In our marriage counseling, couples or partners often come to us seeking support in dealing with an intense marital situation. When one or both partners are emotionally charged to the extent that they are fearful that either might say or do something that could cause an even greater rift in the relationship, they have asked our advice about the steps they should take for a trial marriage separation with the possibility of a reconciliation at some time in the future. The couple might be stressed because of a continuation of ongoing unresolved conflicts. In other instances, a spouse may be in excruciating emotional pain after learning of a mate’s unfaithfulness and may need time alone to sort out their feelings.
The decision for a temporary separation is always in the hands of the couple. While we may offer our support in helping them to explore all alternatives, if they should decide to separate, we offer the following steps for couples to consider:
The Decision To Separate Should Be Made Jointly
This is especially important if both partners are likely to seek reconciliation at some point in the future.
Agreement Must Be Made On The Length of the Separation
A specific time should be set for how long the partners will remain living separately. For example, the amount of time should be set in weekly/monthly increments of 1, 2, 3 weeks/months, etc. At any time, the couple can renegotiate the time of the separation by shortening or lengthening it.
Agreements Must Be Made About Managing Finances, Child Custody and Visitation, and No Dating During The Separation
During the period of marriage separation, even though partners are living alone, steps must be taken to maintain the marital home—especially if, at some point, the couples decide to reconcile. Partners must decide how, and by whom, each of their household expenses will be paid. They must also agree on how they, together, will explain the separation to their children and their agreements about spending visitation time with the separated parent. The couple must agree to a “No-Dating” agreement during the separation and if, and how, they might be sexual together. The No-Dating agreement is especially important in cases where a partner has been unfaithful.
We Recommend That Each Partner Get Individual Counseling and Couple’s Counseling During The Separation
We recommend individual counseling so that partners can get support in sorting out and assessing where they are in their lives and in the relationship. Often, partners are unaware of their role in the marital conflict and this should be explored. In other instances, especially in cases of infidelity, a partner may need time to deal with their feelings and make a decision about what they want to do. The individual counseling should also include couple’s counseling because it provides an opportunity for the partner’s to work together on their relationship issues and learn new ways to address their problems.
At The End Of The Separation, The Couple Makes A Decision To Reconcile or Divorce
The purpose of the trial separation was to give both partners the opportunity to make a joint decision about the future of the relationship. And most often, at some point, it is clear to one or both the direction they want to take in their lives. To go from a marriage separation to reconciliation requires some additional steps. Those we will present in our article on marriage reconciliation.
The good news is that many of the couples with whom we’ve worked have built stronger and better marriages after being apart for awhile. It doesn’t happen instantly or magically. It is the result of working through their emotional feelings, discovering their roles in the nightmare, and learning some new ways of relating.