Lessons Dealing with Separation

Rich O’Keeffe
Western Region 

Life And Its Lessons

In January 2014, after over 27 years of being married, I entered into a marital separation. 

I am not going to go into much of any detail about the situation, other than a couple of basics. We are now living apart. It really is a separation, not a divorce. Clearly that is a possible outcome, but not where we are today. If you really want to know more, and we have a personal connection, please feel free to reach out to me.  I was approached to write this article for the magazine because there are things I have learned in the process from which others may benefit.

How Many Friends I Really Have

I am truly humbled by the breadth and depth of the friendships I have with people. Many of them have come through all the work I have done in Men’s Weekend graduate communities since I did the Weekend back in 1985, and the work I have done with folks in MDI. But it is also folks I have worked with, folks from my neighborhood when I was a kid, people who I went to school with, folks I have taken courses with in other transformational programs. I am usually pretty open with people about my life. 

As I have told relative strangers about things, and the developments that are happening, I have been amazed at how people have treated me. Amazed at how often I hear “me too.” Or “let me know if you need anything.” I had this experience early on in the process of feeling profoundly lonely and alone while swimming in an ocean of people that love me. Very bizarre.  It has been truly humbling to let people just love me.

Profound Insights Into Me

Another major gift in this “growth opportunity” has been the sometimes-harsh spotlight that has been shined onto me. Time and time again, even in the darkest and most emotional parts of this process, I have been shown some amazing lessons that I may never have gotten otherwise. Here are a few:

  • I allowed myself to get very sloppy and lazy in the job of being a lover to my wife.
  • Since I completed volunteering at a high level in MDI, I have been drifting and coasting. 
  • I do not have a clear view of the purpose for the rest of my life.
  • I moved from Massachusetts to Washington in 2006. I allowed many connections to “my people” to atrophy. There are tons of people back in New England with whom I have simply allowed to fall out of touch. Like most of my pallbearers, for example.
  • I have never “owned” the place I lived in. Not owned like house ownership, but owned like it is mine to take care of, and I am the one responsible to make sure it is taken care of.
  • A huge part of my identity as an adult has been that I am married to Jean. One thing I have struggled with is along the lines of “If I am not married to Jean, then just who the hell am I really?”
  • I am altering what I eat. I think that I mostly abdicated that decision process to Jean. I am not unhappy with what she did, but I need to know, for me, what I want food-wise???
  • There are several other aspects of just daily living that I abdicated the decision to Jean.  Mostly it is stuff I do not care about, but I need to actually own those things, and take care of them to know if I should.

There are tons more, but these are the ones that come to mind.

Connections And Their Value

One really amazing lesson I have received is just how deep the connections we are making in MDI run with each other. For a while, until the separation actually happened, I was posting some rather cryptic messages on Facebook about me without really saying anything. A few friends reached out to me anyway. One of them is a man from the old Sterling community days. We probably had not spoken in 20 or 25 years. And within about two minutes of talking, it was like we had never been out of contact. Some of that is due to how men communicate and connect with each other. But when they reconnect, it is always based on the thing they were connected to in the past. For those of us who manage to remain in MDI for a while, you will find that you have built some very deep roots with a lot of people.


I have not been generally big on asking for a lot of help. Most of the time, if I “need” help, it is more along the lines of what my ego wants. Or what my ego wants to not be around me. Sometimes there are specific things, but usually, when it comes to help, I prefer to gain whatever gifts and insights through the process of giving to others rather than addressing me and my needs specifically.  

One amazing side effect of the process has been that I have been unable to do anything other than sit back and receive from the fire hose of love and support around me. And every bit of it has served and been useful. Some of the best stuff has been from a couple of men in my life that are totally jaded about women. Some of the best stuff has been gifts from people who think I have my head buried way up my ass. (Side note, I just had a colonoscopy and the doctor medically certified that my head is not up there). And some of the best stuff has come from the women around me. It is illuminating to me just how my limits and my constraints have prevented me from seeing, feeling and receiving the love and support that is already around me.

The Work I Need To Do On Me

So here is the plan. The thing I know I need to do is that if Jean comes back, and I still want to pursue being married to her, is to be able to say with clarity, “This is the track that the train called Rich is going on for the rest of my life – want to get onboard?” Ideally she will also be able to clarify the track for her. And we will look to see if the tracks match or not. So, I am doing some very deep introspection, and looking to see what I want for the rest of my life … and also what I do not want.  For some things, the only way to know will be to dive in and see. For other things, like the pipedream fantasies that all of us have, they will fall by the wayside when I ponder them and consider whether I really want that in my life or if it is a fantasy that should stay just that.

In any case, thanks for sticking with me. And I mean that not just to those of you who read this far, but also to the many of you who have been with me so deeply over so many years. You are an amazing gift.

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