Should you Separate to Save your Marriage?

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A friend of mine told me recently that she and her husband had a trial separation a few years ago. I was shocked! I always thought of this husband and wife as the ideal married couple. I had no idea they ever had issues.

In addition, I was shocked that they decided to separate for a short while, and also that it helped bring them back together.

Long story short, the husband had been lying to his wife for several months regarding his standing in college. When the letter came in the mail saying he had lost his scholarship, she was so hurt. Not only had he been failing his classes, he had dropped out but kept telling her about how well he was supposedly doing.

It was a rough time for them. He had lost her trust, and he didn’t know what to do. It was hard for the wife to be in the same house with him because of the cloud of hurt feelings over her head. Things like this tend to get into every other facet of the relationship. She kept thinking, What else had he lied about? Or what will he lie about in the future?

In the end, they decided she would take the kids and stay with her family until he fixed things with school, and then they both would decide how to move forward.

It was not an easy transition to separate, and also it was not easy to come back together again. But the break gave her some space so she could forgive him, and the break gave him some space to focus on what he needed to change.

When she came back into their home, she could see the changes in him, and she appreciated his effort. He also was glad to have her home and vowed never to keep secrets from her again.

Marriage is not for wimps! And sometimes taking a break from each other takes more strength than sticking it out. Separation could even be the way to save marriage instead of leading to divorce.

You may be thinking, isn’t it counter intuitive to be away from someone you are trying harder to love? Don’t you have to be together to work on the relationship?

But, when you can’t say anything nice to each other, you can’t agree on things, or there are bad feelings that just won’t go away, sometimes spending more time together as a couple just makes things worse.

You may be ready for a period of separation if:

1. A major issue has exploded and you both need space to figure out how to proceed.

2. You spend most of your time fighting and it is getting to be too much.

3. You have tried marriage therapy for a while, and it doesn’t seem to be helping (yet).

4. You already aren’t sleeping in the same bed and/or room due to so much marital tension.

5. You just can’t give it your all right now and you need to regroup and focus.

Don’t ever take the idea of separation lightly. For many, it can be one step before divorce. After all, once you are separated, the fighting stops and suddenly there is peace. You feel “happier” because of it. But could you still be happy together?

Separation can also be a way for you to see how difficult divorce could be. Dividing up time, finances, and your items, not to mention not having that married couple dynamic anymore. Is this change all worth it?

If you and your spouse agree that a trial separation might be a good idea for you, start off by laying down some ground rules so you both know what to expect and that there will be an end in sight.

  • Decide who will leave, and where that spouse will stay.
  • Figure out how you going to work out finances.
  • Discuss a possible deadline. Are we talking a week, or a few months? What will happen at the end of that trial period?
  • Will you two continue to be intimate during the separation?
  • Will you spend time together as a couple? Will you go on dates together?
  • What about time as a family if you have children?
  • What will you tell others who take notice and ask about your relationship?
  • Start or continue seeing a marriage therapist.
  • Is email/phone/text/IM ok with both of you?
  • Will you both attend your child’s events together? What about his work Christmas party?

Once the deal is done, it’s really important to use this separation time constructively. With your spouse in another location, it gives you time to think about what has led to this point, and how you can change to make things better in the future.

Perhaps once a week, either at a marriage therapist’s office or at a coffee shop, meet together and go over your thoughts. Talk about your relationship, the highs and lows, and what you both want in the future.

Hopefully, you’ll both find that the marriage is worth saving and that you can be happy as a married couple again—together.


Sylvia Smith is a relationship expert with years of experience in training and helping couples in therapy. Her mission is to provide inspiration, support and empowerment to everyone on their journey to a great marriage. She is currently associated with Marriage.com, a reliable resource assisting millions of couples to resolve their marital issues. She holds a Master’s Degree in Arts (Clinical Psychology with an Emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy). Follow her on Twitter and Google+.

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