3 Simple Steps to Marital Separation

Steps To Marital Separation

Dealing with not only the psychological effects of a separation, but also the practical logistics can be daunting. Here are three possible steps to take when contemplating a marital separation.

1. Get educated

I know this seems like the last thing you may want to do. However, it is imperative that you do some research about the process of separation because the rules vary from state-to-state.

2. Get clarity

I recommend getting educated about all this first, because for many people, it takes time to really gain clarity on if they want to separate or not.

In my work, I often talk about the difference between reflection and rumination. Making decisions from clarity, from a place of reflection and perspective, almost always serves my clients much better in the long-term than by making snap decisions out of anger, sadness, frustration, or some other emotion.


When we are in a mode of reflection, our feeling state is generally open, inquisitive, and introspective. We are open to receiving new ideas and considering new possibilities. We are open to guidance and our intuition. There is a different quality to this kind of thinking. It has a less personal connotation with it. It often, though not always, occurs when we are in a peaceful mode of solitude or in an activity that distracts us.


Rumination is the cycle of being caught in the trap of repetitive thinking about your partner and marriage. It is the times when you can’t stop replaying over and over again, all the hurtful things that your partner has said and done over the years. It could also be when you are chronically worrying about the future of your relationship and family.

Both modes of thinking are completely normal and temporary in nature. However, reflection is more conducive to clear decision making.

But what if I am so stressed out that I can’t be reflective?

I often hear people say that it is difficult to experience a reflective mode. This is true some of the time and other times, it is not. That is because our thinking, our state-of-mind, is actually changing all the time (even if it doesn’t seem that way).

Feeling Depressed

For instance, I once had a client who was clinically depressed. When I asked her if there was a time in the day she wasn’t depressed, she stated there was none. I asked her if that was really true.

She then, upon reflection, changed her answer to say, “When I first wake up, I am not depressed.” In the next month, she reported that 5% percent of the day she wasn’t depressed, so she made all her important decisions for the day during that time.

After 6 months, she stated that 50% of the time she no longer felt depressed. After 1 year, she no longer identified as a depressed person. This is the very real power of gaining more awareness of the human condition. It allows us to get off auto-pilot and to stop being yanked around so much by the push and pull of our emotions and impulsive thoughts.

In our culture, we are accustomed to quick-fixes though. We try to escape emotional discomfort as soon as possible. We often make decisions out of haste because clarity doesn’t show up in the timeframe we want.

Again, there is nothing wrong with this, but I encourage you to experiment with this theme of reflection and see how it impacts your wellbeing throughout the separation process.

3. Create the separation agreement and arrange the logistics

If the decision to separate resonates with you and you are clear this is the next logical step in your relationship, the next thing to work out is the details of the separation agreement.

This would include coming to an agreement on the delegation of responsibilities when it comes to things such as: housing, childcare, finances, and other assets and debts.

Of course, for some couples, they won’t be able to come to an agreement about these things, as their main reason for wanting to separate is because of chronic stress and conflict. In these cases, seeking legal help would behoove the couple.

The most important step throughout the separation process is to take care of yourself.

It’s cliche. I know. But it is true.

In closing, there are many logistics to deal with matter what kind of separation you decide to implement. Creating a checklist and taking each item, step by step, can help reduce overwhelm. You do not have to get everything finalized in one day or even in one week.

It will not always be easy, but you will, at some point, know what is best for you. Even in the difficult times, you have the capacity for resilience and clear problem solving which can carry you through the entire ordeal.

Amy Leo
Amy Leo worked with children and teens discharged from psychiatric hospitals and their families for 5 years in New York City as an Intensive In-Home Counselor. Fueled by the notion, “there has got to be a better way”, she quit her social work job to pursue an apprenticeship in the field of mental health education. Since completing the one year apprenticeship program, Amy has worked in the private practice sector and as a consultant for others in the helping professions.

More by Amy Leo