Recent statistics show us that couples are trying trial separations in record numbers.  There are potentially endless reasons for this.  But, I believe that the economy is playing a large role.  Maintaining and paying for two households is much more expensive than paying for one.  Many couples do the math and decide that divorcing just doesn't make sense from either a financial or emotional standpoint.

I get a lot of emails from spouses who tell me that their husband or wife has suggested or is pushing for a trial separation or some time apart.  Understandably, many people are skeptical about this.  They fear or suspect that the time apart is only the beginning of the ending stages of the relationship.  Or, they worry that the time apart will only showcase how bad things really are.

These things really do not have to happen.  Many couples' marriages are improved by these separations.  The key is often that both parties are very clear on what they hope to accomplish and are firm in their commitment.  It's important that you don't take a "wait and see" or "hope for the best approach."  And, you most definitely need to set some ground rules.  I will discuss this more in the following article.

When A Trial Separation Makes Sense:  As I said before, people often ask me if they should agree to this.  Understandably, there is a lot of fear involved.  I often feel that if one spouse keeps bringing this up, you really don't have much a choice because this is a tip-off that they are not going to be satisfied with anything else.  They will always wonder what would've happened had you not thwarted what they asked you for.  And, I often tell folks that a willing separation is much more desirable than an unwanted divorce. (That is why I ultimately agreed to it.  And this was the right call because I am still married today.

With that said, you can certainly offer to give your spouse space without them needing to move out.  Or, you can offer to go somewhere else for a while.  These concessions could potentially keep them from having to leave your home (if you can get them to agree to this.)  However, if you offer this up and they are resistant, don't continue to harp on it.  It just weakens your position and showcases your fear.

You really do want to present yourself as someone who values your spouse's happiness and well being.  If you are rallying against their every request, they are going to eventually start to see you as someone who stands in the way of their happiness.  You really do not want your spouse to see you this way when you are trying to save your marriage.

Positive Aspects Of A Trial Separation: There are times when trial separations can be a positive thing.  When you and your spouse keep spinning your wheels and just can not get in a positive or productive cycle, then sometimes it is helpful to have a pause in this.  When one spouse is at a point where they are only feeling anger and frustration and you're looking at either a separation or divorce, then obviously the separation is going to be preferable.  And, sometimes time apart can really make a person realize how much they value and miss their spouse.  This is much more likely to happen, though, if you set some firm ground rules that will place a good deal of control and restrictions on the situation, which I will discuss now.

Setting The Rules And Guidelines That Make You More Likely To Be Successful:  I can not stress enough how important it is to define and verbalize what you are hoping to get out of this. Taking a "wait and see" attitude can really contribute to this sort of going on for too long or ensuring that nothing really gets done or changes.

You will want to agree as to whether or not you are going to see other people (and I would certainly advise that you don't.)  You will want to agree on how often the two of you are going to check-in or spend time together.  You will want to make it clear that you are both willing to share any insights and feelings that come to the surface due to your time apart.  And, you will want define exactly what (and how) you're going to come at the outstanding issues in a new, and more positive way. Finally, you will want to set a firm timeline as to when the time apart starts and when it stops. (I realize that your husband may balk at this, but at least try to get him to agree to regularly discuss timing.  Try not to leave it open-ended.)

Because, what is the point of separating if no real and meaningful changes are actually attempted - with some sort of time frame defined?  This is the whole point of ensuring that this strengthens your marriage rather than weakening it.  Often if these trial separations are successful, it's because there is a pause in what's wrong so that you don't need to dwell on it and magnify it anymore.  This gives a new calm and perspective on the situation which allows you to come at the issues from a more calm and rational place.

It will often also bring to light just how much both parties do not want to be alone and without their families.  So, in the best-case scenario, both spouses will be very much anticipating coming back together and tackling the problems with renewed commitment and enthusiasm.

It was my husband, not me, who wanted space and asked for a trial separation. Unfortunately, I drew on negative emotions rather than positive ones. And I agreed to "see what happens."  That was not a good idea.  Eventually, I changed course and was able to save our marriage. You can read that story on my blog at

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