It’s possible to still save your marriage.
Most couples think of separating when they no longer know what to do with their relationship problems. They know they’re not happy.
Perhaps, the love and connection between them feel dead. Maybe they can’t stop the fighting. A marriage separation might feel like the only way to save themselves.
But wait, isn’t a separation agreement just the first step towards divorce?
Separation is a pause in the action and treated with respect where the goal is a happy marriage.
For many people, it is because the pain is too great and the couple is desperate to feel better. They absolutely need to get away or take a break from the daily repetition of dysfunctional dynamics.
In her work, Dr. Sue Johnson, the founder of Emotionally Focused Therapy, refers to the Demon Dances that couples do — the dialogues that couples have over and over that lead to nowhere but more pain, marriage problems, and disillusionment.
When a couple gets locked in their own version of Demon Dancing, they may look to separate as a means to stop the noise without going through an actual breakup.
But separating doesn’t need to be the first step to divorce. Separated couples who structure their separations can quiet the demons while making the space for learning new tools and ways of interacting.
You will most likely need the guidance and marriage advice of a Relationship Counselor or Coach to help you to mediate the various factors which need considering.
Here are 5 things you need to know before committing to a separation — even a trial separation — with your husband or wife.
1. Know your goals
Are you both fully committed to the idea that this separation is to call “time-out” on the difficulties you’re experiencing — not a “time-out” on the marriage?
There should be an agreement that neither of you run off and file for divorce without a full discussion before the end of the agreed-upon separation. That goes for threatening divorce, as well.
The separation is a pause in the action and should be treated with respect. The shared goal is to work back towards a happy marriage.
2. Be aware of the practical implications
It will take some negotiation to figure out who will stay in the home and who will move out.
If there are children, you’ll need to talk to them and make a plan for custody and/or visitation during the separation. Who will take which car? Who will use which credit cards? How will you fund two households?
You will also have to compromise and agree to stay faithful and not date others during the separation if you want to keep a healthy relationship going.
3. Discuss what to tell friends and family
It’s important to develop a script for how to handle the questions of your loved ones. Tell them what they need to know but no more.
Often, couples make the mistake of over-sharing information and inadvertently creating animosity for their relationship. This makes it tough when the two of you have healed and your family still hates your spouse!
Try something along the lines of, “We’re separating to rebuild. We’re still fully committed to our marriage and will be working hard with a therapist. We hope to have a stronger, happier relationship soon.”
4. Agree on how much will you interact
At the very least, couples will need to see each other in regular therapy appointments. At first, this might be the safest way to see one another. You might also agree to weekly dates or times together with your children. You’ll want to decide how often you want to check in on phone, email, or text.
Make a plan that honors both of your needs for separation and connection. It’s likely that you are probably used to some chaos in the relationship, but now is a good time to slow down and breathe.
If you’re the one that typically pursues your partner, this is a good time for you to pursue other interests and participate in self-care.
5. Wait until you’re both emotionally safe to move back in together
This, of course, is a very important question. Each of you should be able to state what you are looking for to feel emotionally safe enough to live together again. You should be able to see clear progress in your marital therapy, including an ability to communicate about important topics.
You’ll want to feel that you’ve resolved and forgiven those hurts which led up to the separation. You will also want a clear plan about how to handle relationship “hot buttons” before they escalate to deal-breaking problems.
I have worked and continue to work with many couples who have taken a break from their marital woes by separating. Those who have consciously structured the boundaries of their time apart have emerged with healthier, stronger relationships.
It may not be right for everyone, but handled well, a separation could just save your marriage.
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