It’s not the beginning of the end.
Most of us assume that married couples who decide to “take a break” from their relationships are simply pressing the pause button on a pre-determined, fatal outcome. But what if stepping back and giving yourself a mental vacation was the answer for how to save your marriage?
With our national divorce rate averaging approximately 40-50 percent of all couples, wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way out of this crisis? While there’s no one size fits all solution, marriage separation can give couples time and space to evaluate a slew of vital issues that can turn the tide, reverse those choppy waters, and replace it with smooth sailing ahead.
Take Mark and Jeanine, for example. Married 35 years, they found themselves angered, resentful and disconnected from one another. Despite these feelings, they chose a harder path and decided to separate instead of rushing to divorce.
Mind you, they had no great hope of reconciliation. They even started discussing how the process of divorce would take shape, but amazingly, through the course of their separation, the reunion happened anyway. Over a period of 3 months, they rested, reflected and found themselves engaged and interested in their partner again.
Why was it so successful? The couple took the time to communicate in a new way, focus on what they missed about each other, and started dating one another again. They’ve now been married 42 years. Think this is a rare story? It’s not. That next happy couple could be you.
Here’s what you need to evaluate to determine if separation is right for you.
Check in with both yourself and your partner to gauge your level of burnout. If one or both of you is at the point where you feel you have nothing left to give, it’s time to get creative and start talking about what a separation can do for each of you, and what you hope to gain from it.
2. Hope and reality
Do you have even the slightest grain of hope that you can work it out? Perhaps you are overwhelmed at the prospect of divorce and being single again? These factors are enough motivation to try a separation and see what you can accomplish in this new scenario.
If you’ve evaluated points 1 and 2 and answered “Yes” to both, here are some things to consider as you take steps towards a trial separation. First, flesh out the details and agree to the terms:
- How long will the separation last?
- Who will be told that you are separating?
- How will you communicate during this period (Phone, email etc?)
- Who will attend social events that you are both invited to?
- Who will pay the bills?
- Will you separate your finances?
- Who will pick up the kids from school?
- How will you tell the children?
- Who will stay in the home and who will move out?
- Will you both be allowed to date or will you abstain?
These are complicated, emotionally-charged issues, and its vital that you seek therapy both before the decision is made and during the separation to make sure you’re both complying and processing the feelings that are coming up for you.
After you’ve decided that separation is right for you as a couple and you’ve begun the process, what should each of you be focusing on to make sure that you are getting the most out of this time?
- What specifically, could you have done differently to make the relationship stronger?
- What are you willing to commit to doing differently now, to make the relationship better?
- What do you need from your partner to move forward?
- What is it that you love about your partner that you now miss in their absence? Are you willing to share these things with them?
- Are you willing to be “mindful” (present in the moment, with no distractions) when you spend time with your partner?
- Are you willing to let your partner’s mistakes lie in the past, work towards offering a clean slate and not hold them to those old mistakes?
- Are you willing to have a date night every week, to provide the one on one time necessary to build a true emotional connection?
- Are you willing to explore new ways to communicate to avoid repeating old patterns?
When it comes to the “rules” of the separation, I continually advocate for solutions that are custom-tailored to the individual couple. Some therapists will tell you that a 6-month trial is ideal. Others will suggest less time. Some will tell you never to date others while working on the separation. Others will tell you that if you must, you must.
Seek therapy with someone you feel comfortable with, and that is experienced on the subject. They will be your best bet for navigating the complexities that will arise through this process.
When you’ve lost all hope, remember that just because your partner looks like your enemy right now, it doesn’t make it so. Take comfort in knowing that there are remedies that will pave the path back to joy and connectedness.
You may not feel it in the moment, but your best friend and soulmate might still be sitting across from you at the dinner table.
Allison Cohen, M.A., MFT is a licensed psychotherapist working to bring out couples and individuals best selves.