Have you ever been unhappy in your marriage, but you’re not quite ready for divorce? Perhaps you’re thinking, “I don’t want to live like this, but I’m not sure I’m ready to end this thing. Maybe we need to separate for a while to see if we can figure some things out.” It may even be that somebody is recommending marriage separation.
We at Marriage Helper hear about things called “directed separations,” where, for example, some counselor may say to you, “Well, I don’t think you need to live together right now. The best way we can help you solve your problems is if you move to different places for the next several months. And I will see each of you during that interim. And at whatever point I think you can get back together, I’ll tell you that, and then you come back together.”
I won’t direct your separation. You may have a counselor, or you may be a counselor who has given that advice. Either way, I say that people need to make their own decisions. Whoever thinks they have enough wisdom to tell people to separate or when to get together, they are probably wrong. It has to be up to the individual.
Different Kinds Of Marriage Separation
Now, a few kinds of separations can occur in a marriage. First, you can have a trial separation like I just discussed. “Let’s separate for a while and see if we can figure out how to work things out and then put things back together.”
You can have a permanent separation, which in some states exists because you are not technically divorced, but you are also not married. So, in other words, you can’t go and marry somebody else. But at the same time, you’re not considered married to each other.
And then there’s another kind called a legal separation, where things begin to separate themselves in preparation for the divorce.
Well, we can talk a lot about the kinds of separation. But the question becomes, is separating a good thing to do? What are the potential negatives of it?
What Are The Negatives Of Marriage Separation?
We have noticed this in the decades we’ve worked with marriages: If you have tension or difficulty with each other, then one of the first things that will happen when you separate is that you will both feel a sense of relief.
You say, Oh, isn’t that good? I’m not under pressure. Now, the tension is not as bad. And in that sense, it is good. But what’s the downside? It becomes challenging to want to get back into that relationship and resolve the issues. You are in a much better place now, and you don’t know that you want to get back into that. And therefore, if you separate, the relief itself, while it might be good, can work against you when deciding to get back together.
It can affect you financially; having two places to live, splitting income, and definitely affecting the children. Who gets the kids? When and how do we discipline the kids? Are different schools now involved? All kinds of things. And so, don’t think that separation solves all your problems.
Separation in and of itself creates more problems, the greatest of which is this: If you separate, the likelihood of you working it out diminishes dramatically. There’s a survey called the National Survey of Family Growth. They surveyed more than 2000 people and found that 53.6% of those who separate will divorce within one year. That number goes up to 80% if you get to three years and 87% if the separation goes more than five years. So, according to the research out there, people who separate in all likelihood will wind up divorced.
Rather than seeing separation as a temporary solution to your problem, maybe you ought to consider separation as perhaps the thing that will make things worse than they are now. So what do we do instead?
What Can You Do?
If you’re in danger or your children are in danger, you absolutely need to separate. Safety should be your number one priority. You don’t want anybody to get hurt, and you shouldn’t stay there. So if that kind of thing is happening, get out. Get away for safety. We’re all for that.
But if it’s any other thing, then the better thing to do rather than separate is to figure out how to resolve your issues. So figure out how to solve your problems by getting real help.
Some counselors think I’m crazy when I say this, but talk to them first if you want to go to a marriage counselor. Ask them this question: “Who will you see as your client? The husband, the wife, or the marriage?” If they say, “I have no clue what you’re talking about,” hang up and move on. Find a marriage counselor who will see the marriage as the client because they are less inclined to move you apart.
Unfortunately, because so many people need help, sometimes marriage counselors will look at the tough cases and tell you to divorce. Why? Because they have so many other people to help and want to spend their time with couples where they feel they’ve got a better chance. In Marriage Helper’s work with thousands of marriages in crisis, about 80% of people who come to our workshop have already decided the marriage is over. But unfortunately, they believe they will never get past their problems.
And yet, we have seen for more than 20 years that three out of four couples can turn things around with us. If they get the help they need, which is what we offer, three out of four couples that come to our intensive, three-day workshop save the marriage and make it good again. “Are you saying, Dr. Beam, that you guys are the only real help?” No, I’m not saying that. There’s some excellent help out there. But not everyone who purports to be a helper for your marriage makes sure you choose real help.
Think Carefully About Your Decision
If you’re thinking about marriage separation, analyze it carefully. You must decide, “Is this really what we want to do?” And then find a valid path forward. We’re willing to help. We take complex psychological principles, make them easy to understand, show you a way forward, and then show how you can use those principles. If you at some point separated and it ended your marriage, we can still help.
What I would like to do is to offer you two options. One is called the Definitive Guide To Boundaries Toolkit. It can help you think about if you need to make boundaries to ensure safety occurs.
You can also call us at 866-903-0990 and ask to speak to one of our client representatives. Now, they’re not counselors. They’re not therapists. They listen to your particular situation and help you know which of our resources might be the best for you. You can also talk to them about our Turnaround Workshops.
So, rather than separating and thinking that’s going to be a magic pill, wouldn’t it be better to figure out if you can repair your situation? Even if it’s going to take some work, even if it might be a little tough, we believe it’s worth it.