Therapist's suggestions for planning a productive separation

When you’ve spent time arguing with your partner day after day, week after week, it’s easy to become discouraged in your relationship. Is this all there is? 

Have we created a marriage neither of us is happy in? Going to couples therapy can help, but when the conflict becomes so intense that you are burned out, frustrated, and exhausted, a marriage separation may help you both get space, calm down, and begin working on the issues that have led to the conflict.

Separating in a productive and marriage-supportive way means going to therapy and working on resolving painful issues. 

Below are 5 suggestions that can help you plan and execute a healthy separation. 

  1. Set clear expectations and boundaries. Write up your plan with the help of a therapist and decide on how often you will see each other (are you going on a date night once a week) and where you each will live. If you live in the same house, it’s difficult to make a separation work; in fact, it will lead to increased tension in most cases. If one partner is living in an apartment, it’s important you make rules and boundaries around who gets a key and if the two of you going to remain monogamous. Dating during separation is not a wise choice if you want the marriage to succeed.
  2. Establish personal and couple growth. If you are want to work through this and save the marriage, the best approach is to spend time during the separation getting individual and couples counseling. Learning what’s missing in your relationship and understanding how to communicate more effectively can help you rebuild and recreate a marriage you enjoy being part of.
  3. Agree on what you’ll tell your kids and family. Present as a unified front; make sure you and your partner talk to your children, friends, and family together and be on the same page of the purpose of the separation. For example, telling your children mommy and daddy need to take classes and learn how to be better partners is a reassuring way to explain why you are separating. Children and family adjust better when they know what is going on and hear if from you.
  4. Decide on a financial plan prior to separating. Financial issues are stressful, and you want to talk about and be clear before you separate who pays for what expenses. Getting a light bill, mortgage notice, or not being able to pay for childcare will only add stress to an already stressful situation.
  5. Talk to a mediator. If there are things you cannot agree on no matter how hard you try, talking to a mediator can help. Mediators don’t take sides and their usual course is to do what is in the best interest of children. Talking to a mediator doesn’t mean you have to divorce; it simply means you both need to negotiate what is in the best interest of your children. Sometimes emotional issues of winning blind you from priorities.

When you’re unhappy in a marriage, solutions may look scarce and too difficult, leading to a premature divorce. 

While separating from your partner doesn’t mean you won’t end the marriage, working on your own bad habits or issues to save your marriage is always a valuable course of action. 

Some marriages are broken so badly that repairing them is impossible. Just remember that while a divorce ends the marriage, your children will continue to be influenced by the relationship you have with their parents. 

Being able to communicate and co-parent amicably is the greatest gift you can give your children regardless of your marital status.