Separation: Beginning of the End, or a New Beginning?
Gaining ground all over the Internet is the idea that marriage separation can actually be a good thing. It seems some couples who spend time apart are able to get back on their feet separately and then come together as better people and forge ahead with a new and better relationship.
If it is something you and your spouse are contemplating, tread carefully. Many stories shed a good light on separation, and for some it really has worked. But in any relationship, be it married or not, things are complicated. Some have children, some don’t. Both or one person in the couple brings in the money. Perhaps extenuating circumstances over the years have made things harder, but things really could get better.
What a lot of the stories don’t say is how lonely it is to be separated, or how often they thought it wouldn’t work. As readers all we see is the end results—that in the end things turned out fine. But wasn’t there a lot of tears and heartache leading up to it? The take home message here is this: separation, if you decide to do it, will not be easy.
One couple tells of their year-long separation. The timing worked out that the husband would be working in Russia while the wife stayed behind. After so long apart, their marriage could have fizzled, but they kept things going long distance. Over that year they go to know each other better through email. Thankfully their story ended happily and they even want to start a family.
If you are contemplating separation, it’s really important that you get into couples therapy.
But not all separations turn out so well. The thing about separation is that it can be a time where couples start to enjoy their time apart. With the fighting and disappointment not part of their daily lives anymore, they may come to believe that being single is the way to be happy again. They may come to enjoy their “freedom” from the responsibilities of being married.
For one couple, the wife got a job in another state and the husband encouraged her to take it—but then he opted not to follow her. They both agreed to live separately for a while. In the end, the husband had negative feelings toward his wife for being away and they ended up divorcing.
If you are contemplating separation, it’s really important that you get into couples therapy. Even if you live far apart, you can talk with a marriage counselor via conference call. And both husband and wife should go to counseling separately as well. The list for marriage issues is as long as a monthly grocery list, but way more complicated. A professional counselor can help.
But counseling doesn’t always mean that saving the marriage is in the cards. For one woman, she married young and was very inexperienced being alone and in relationships as well. His attitude and treatment toward her made her feel helpless and awful about herself. But taking that step to be without him was too hard to take on her own. So she went to therapy and through talking with a counselor, she realized she could try a separation, and through that she realized she actually could live without him.
So just know that while marriage separation for some couples does lead to coming back together stronger, in many cases it is the precursor to divorce. You are in a sense practicing how life will be once you are divorced, with separate living spaces, finances, and time.
One important step if you do proceed with separation is to talk to your lawyer. Treat it as if it is a divorce because sometimes any separation documents you make at this point will be what may carry with you if you and your spouse do divorce later. You may not want to deal with any sort of legal document at this point, but you can’t predict the future. You don’t know how your spouse may change or act during the separation. Protect yourself and get something in writing that you both sign.
Decide on how often you will communicate, and talk about sex, too, because it can have an impact on a possible future divorce proceeding as well.
Getting legal makes it all seem so serious, but any separation is a serious matter. It means the relationship is deteriorating in some way, and you both are to the point that you don’t know what else to do to fix it. That is serious business. If you are both less serious about the whole subject, perhaps just extended vacations apart might be a good option for now.
In any case, be prepared for all possible outcomes. Don’t separate unless you know that an ending or a new beginning might happen. Talk to your lawyer, and find a good marriage counselor. Work your hardest and decide what you will do to save your marriage. Even if it ends, you can look back without the regret that you didn’t do everything in your power to keep the love alive.
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).