Can a Trial Separation Save Your Marriage?

Can a Trial Separation Save Your Marriage? April 25, 2019


Can taking a break save your marriage? The answer depends on your goals. For some couples, it makes sense to take a break if they use the time to honestly evaluate the relationship. If a couple assesses their commitment and decides that their marriage is worth saving, a cooling off period can be an effective way to give each other some much needed breathing space. Keep in mind, it’s highly beneficial for couples to have a timetable for the separation period and to agree upon goals.

For some couples, a separation may be a reasonable alternative to divorce if both partners are willing to work on themselves.  A planned marital separation can sometimes save a marriage. Partners can sometimes strengthen their commitment if they have quiet time to reflect.

Based on my counseling experience, marital separation can be a double edged sword. On the one hand, it can allow a couple time to deal with the issues that are pulling them apart without the emotional intensity that comes with living together. If planned in a thoughtful way, they can agree to meet regularly to work on their issues and air their grievances. Implied in this approach is hope that the relationship might repair and continue if both partners are on the same page. Some refer to this break time as pressing the pause rather than the stop button.

However, time apart can cause some people to further detach from one another and be disappointed when they reunite and find the same patterns of annoying behaviors exist. This is especially true if one or both partners don’t take responsibility for their part in the breakdown of the relationship. Many experts advise that taking a break only delays the inevitable. Only you know what is the most likely outcome for your situation.

The phrase absence makes the heart grow fonder characterizes couples who don’t have extremely high conflict or abuse and are receptive to counseling to work on their communication patterns during their time apart.

6 Tips for taking a break from a relationship:

  1. Be honest and set boundaries and expectations. This includes ground rules and expectations such as talking about the duration of the break. Discuss whether you can date others. Can you text or call each other daily? Is it okay to have sexual intimacy with each other and/or others? Is it okay to stop by each other’s residence unannounced?
  2. Make an agreement to have regular counseling sessions – focusing on working on your relationship patterns will greatly enhance your chances for success. Your counselor can help you decide how often you should see each other, if sexual activity is acceptable, etc.
  3. Talk to your children honestly but don’t give them too much information or false hope. If your children are younger than age twelve say something like: “Mommy and daddy need time to figure out how to get along better so we’re going to try living apart. We both love you and will make sure that you see a lot of both of us. Kids older than twelve can handle a little more information, such as: “We’re not sure if we’re going to work things out but we want to give it a try.” Never express negatively about their other parent or bad mouth them.
  4. Don’t date other people while you’re living apart. It’s impossible to build trust – an essential aspect of intimacy – if you’re romantically or sexually involved with someone else.
  5. Recharge your battery and take time to learn more about yourself so you can view your relationship with a fresh perspective.
  6. Stay optimistic and connected with your partner. It’s important to stay in touch with your partner in old and new ways such as cards, letters, and/or a weekly dinner out. A planned separation needs to be a reprieve from bickering, disagreements, and frequent communication.

Give your partner space if you want to test out whether absence will make your heart grow fonder. In fact, respecting each other’s boundaries is crucial to finding out if divorce is a better option than separation.  Setting a tentative timetable can help both people evaluate whether taking a break has caused them to feel more optimistic about building a life together.

Consider taking a break as a time to determine whether your relationship is worth saving. It can give you and your spouse a chance to respect one another’s view of your problems – even if you feel that they’re wrong or shouldn’t feel the way they do.

Twitter, Facebookand, Terry’s award winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website.

I’d love to hear from you and answer your questions about relationships, divorce, marriage, and remarriage. Please ask a question here. Thanks! Terry 


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