Can a Marital Separation Save Your Marriage?
When a married couple walks down the aisle, physically or metaphorically, on their wedding day, divorce and separation are the furthest thoughts from their minds. Your wedding day is one of happy beginnings and hopes for life-long togetherness. The unfortunate truth, however, is that many marriages do end in divorce.
People change, grow, develop new interests, or take career paths that lead them in a direction they never imagined. And while none of these are excuses for divorce, they are often part of the cause.
According to the CDC, in 2020 (the latest year data is available), the average divorce rate was 5.1%, a rate that’s dropped steadily over the last twenty years.
However, while the statistics indicate a steady decline in divorce rates in the past twenty years, marriage rates have also declined. On average, since 2000, there have been anywhere from 15,000-50,000 marriages each consecutive year.
There were nearly half a million fewer marriages in 2020 than in 2019. Although COVID likely played a role in why marriage rates dropped so steeply for the first time in twenty years.
Related: 10 Signs Your Marriage is Over
Can a Temporary Separation Save Your Marriage from Divorce?
So what do you do when the honeymoon period has passed, and stress from jobs, kids, credit card debt, and other factors trickle into your relationship? What do you do when you realize you’re no longer happy? How do you decide whether to leave your marriage or suggest a marriage separation?
In some cases, divorce is the only acceptable answer, especially if there has been emotional, psychological, or physical abuse. But, in other instances, a trial separation may be the very thing that saves your marriage.
What is a Trial Separation?
According to Divorcenet.com, a trial separation is when a couple agrees to spend time away from each other. Typically, one of the spouses temporarily moves out of the home or to a separate bedroom if that is not financially viable.
However, couples with children may choose to conduct their trial separation in the same home for the sake of the mental health and well-being of the children and to continue as co-parents with ease. A trial separation is not a legal agreement and does not affect your property rights or financial claim like a legal separation.
Benefits of a Trial Separation
- It gives couples trying to reconcile a chance to see what living apart is like
- It allows both partners to work through personal issues that may be affecting the relationship.
- It eliminates premature legal separation and divorce, which you may not need.
Potential Drawbacks of a Trial Separation
- It alerts family members and friends to your marital problems
- It may confuse and upset children
- It is often an informal agreement, so there are no official rules or custody arrangements.
- It introduces additional costs
What is a Legal Separation?
A legal separation requires the involvement of the court system and requires couples to make an official request to be recognized as legally separated. Unfortunately, legal separation is not acknowledged in all states, so checking your individual state’s laws is essential before proceeding.
The legal separation process involves several steps, which will vary by state and have specific qualifications that need to be met.
Unlike a trial separation, a legal separation usually states child custody arrangements, alimony or spousal support, and child support. In addition, one spouse must serve it to the other in a verified fashion.
Benefits of a Legal Separation
- Separation allows for the possibility of reconciliation
- You can still file joint taxes
- Legally separated couples maintain healthcare coverage if one spouse is the cardholder.
- You can avoid religious issues if divorce is not typically accepted within the couple’s religion.
- The separation agreement can serve as a blueprint if the couple eventually follows through with divorce proceedings.
How Do I Know if I Should Try a Separation from My Spouse?
Choosing to separate is extremely difficult, but it may be necessary for your mental health and personal growth. So how do you know if trying a separation is the right thing to do? The short answer is you won’t know until you’ve tried, and the deciding factors will vary slightly for each couple. Here are some clues that separating might be a step you need to take.
- You feel as if separation would improve your quality of life
- Your partner no longer seems interested in the marriage
- You rarely or never spend time together
- You’ve lost romantic or sexual interest in your partner or vice versa
- You feel that the children or finances are the only roadblocks preventing you from trying a separation
- Your spouse is abusing you or your children
Ultimately, the decision to separate should be one that brings empowerment and peace to your life, but it will be rocky at first. Many parents say they stay together for the children. But the truth is that children whose parents constantly fight and raise them in an unstable and hostile home are ultimately worse off than children whose parents leave an unhappy marriage.
While divorce is undoubtedly difficult for children, there are some benefits of divorce for kids over an angry and argumentative home.
Effects of Separation and Divorce on Children
When separation or divorce are handled respectively and responsibly, children reap some benefits over living in a home full of tension and angst.
- Children get happier and calmer parents.
- Children are raised in two homes without constant arguing
- Children learn the power of and the skills of compromising
- Children learn the importance of personal happiness
- Children have a calmer emotional baseline
- Children learn how to express emotions effectively and appropriately.
