Does separating help or hurt a marriage? There is no easy answer. So many factors enter the equation. Here’s what we do know:
A study done at Ohio State University revealed that 79% of separations end in divorce.
What is not measured is the couples intention when separating. The motive for separating has a big impact on the outcome. We have a few recommendations about separating:
- Use only as a last resort.
- In the case of physical abuse, get out now.
- Be clear about your motives for separating.
Separation is never easy. It’s a difficult decision to make. In this article we want to address several issues:
1. Ground Rules for Separating
2. How to Make the Most of Your Time During Separation
3. How Separating Can Hurt Your Marriage
4. How Separating Might Help Your Marriage
5. How to Get a Plan for Your Separation
Before we launch into these five topics, let’s answer the basic question: Does separation help or hurt a marriage?
Before we get started, I write about marriage restoration and relationship issues, If you want to get my latest articles, click the link and join the list to get the most up-to-date information and research on building great relationships. Join here.
In This Article
- It depends on what you do during the separation
- 1. Ground Rules for Separating
- What To Do To Make The Most Of This Time
- 1. Take advantage of the ‘Me’ time
- 2. Warning (again) about the opposite sex
- 3. Read, Research and Learn how to make your relationship better
- 4. Get professional help if you need it
- 5. Take action to make it better
- 6. Realize the issues have to be dealt with when you come back together.
- A Few Separation Guidelines
- Wrap Up
It depends on what you do during the separation
What is the biggest factor determining how separation affects a marriage? Answer: What happens during the separation
Many couples separate not knowing what they want out of their time apart. They have no plan to navigate this difficult time.
Here’s a few questions you need to answer before you separate. We have a complete ‘Marriage Separation Check List’ you can download. We suggest you use this checklist if you are serious about separating. It helps answer key questions and concerns. The last thing you need to do is ‘just leave.’ Too many things need to be discussed. Our checklist will help you know what to do next.Download the Marriage Separation Checklist Here
1. What’s your motive?
Why do you want to separate? Is it so you can clear your head? Or is there another reason?
One thing we hear time and time again is people say, ‘I just feel like I missed out on my freedom. I got marriage so young. I just want to experience freedom I never had!’
If this is your motive, you need to be very clear with your spouse. Don’t play games. Be honest, clear and truthful.
Is there another person in the mix? Are you interested in someone else?
Are you using separation to punish your spouse for something they did?
Knowing your motive will help both you and your spouse make decisions. If you are not honest with yourself, you will never move forward in your marriage.
Our opinion is that separation is a last resort. But it still has the agenda of healing the marriage. Not hurting it.
This is why you need to be honest about your motives.
2. How serious are you about getting help and making it work? Are you just playing games?
This is like the item #1 about motive. It digs a little deeper.
Is your intention to make your marriage work? Or is merely the first step out the door toward divorce?
Your answer depends on the course of action you take. You need to be honest with your spouse about your expectations. It comes back to motive. Why are you separating?
3. Warning: Don’t ‘Hook Up’
IF…you are serious about making your marriage work, it is vital that you do not use this time to connect with old friends. Especially those of the opposite sex), and do not date.
This is the biggest trap we’ve identified with couples facing separation. This should be a time to work on your marriage. If that is your ‘end game’ – the purpose of this time – then you should be able to move forward. You can find answers to help you rebuild your relationship.
Let’s move on to establish some ground rules for this time of separation.
1. Ground Rules for Separating
Few things in life work the way they are suppose to without ground rules.
Based on the latest research and statistics, here’s six things you need to keep in mind as you prepare for this time apart.
The assumption is you want your marriage to work. This time is set aside to focus on healing, sorting through issues, and rebuilding your relationship.
1. Make it Temporary
One of the things we cover in our ‘Marriage Separation Checklist’ is setting a time table for your time apart. This should not be open-ended. This is a temporary fix. Not a permanent solution.
2. Agree About It
It’s important to agree to this time. I realize that most of the time the issue is ‘you can’t agree on anything.’ But when it comes to separating, you should agree (if at all possible). There are times this isn’t realistic. But under most circumstances you should come to some sort of agreement.
Even if your spouse is not totally on board, discuss the issue with hopes they will understand.
3. Keep it short
Most studies show that anywhere from 1 month to 3 months produces the best results. Since the goal is to work on you and your marriage, this is rarely accomplished over a ‘long weekend’ apart. It takes time to think through the issues.
It usually takes a week or so just to get your emotions under control. It’s virtually impossible to sort through things in a short amount of time.
You are separating because nothing else has worked; so give it enough time to help.
On the other side of the coin, too much time can be detrimental. This happens for a number of reasons.
Sometimes it puts too much space between you and your spouse that it is hard to bridge the gap. It can also breed insecurities, doubts and questions about whether your spouse wants things to work.
The best time, as mentioned earlier, is between one and three months.
4. Guard your heart and avoid temptation
This has been mentioned, but it needs to be reiterated. This is not the time to date, reconnect with old flames, or put yourself in a situation that will compromise your marriage.
Separation is not divorce. You are still married. I receive questions from couples asking if it is okay to date while separated. My answer is always ‘No!’ Separation is a time you set aside to work on your marriage. Let that be your focus.
If you agenda or purpose is something different, then you should have an honest conversation with your spouse.
Faithfulness during this time is crucial to the future of your marriage relationship.
Guard your heart and avoid temptation.
This is another reason we suggest having accountability during this time. See our ‘checklist’ for more practical information.
5. Let a few key people know what’s going on
This can be difficult. My advice is to leave family out of it. They may need to know that you will be apart for a season, but to not ‘air your dirty laundry’ to family or close friends. This can be detrimental for a number of reasons; mainly because when and if you work things out, people tend to hold grudges. Especially those who love us most.
