What happens when “until death do us part” doesn’t go as planned?
Everyone is committed to those words on their wedding day, but sometimes life gets in the way. Infidelity, financial stress, traumatic events, or just generally growing apart; there are many reasons why a fruitful marriage could turn sour over time.
When that happens, the couple has a decision to make. They could work on their relationship and try to see it through, or they could go their separate ways. It’s a decision that weighs heavily on many couples going through a rough patch or two. If they choose to separate, it can be an unnerving transition from the life they’ve come to know. No matter a marriage’s problems, the lives of the partners involved are deeply intertwined; it’s hard to untangle the knot and find what comes next.
Some may not want to jump from happily married to begrudgingly divorced. Like marriage itself, divorce is a big step in a relationship and in life. It needs to be considered thoughtfully, and inspected from all angles. Rather than rushing into the permanent decision of divorce, it may be a better option to separate for awhile and see what comes of it. Taking a step back from the problem and getting some space from one another might be the solution that a couple needs. Moving forward we’ll pull back the curtain and look at 5 things that you should know about separation if you’re considering it. It can be a useful tool in saving a marriage if executed correctly.
If a trial separations intent is to improve the quality of the marriage long term, than a therapist or counselor is needed now more than ever. They may not be able to solve all of the relationships problems, but they can identify most problems much better because of their objectivity.
Also, it’s a place to be open and honest about your feelings. If you’ve come to the decision of separation, you’ve got nothing to lose. It’s your marriage’s “hail mary”. Use the safe space of a therapist’s office to put all of the issues on the table and see if you can find a way to work back towards each other.
Utilize “me” time
One of the reasons that you and your spouse may have drifted apart is because you both lost touch of what made you happy on an individual basis. There’s a lot of shared joy in a marriage, but there still needs to be pockets of individual happiness. If you loved comic books before you got married, but you haven’t picked one up since the wedding bells rang, dust one off and give it a look. If you used to love performing in community theater, but have pushed that passion to the side for the sake of your marriage, see if they have auditions coming up.
Get back in touch with what brought you to life before you shared your life with your spouse. Take note of what it is that you like to do. If you’re intentional about this rediscovery of yourself, you may uncover that it was this lack of individual pursuit that put your marriage in a rut. Two people can coexist in a loving marriage while also having individual hobbies and interests. If you buried your hobbies long ago, use this time of separation to find it again. A better “me” makes for a better “we”. Always.
If you and your spouse decide that a separation is the best course of action for you, then treat it with sincerity. Create boundaries that will showcase an actual separation from each other. Give one another the proper breathing room that a separation requires. Make some decisions about who’s going to live where. Be clear about what you will both do about your money and joint bank accounts. I would suggest either closing or freezing them; a separation filled with spite can drain a bank account fast. If you have kids, choose where they’re going to live and how much time they’ll spend with each parent.
The point is this: if you decide to separate, actually do it. If you waver back and forth, you’ll never know if it will work. There should be a difference in how you operate. If you don’t respect the change that you’re trying to introduce to your marriage, there won’t be a change in the results of that marriage.
Give yourselves a timeline
When you decide to separate from your spouse, whether legally or informally, give it a concrete end date. Instead of saying “I think we should separate”, say “I think we should separate for 6 months and then decide where this marriage is headed.” Without a timeline in mind, you could go years without revisiting the issues of the marriage. The status of “separated” could last for months or years. After a while it becomes the status quo of your relationship, making it nearly impossible to reconcile. Give your separation a firm start and end date so that you and your spouse will treat it seriously and with urgency.
Know what you’re up against
If you’re using separation as a tool to hopefully improve the state of your marriage, just be aware of this statistic: according to a study done at Ohio State University, 79% of separations end in divorce. This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to use your separation to improve your marriage, it just means that you have your work cut out for you. Make sure that you are doing your due diligence once you’ve decided to actually separate. Get to that therapist’s office. Set those boundaries. Enjoy your “me” time. Give your separation a deadline.
Don’t take this time in your life lightly. Some people are separated for years without ever using that time to try and repair what they’ve walked away from. If that’s why you’re stepping away in the first place, be intentional about the time you spend apart. Use it to build a stronger foundation for when you and the love of your life find your way back to each other.