All too often, married couples that run into problems head straight for divorce court. They believe that encountering a tough situation means the end of their relationship.
But it need not be that way. A separation, legal or informal, may give the marriage partners enough breathing space to allow them to regroup and successfully tackle pressing issues.
Here are some ways that a separation can help a problem-ridden marriage:
- A separation decreases tension. Whatever problems the two of you have been struggling with, moving apart for a time can relieve pressure on both spouses. Married people wake up each day to the same person and the same issues, sometimes with no relief in sight. Taking a timeout can allow both of you some time alone to finally relax and think things through without the immediate pressure of daily conflicts.
- A separation gives you time to reflect. Pulling apart and disengaging from combat allows both parties to pull themselves together and begin tackling the issues first as individuals, and later as a couple. Without having to face a confrontational spouse each day, you can savor the peace of making time in your schedule to deal with problems one at a time. Instead of taking a defensive stance, you can now be honest with yourself, drop your guard, and assess the situation.
- A separation provides you with the opportunity for personal growth. As you meditate on the concerns that have grown out of the marriage, you may begin to see some behaviors in yourself that need to be changed. Perhaps you will even visit a counselor for professional guidance in dealing with your share of marital responsibility. As your actions become more positive, your spouse may be more willing to work with you in restoring the relationship. Collaborating with your former antagonist promotes yet another opportunity for growth. Working together to face and overcome marriage difficulties will help you build new strengths as an individual and as a couple; you can literally become a new person, stronger and yet more accountable than previously.
- A separation spares the kids. When conflicts become hot and heavy, it’s often the children who suffer most. They are unable to escape marital tensions and sometimes worry about what will happen, even blaming themselves at times for their parents’ discord. Taking a relational timeout from your spouse gives everyone the chance to settle down and start over. The kids may be worried at first, fearful that separation means the end of their parents’ marriage. Reassure them this is a constructive act with hopefully a good outcome.
- A separation opens the door to a new beginning. If both spouses pull apart with the intention of working first on themselves, and then on the relationship, the outlook is very good for reconciliation and rebuilding. One or both spouses may benefit from counseling or reading self-help books. And the couple should not rush into getting back together before the problems have been addressed. A thoughtful, reflective period of reconstruction can lay the foundation for a new direction in the marriage, one that will take the couple into their golden years together.
The next time you’re tempted to file for a divorce, talk to your spouse about a separation first. Perhaps an in-house separation is the answer for you, where one spouse moves to another bedroom and conducts personal affairs independently of the other spouse. Or you may agree for one of you to move out temporarily, lodging with a friend or family member, or perhaps taking a small apartment if the budget will support two households. If tensions persist, a legal separation can divide things fairly and provide a more serious and perhaps long-term approach to the issues.
The bottom line is don’t give up! With patience and effort your marriage may survive and thrive with the help of a temporary separation.