No matter how angry or hurt you are at your partner, follow the advice below for the benefit of your children.
- DO NOT bad mouth the other parent to your child, in front of your child, or within earshot of your child.
- Avoid blaming the other parent when things go wrong (missed visit, late pick-up) or for the separation in general.
- Communicate with your partner about your children and events. If you absolutely cannot speak to them without arguing, designate a neutral go-between person or use email or text.
- Do not make it impossible for the other parent to see or spend time with your child. If abuse is involved, this is an entirely different matter. However, use the courts and legal system to take official steps.
- Work together to make decisions about your children, and present a united front.
- Support rules or guidelines established by the other parent. If you have an issue with a rule or decision discuss it privately with your partner
How Do I Prepare Myself and My Children for a Separation?
The most crucial thing you and your partner can do is sit down with your children as a united front and explain to them, at an age and developmentally-appropriate level, what is going to happen. This means you and your spouse must figure out all the nitty-gritty before sitting down with the kids and be prepared for their questions.
Reassure your children that they are loved and have done nothing wrong. Help them understand that this separation is happening because you and your spouse need time to learn how to be better friends and parents.
Depending on your children’s ages, consider checking out some books on divorce from the library and setting up an appointment with a child psychologist.
Depending on who initially brought up the idea of separation, be prepared for resentment and hostility. It takes time to heal, and this experience will likely affect your and your partner’s self-esteem.
Consider marriage counseling during the separation as a way to work through issues together. If you are entering a legal separation, in most cases, dating or sexual intercourse with your spouse could cause you legal problems down the line if you eventually continue with the divorce process.
If you decide to enter into a legal separation, include aspects of marital property division, as being too casual could come back to bite you if divorce is the end game. You also need to avoid new relationships as this could reflect poorly on you during the divorce proceedings or interfere with an uncontested divorce claim.
Is It Really Possible for Separation to Save My Marriage?
Recognizing the need for separation means you recognize that your relationship is in trouble; it does not always signify the beginning of the end. Many couples discover that they learn to appreciate the other person more and begin to respect them again during a separation. Constant bickering and nagging, as well as complete dismissal and lack of engagement from our partners, tend to blind us to the reasons we fell in love with them in the first place.
There is some merit in the saying, “Absence makes the heart grow stronger.” When we are not confronted daily with all the things that have been bothering us about our partner and our relationship, we can step back and process things better.
For any relationship to work, you must be an active listener, and both parties must want reconciliation to happen. As much as you or your partner may want to save the marriage, it must be something you both want. If either one of you is no longer in it for the long haul and is secretly longing for a new beginning, it is likely your marriage will end as a divorce case.
Steps to Reconciliation After a Separation
Whether your separation was a short temporary separation or the separation period lasted months or even years,reconciling takes steps to ensure success.
Start by spending time together, going on dates, and refreshing why you fell in love in the first place. Increasing the amount of time you spend together before moving back into the same home allows for any lingering issues to be worked through.
Second, establish ground rules. Don’t let all your hard work get blown up by an insensitive move or wrong step. If you haven’t already, seek professional help. Marriage counselors are trained to help couples work through problems big and small. Counseling sessions provide a safe space to bring up feelings and work through them together.
Discuss the time frame of the reconciliation to ensure you’re on the same page. Will your spouse slowly start to spend one night a week, then two nights a week, etc., back at home, or will they move right back in? Will you move straight into sharing a bedroom again, or will they move back into their own room at first? Communication is key.
Take it slow and steady. If you want your marriage to work post-reconciliation, don’t jump back into the same old habits that caused the breakup in the first place.
Be honest with each other and your children (at an age-appropriate level) about your feelings and what is or is going to happen, and refrain from arguing or hashing out details in front of your children.
If you are the victim of domestic abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE(7232) or visit their website at www.thehotline.org. Not all abuse is physical. Emotional and psychological abuse is still domestic abuse. Click on the link provided to see the warning signs of domestic abuse.
Disclaimer: The advice contained within this article is not to be considered or used as legal advice. Please contact a family law office for more information and legal counsel pertaining to separation and divorce.
- cdc.gov. Provisional number of marriages and marriage rate, divorces and annulments and rate, 2000-2020. 2023.
- Heinig, Melissa. What Is a Trial Separation? 2023.
- Sember, Brette. Why a Good Divorce Is Better Than a Bad Marriage for Kids. 2017.
- thehotline.org. Domestic Violence Support. 2023.
- thehotline.org. Warning Signs of Abuse Know what to look for. 2023.
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