Can a Trial Separation Save a Relationship

Can a Trial Separation Save a Relationship

Generally speaking, the marital separation of husbands and wives in marriage is a symbolic event – one which usually signifies finalization, a step in the process of divorce. But what if we turned this idea on its head? What if separating wasn’t just a means to an end but instead a wise idea that could help struggling couples grow stronger in their marriages? Can separation help a marriage?

But how does separation work to save a marriage?

Here are some things to dwell on if you are considering a trial separation. Apply them to save your marriage.

Trial  Marriage Separation Advice

In marriage counseling, the theory that space and time apart can actually strengthen a marriage may seem counter intuitive. Most people (especially women) are programmed to clutch on tighter, work harder and give more, when they feel their partners are slipping away.  It stands to reason; after all, marriage does take work but trying too hard can create new problems and exacerbate existing ones.

Many things can change as a result of separation and there are really no predictors as to what will change, or how. For some, the space enables communication to let up, which can be a blessing in some marriages. In others, communication failures will be made worse by distance.

Under the right circumstances, however, the distance can be a powerful tool that brings out the most effective communication in couples. It is unclear though why this is so, perhaps due to structured time periods, or due to the fading of resentment, or through a new sense of self-reliance by which partners begin to appreciate their spouses again.

Using space as an enhancement strategy affects all relationships differently, and what works for one couple may not work for another – even if they face similar issues. But on the whole, reclaiming identities, missing one another and dissolving that negative energy through space are just a few of the benefits couples enjoy during their hiatus.

Rules of separation in marriage

There are certain guidelines and circumstances which must apply; rules that both partners must create and then observe in order to achieve the desired results.

  •  A shared goal – Couples that want to try enhancement separation as a benefit need to be on the same page. If one partner isn’t sure whether they plan to reconcile, this needs to be communicated, as it may inform a decision as to whether enhancement separation is really the best course of action.  If one partner has doubts or definitely does not plan to reconnect, maintaining a façade of hopefulness will only result in hurt feelings.
  • Get support – Some couples may try Enhancement Separation on their own, but appointing a mediator will significantly improve the situation. This can be a family friend, member of the clergy or counselor.  The mediator should be there during tough or sensitive times and can act as a sounding board, provide communication guidance and give the final word in settling disagreements.

Get support

  • Marriage counseling – Both individuals should agree to participate in joint marriage counseling, as well as individual sessions, at least for the duration of their time apart. Seeking the help of a professional counselor can really save the marriage and even enhance it.
  •  Set ground rules – The length of the separation should be three or six months and must never exceed twelve months.  The time period should be determined in advance along with your expectations for when and how often you’ll communicate. What is (and what is not) acceptable should also be established at this time.  For example, most couples will agree not to date other people.
  •  Checking in – At some consistency, you will need to check in. Establish when and how often you will discuss the status quo.

Enhancement separation is not recommended for couples in certain situations, although opinions around this will vary between psychologists. Some say that couples should not embark on a separation if infidelity is an issue of the relationship, however, there are reported cases in which couples that created a separation of space after infidelity were actually able to rekindle ties, re-establish trust and stay married.

Likewise, individuals with significant co-dependency or trust issues, or those who do not deal well with change, are depressed or otherwise unstable are typically not good candidates for this method.

Additional things to consider:

The biggest advantage of a trial separation is that the time out can help couples review their marriage, see how things are panning out, and how the partners feel for each other despite the challenges. It also gives them time to dwell on areas that need to be worked on, etc. This is crucial as in the midst of daily life, the couple are unable to think clearly and see things for what they are.  

Pros of trial separation

  • It gives both individuals the time and space they need to realize each other’s place, value and importance in their lives.
  • It can help both the partners to let go of trivialities and biases they may have for each other.
  • It could offer a much-needed break to both partners which they can use to focus on yourself, sorting out their personal issues, and working on their shortcomings to improve the relationship.
  • It offers couples a new and healthy perspective on life and relationships which helps them to start afresh, all over again.

Benefits of trial separation

Cons of trial separation

  • At times, a separation can create more distance between the couple. This happens because the partners may communicate less often with each other which may then cause them to drift away.
  • Among couples who are not consciously working on their relationship during the trial separation, they may start to focus too much on their independence. Eventually, such couples do not feel the need to reconcile the marriage.
  • It is also possible that couples may start indulging in such ‘breaks’ any time there is conflict or friction in the marriage. Avoidance of tackling a problem together serves no good for any relationship. It only brushes things under the carpet for the time being.

Following the separation, the idea is for the couple to reconvene and discuss their thoughts and feelings regarding their commitment to one another. If both are still committed to the process, the next task is to stay together again, returning to a marriage that is stronger and more fulfilling than ever.

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Kelli H
Social Worker
Kelli Hastings is a writer, social worker, and proud advocate for women. She earned her B.A. degree from the University of Oregon in 2007 and worked as a behavior support specialist and program manager. She is inspired to support couples,
teach them skills that lead to healthy, happy and romantic partnerships. Her interests include cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness, visualization practice, and related therapies.

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