Can Temporary Separation Be Good for a Marriage?

Husband and wife deciding to separate

Depending on a couple’s circumstances, temporary separation can be a good thing. When both individuals are willing to work through their current issues, it’s one way to help process personal matters before reuniting.

It also allows for some space to experience life without each other. Additionally, it gives both parties the freedom to recognize the problems within the marriage.

Unfortunately, about 80 percent of those who take time off from each other ultimately divorce.

However, if you decide to reconcile, discuss, and share what was missing in the marriage. If you both agree to meet these needs, it can result in a stronger, more satisfying marriage.

In a recent study of couples who separated and ultimately filed for divorce but then chose to reconcile, researchers found out the following:

  • Couples had already made several attempts at reconciliation
  • They were willing to do what it took to grow as a couple
  • They previously made many grand gestures

Why Separate?

There are three primary reasons why couples choose to separate:

  • Used as a step in the divorce process
  • Used to gain perspective on the marriage
  • To enhance the marriage

More couples opt for separation, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic, where partners were stuck in closed quarters for several months with each other. Marriages were tested, some failed, and others flourished.

Couples use living separately to rebuild a solid marital foundation or prepare for a divorce.

When people separate, they have typically attempted various other methods to get their marriage back on track. But they have reached a place where there’s no other option but to leave and, eventually, divorce.

Temporary separation isn’t always a means to an end. For instance, if used correctly, it can be a valuable tool to help couples stay together.

If this seems counterintuitive, I understand why. Most people believe that when a marriage begins to fall apart, they should live under the same roof in order to be closer mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Being distant from your estranged spouse may instill a fear of losing control of the marriage. This option feels incredibly challenging if you’re already on shaky grounds due to an affair.

However, when done thoughtfully and respectfully, a temporary separation can effectively bring couples closer together.

When Temporary Separation May Be Damaging

If one partner is not interested in reconciliation but leads the other partner to believe otherwise, a separation will not make a difference.

Other times, one or both partners may feel apprehensive about the divorce process, therefore, will be hesitant to ask for a temporary separation. If you feel anxious about discussing it with your partner, try the following:

  • Write out the benefits of a quick resolution: This may help encourage you to ask.
  • Understand the longer you wait, the more challenging it will be: Hesitating may cause even more anxiety.
  • Talk to a licensed professional or lawyer for advice and support.

Temporary Separation Used as a Manipulation Tactic

Divorce is serious, so never dangle a separation in your partner’s face if your ultimate goal is to reconcile. Too often, a spouse feels like they are not getting their needs met, so they use separation as a manipulation tactic.

Understand that continuously threatening to separate or divorce may cause irreversible damage to your marital foundation. If you are unhappy yet honestly want to continue to work on your marriage, consider all the aspects of the union that cause discontent. Then, have a calm discussion on a resolution that works for both partners.

When to Seek Out Professional Help

Separation is the ideal time to self-reflect and work on yourself and your life. It can highlight the need to work on personal issues like substance abuse, communication, and childhood trauma that impacted you as an adult. These factors can negatively affect your marriage and your relationships with others.

Temporary Separation Rules and Guidelines

So, you’ve sought professional advice, attempted to discuss your unhappiness with your partner, and maybe even threatened divorce once or twice. Finally, however, you both decided a separation was the best thing.

Man and woman attending couples therapy together

When you choose to separate, figure out a plan together on how both of you will deal with a potential reconciliation, what to tell family and friends, the timeframe, and finally, how often you will communicate. If children are involved, you will need to contact each other more often.

There are no set answers, but you and your partner must agree on what’s best for the situation. To help you get started, consider the following questions:

  • Will you share the separation with family and friends?
  • How much time will you spend separated before deciding to get back together or follow through with the divorce?
  • Are you willing to see a counselor (individual or couple) to work on the issues?
  • Will you attend events together? If not, who will go where? What about events for the kids?
  • Will you date each other during the separation or explore outside relationships?
  • What type of communication will you have during this time? Calls, texts, and will you check in with each other? If so, how often?
  • How will you handle joint bank accounts?
  • If you see other people, what level of intimacy is acceptable?

Guidelines and Rules for Temporary Separation for Enhancement

When we think of separation, almost every time, we tend to picture a couple going their separate ways until the impending divorce is final.

That’s only the case sometimes. For example, separation for enhancement is used when couples have a breakdown in communication, trust, respect, and love. However, they decide divorce isn’t an option, so they eventually agree to separate to come back together as a stronger couple.

