anne: It takes a long time to figure out what that looks like and how that’s going to go. Because lying and pornography are unacceptable to you, then you start this process of determining what is my next step for safety? I’ve already done an in-home separation and it seemed to keep me safe for a little while.
For a little while, it held him accountable for his behaviors, but it didn’t necessarily motivate him to change, which wasn’t your point. Your point was just to keep yourself safe. Now you’re realizing you’re not any safer.
Anne: How do you decide that you needed to increase your boundaries yet again toward an out-of-home separation (where he moves out of the house) because you’re still unsafe?
Lindsey: Yeah, that was a long thought process for me because, realistically, the boundary of an in-home separation has a wide range of levels of connection, even within that. I thought about it and I realized I had pretty much explored that range, at least as far as I knew how. We had a period of time fairly early on in the in-home separation where things were awful. He was acting out every week and telling me about it.
Anne: When you say acting out, you mean using porn and masturbating?
Lindsey: Yeah. That was happening on a weekly basis. It felt to me like it was endless, so that was really hard for me. At that point in time, our in-home separation was very low contact. I would schedule the times when I would be seeing him. It would be family dinner with the kids.
Outside of that and maybe a few other things I would pretty much say, “Okay, text me if you’re going to walk through the upstairs so I know that you’re walking through the upstairs.” Things like that where I would very much know where he was and where I was and that those were separate places.
When things were a lot better, we did spend time together and he still slept in the basement and I still slept upstairs, and I still maintained my bedroom as my safe space, so he wasn’t going in my room if I was in the room. At all. Ever.
I felt like I had explored that range and I felt like I was out of options. That’s a hard place to be because I don’t like making decisions from a place where I feel like there are no other options. That was a place where I had to sit for a while to think about, “Have I really explored all my options?”
Anne: I think that’s really interesting because people don’t understand that women who are in abusive relationships want the relationship to work, so they try every single option. It’s only when they are out of options that they think, “Alright, I have to do this because I’m out of options.” Before, when you did the in-house separation that seemed like the only option at the time or the best option.
Lindsey: It did seem like the best option. I did feel like I had a lot more options when I was making that decision.
Anne: What options were you considering at that time? You were considering an out-of-home separation and an in-home separation?
Lindsey: Honestly, I didn’t even consider an out-of-home at that time. It was pretty much options just within our relationship where I could say, “Okay, I need to not go on dates or I need to have variations in the amount of space I have, emotionally and physically.”
Anne: Then, when his abusive behaviors continue, now you’re thinking, “I’ve exhausted all those options and now my only is an out-of-home separation.” Does this out-of-home separation include variations?
Lindsey: Oh yeah, absolutely. I know that there is a huge range of options in terms of does he still spend time at the house, does he spend time with the kids, is it really just a different place to sleep or is it like we’re living in different states? There is a lot of options within that, but it was less. It felt like I was at one level and I was jumping up to five levels higher, in terms of my boundaries. That’s a big jump to make.
Anne: I was talking with you while you were trying to make this decision. You texted me and called me and asked if you were thinking through this straight, are these boundaries appropriate? You finally decided, “Yes, I am going to ask him to move out.” Your family, again, was confused.
Anne: They’re like, “Why are you asking a perfectly capable, non-violent man who holds down a job, who is active in our church, who is seemingly a good dad to move out. This is confusing to us.”
Anne: At that time, did they understand it any more or was it still just baffling to them?
Lindsey: I don’t know if I can make a good judgment on that, honestly, because I was in such trauma myself. My perspective on what they were thinking and feeling, is probably very skewed.
Anne: Eventually, you moved forward regardless of what your perception of how other people felt was and you’re currently separated with him out of the home?
Anne: How have you felt about your level of safety now? Now, before we talk about that I want to say that it’s so difficult to assess your safety in this situation because both scenarios feel unsafe.
Anne: Having them stay in the home feels unsafe because they’re lying to you and using porn. It feels uncomfortable and it’s against your value system. Then, secondly, you’re having your children’s dad move out, along with the financial and emotional ramifications that this might cause, and the fact that this could result in divorce, which you don’t want, feels unsafe too. It’s like which “unsafe” scenario do I choose and why? The decision is very complex. It’s not easy at all.
An In-Home Separation Allows For Meditation And Clarity
Since you have asked him to move out, have you felt, generally speaking, more emotionally safe.
Lindsey: I would say I felt more at peace. I don’t know if I would say “safer” because, realistically, I don’t know. I felt a lot of unease around asking for the out-of-home separation simply for the financial aspect of it. That was another reason I hesitated for a long time.
The conclusion that I came to, and it worked for us (it doesn’t work for everyone), was I asked that he cover the cost with extra work. He came up with the cost so that it doesn’t dip into our normal finances. That gave me a lot of peace going into this. Saying, “This is possibly temporary.”
It could be temporary, and if it is temporary and he does end up moving back in and we end up reconciling and our relationship moves forward in a healthy way, it’s not going to impact us negatively, in terms of our financial future.
Anne: Lindsey and I are going to pause now, and we will continue this conversation next week. We’re going to talk about what benchmarks are. Benchmarks are not boundaries and we’ll have that discussion next week, so you know the difference between a benchmark and a boundary. We’ll also talk about safety and different interpretations of the word safety, so please stay tuned for next week. I’m excited to have Lindsey back on.
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