A professional counselor is the place you vent and discuss the deep things about your marriage. Not family and friends.
I realize there are always exceptions to the rules. Generally speaking, it is better to open up to a professional (they will be honest with you, and not take sides) rather than close friends. This only complicates things down the road.
It is, however, important that key people understand what’s happening. Agree on a designated person or people you share your marriage struggle with. I emphasize ‘agree’ on who you share these things with. If your spouse has issues with you sharing with certain people, to the best of your ability honor their request.
6. Have a plan
Sometimes life surprises us with pleasant accidents that bring good things into our lives. But most of the time we only get out of life what we put into it. Therefore, it is good to plan for what we want in life.
Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.
A Short List for Planning Your Time Away
1. Write down your expectations. Discuss with your spouse and agree
2. Discuss finances; who pays what during this time
3. Go to counseling while separated.
4. Be accountable to someone.
5. Avoid saying negative things about your spouse.
6. Develop a plan for when you come back together.
7. Consider getting a mediator.
If you are having difficulty discussing the most insignificant issues, you may need to get someone to moderate for you. Our suggestion is a pastor or professional counselor.
8. Consider having a ‘check in’ time during the separation.
There are more suggestions on our ‘Marriage Separation Checklist.’ These will help you get started thinking through the issues.
It’s important to put time into planning for this time away. It’s rarely good to leave out of frustration, raw emotions, or anger. Collect your thoughts and emotions, then discuss this with your spouse. Do your best to come to terms together.Download the Marriage Separation Checklist Here
What To Do To Make The Most Of This Time
What happens during the separation determines the success of your marriage. Handle this time wisely and your marriage can be saved. Handle it wrong and the odds are stacked against you.
So what should you do during your separation? What should be your focus?
1. Take advantage of the ‘Me’ time
The focus should not just be on your relationship with your spouse, but on getting in touch with yourself.
Marriage problems affect us emotionally more than anything else. More than job stress. More than extra-family issues. It can cause you to lose touch with yourself quicker than anything else.
Take this time to reconnect with what is going on in your heart, mind and soul.
There is nothing selfish about needing time to reconnect with yourself.
There are many ways to do this, but the most important thing is to set aside time to think. Don’t get so busy with other things that you fail to think about what you want. Contemplate what’s happening in your heart, and where you need to be.
2. Warning (again) about the opposite sex
Yes. This is another reminder this is not a time to date.
Sorry for repeating myself. But this is the number reason (according to what we see) separations fail. If marital unfaithfulness creeps in at this point, the marriage holds little hope of survival.
It is imperative to guard your relationship durng this vulnerable time.
3. Read, Research and Learn how to make your relationship better
Invest in your relationship. It’s good to have time alone, but the best thing you can do for yourself, and for your marriage, is invest in making it better.
Your marriage is where it is because of decisions, actions and beliefs you’ve put into place over the years. Many of those beliefs are wrong and negative. Yet they have become habits. These habits must change in order to turn things around.
It takes work to change the internal mechanism of the mind. It can be done, but you need to focus on changing what’s not working.
Use this time to read, study and discover what went wrong and how to fix it.
There are many great programs that can help you do this. We have a growing list of programs, books and guides that will get you moving in the right direction.
Key? Don’t waste this time.
4. Get professional help if you need it
It’s already been stated that you need to see a counselor during this period. Chances are you have hurts, wounds and disappointments. These can eroded your confidence and trust. Address these with a profession who can help you work those issues.
The success of your marriage, to a great degree, will depend on how well you deal with those inner battles.
So get help.
5. Take action to make it better
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to think and work through mental and emotional baggage.
But thinking is not enough. Eventually you have to take action.
With the help of your counselor, you should develop a plan of action – something to do – that will move you forward.
Taking action may mean buying books to read. Purchasing a program on marriage enrichment. Or going to counseling. These things are all positive actions.
You also need a game plan to work through the things that crippled your relationship. You may need help pinpointing the key things you need to do. If so, Dr. Lee Baucom’s program, ‘Save the Marriage System’ will help. Dr. Baucom has helped thousands of couples save their relationship. His program gives practical, step-by-step guidance in putting your marriage back together.
6. Realize the issues have to be dealt with when you come back together.
Once your separation is complete, you must come back together to discuss what happened during your time apart. Refer above about making it a determined time. Don’t leave it open-ended.
If all you are doing is postponing the inevitable, you’re separation is pointless.
If you’ve worked on making ‘you better’ and spent time understanding the dynamics of your marriage, you are ready to talk with your spouse.
Our main advice at this point is not to expect too much.
Just because you’ve made progress doesn’t mean your spouse has. Be open to hearing what they are experiencing.
Bottom line: You will have to deal with things when you or your spouse returns. So be prepared.
A Few Separation Guidelines
1) Don’t be negative
3) Share honestly
4) Revisit your checklist
5) Share what you’ve learned about you and your marriage
6) Allow your spouse to respond without judgment
7) Ask you spouse, ‘What do you want now?’
If you are considering a separation, or already in one, download our ‘Marriage Separation Checklist.’ It’s free and will give you a game plan on discussing issues with your spouse.Download the Marriage Separation Checklist Here
Does separation help or hurt a marriage? That depends. How you approach the issue is the biggest determining factor.
If you or your spouse is using it as a ‘trial divorce’ to see how things feel, chances are your separation will be permanent.
The way to beat that statistic is to make sure you are clear on ‘why’ you are separating.
Separation is never easy. The key to making it work is to work on you and your relationship while you are separated.
I believe there are better ways other than separation. But if you find yourself in a situation where separating seems inevitable, make the most of it by doing the things above. Above all things, have a plan for what you will do during the separation.