Here are a few thoughts on creating your own separation for enhancement:

1) Set Expectations That Are Reasonable

To maintain a sense of trust, ground rules are a must. Be clear with your expectations. For example, if one person prefers communication every day, but the other wants it twice a week, this may cause an issue.

Being transparent with expectations and knowing what to expect avoids unnecessary conflict during the separation.

2). Ask For Third-Party Help​

Some couples can do this on their own, which is great. However, using a third party to help streamline the process is suggested. Situations like this can be tricky, especially if there is tension between the couple. Third-party assistance can include:

  • Mediator
  • Therapist
  • Clergy
  • Lawyer

3). Keep In Constant Contact

When you don’t have contact for an extended period, it may start to hurt the process. What was once “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” can turn into an “Out of sight, out of mind” situation.

Therefore, decide on the time in between contact. The average length of time for this type of separation is approximately four to six months.

Temporary Separation for Enhancement Isn’t for Everyone

Some people will not benefit from separation for enhancement. Each spouse should be honest with themselves and with each other about why they want the break.

For example, if you or your partner is only trying to simplify the splitting up process but ultimately plans to divorce, this is not the method for you.

On the other hand, if you have no intention of staying with your spouse, the worst thing you can do is string them along and feign interest in working on the marriage. Doing so wastes your time, your spouse’s, and the mediator’s time.

Additionally, if you are confused about whether you want to remain in your marriage, state that upfront. It’s more difficult on your partner’s emotions if you lead them to believe that you intend to return fully committed to your marriage once the temporary separation is over. But then they realize you wanted to leave from the beginning.

Marriages dealing with difficulties in trusting should not try separation for enhancement. This method requires a great deal of faith and maturity. Unfortunately, it can cause added anxiety for insecure and dishonest individuals.

Separation and Children

We briefly mentioned kids above, but let’s dig a little deeper into the effects of separation on children.

If you decide to separate, only discuss the essentials with the kids, and keep all discussion age appropriate. As you already know, never put a child in the middle of parental issues. Doing so may cause psychological trauma to a child, regardless of age.

You’ll also need to find healthy and acceptable ways to co-parent. Consider using a mediator or seek counseling if there is too much discord. Also, DO NOT talk badly about your partner in front of your child. This puts them in the middle of an adult issue. But, again, if this seems overwhelming, seek professional assistance.

6 Ways to Make Your Marriage Stronger after a Temporary Separation

Too often, couples break up, get back together, and after some time, they fall right back into the same patterns that broke them up in the first place. After making up, work toward maintaining your new bond and build from there.

Tell your spouse you’re thankful for them in your life

Learn to appreciate one another, your relationship, your family, and your love and respect for one another. Show appreciation when your partner does something nice for you, such as prepare lunch, do the dishes, or draw a bath.

Communicate often

Be intentional with your communication because talking to your partner is one of the best methods to maintain a healthy and successful marriage.

Always be honest with how you feel, but do so in a kind and respectful manner. An essential part of good communication is listening. Take some time to understand your partner’s needs. Talk openly and often about more than just kids and the bills. Discuss your goals and future plans together.

Make time for just the two of you

Life can get hectic with family, bills, and careers, so losing the romance is easy. Instead, plan a regular date night. Once a week or once a month, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is to make time for the two of you so you can relax, talk and enjoy being in the company of each other.

Stop nit-picking

Your spouse isn’t perfect, and neither are you. But sometimes, partners get frustrated with each other over the small stuff. For example, does he leave his shoes on the carpet? Does she constantly leave dirty dishes in the sink? Couples could spend all day picking at the irritating things, but you must choose your battles.

Don’t forget about me-time

Me-time is just as important as spending time with your spouse. Alone time allows you to regenerate and recharge, so you’ll be refreshed when you reconnect. Do activities that you enjoy, like reading, working out, or baking.

When you get married, especially if you have kids, you often forget to do the things you used to enjoy as a single person. So, call your friends and have a night out, take a cooking class, or do some volunteer work.

Learn to forgive

We all make mistakes. You and your spouse are no different. They may say something and unintentionally hurt your feelings, but rather than get angry, discuss it. Tell them why what they said hurt your feelings and figure out how to move past it.

It’s vital to deal with your feelings because when you bottle them up, they will sometimes resurface in the heat of an argument. Remember, your goal is to be committed to your spouse, family, and the life you’re building together.

Temporary Separation may be new territory for you and your partner. So, take your time to process what is best for you both. Remember, a split doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the marriage. It can also be an enlightening experience. In the end, you may have a healthier, happier marriage, and if not, you both gave it your best shot.

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