How To Make Separation Effective Instead Of The End

Medically reviewed by Katrice Hollins, LCSW, LICSW
Updated April 8, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

When your marriage has been on the rocks for a while, separation might seem like the only logical option or next step. But if you truly love your spouse, you might not be ready to give up entirely. A trial separation or in-house separation can sometimes be very helpful in these situations. 

While sometimes a trial separation leads to divorce, much more often, a trial separation under certain rules and guidelines will help bring the two of you closer together, and it could very well save your marriage.

Learn how to make your separation as easy as possible

Three reasons couples separate

Couples often separate for three primary reasons: as a step in the divorce process (or as the legal process in its entirety), to get perspective on a marriage, or to enhance a marriage. 

Some states require you to undergo a legal separation from your partner that type of separation is a legal process but different from divorce. If you are separating from your spouse because you are planning to file for divorce and do not want to work on the relationship, you need to clarify with your spouse. It is not fair to allow them to think that the separation is temporary if you have no intentions of getting back together. Likewise, if you suspect your spouse is planning to file for divorce, broach the subject with them and try to see if they will be honest with you about their feelings and intentions.

If you are separating from your spouse because you are trying to get perspective on your marriage, it can be a helpful tool for helping you see whether or not you want to work on the marriage to save it or if you want to walk away. Most couples who are separated to get perspective will be seeing a marriage counselor or therapist together and individually to help figure out where everyone stands in the relationship.

Finally, if you are separating from your spouse to enhance your marriage because you know things are not as they should be and you want to fix it, you have the most chance of benefiting from a separation. When you want to make sure that you will work things out without conflict, making it worse, an enhancement separation can be very beneficial and keep you together with your spouse longer.

Benefits of separation

When done correctly, separation has many potential benefits. Of course, how much you get out of your separation will depend directly on your commitment and your partner's commitment to the process. Yet if you are both serious about saving the marriage, the separation will have the following benefits for you.

Helps you decide if divorce is the answer

Being separated from your spouse will give you a taste of what it might be like if you were to get divorced. For example, you may realize that alone you have more of a sense of freedom and happiness that you haven't had in your marriage for some time. 

On the other hand, you may realize that you do not feel complete without your spouse near at hand. In either case, it is important to discuss your feelings about being separated from your spouse. If you are both feeling as though the separation is better, you might decide on divorce. Or, if you both miss each other, it could be the first step in reinforcing your marriage. 

Helps you cool down

When there are problems in a relationship, it isn't long before everything becomes an argument or a battle of wills. If arguments become constant, this may make you leave your spouse. Being separated gives you and your spouse a chance to cool off and put your tempers aside so that you can get down to the business of figuring out exactly what led to your current situation and how it can be fixed. 

Helps you appreciate your marriage

Being separated can also help you appreciate your marriage and your spouse in new ways. As you spend time away from your spouse, you may realize that you depend on them for much more than you realized. You may also recognize that you love them and don't want to be without them. This can help give you a foundation to build from as you work on the problems in your marriage that led you to this point.

Helps you learn about yourself

When you are a spouse, parent, and career-minded person, you wear many hats in your marriage and life. It can be hard to keep sight of who you are as a person when all of the things of your life are stacking up on you. When you go through a separation, it gives you a chance to explore who you are as a person. It could help you build a new, stronger relationship based on who you have grown into as people.             

Rules for separation in marriage  

There are several rules that you should have in place when you go through a trial separation. The rules of the separation should be discussed and agreed upon before you begin the separation period. If you cannot agree on the separation rules, you should seek outside professional help to set those boundaries before separating.

Come up with a time frame

You and your spouse should agree on how long the separation will last. Ideally, psychologists recommend that a trial separation last no more than three to six months. The longer you spend apart from your spouse, the harder it will be for you to get back together. Therefore, the separation should last this exact amount of time, even if you feel that you are doing better and want to move back sooner. At the end of the trial separation, you should either move back in together or decide on divorce.

Commit to couples therapy

Both you and your partner need to commit to couples therapy fully. You both have to agree to go to sessions both together and individually if your therapist warrants it. You have to be willing to do the work, use the tools that the therapist gives you, and work together with your partner to come up with resolutions to your marital problems.

Establish financial rules

There should be clear guidelines and boundaries about financial matters during the separation. Determine before the separation who will pay for what financial obligations during the separation. You may also want to discuss childcare or consider addressing potential child support arrangements. Who will control what amounts of money? If one spouse works and the other is a homemaker, financial obligations can be a sore point during separation. If necessary, work out these rules with a therapist.

Decide about intimacy

Some couples who go through a separation will still be sexually intimate, while others decide to refrain from sex until the separation period is over. It really depends on you, your partner, and what your sexual relationship is like. If your sex life is good even though you are having problems in your marriage, maintaining intimacy can be extremely helpful in reforming connections. If you and your partner haven't been having sex for a while, you might want to refrain from sex until the separation is over so that you can think about things logically and clearly.

Decide on living arrangements

Where are you and your partner going to live during the trial separation? It is usually a good idea for the two of you to live in different places during the separation. If you can, one of you should stay with friends, family, or in a hotel. If financial obligations make this impossible, you can have a separation within the same home, but you should have separate rooms and beds, and you should be able to have plenty of time alone without your spouse.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Learn how to make your separation as easy as possible

Other general ground rules

It is impossible to list here all of the potential ground rules for separation that could be agreed upon by you and your partner. Instead, you will need to sit down together and fully discuss what the separation means to you and what rules you expect to have. Some of the common rules that couples discuss before a separation include:

  • How often you will contact each other
  • Who you are telling about the separation and when
  • Whether or not you will be dating other people

The ground rules that you and your partner come up with may not be the same as the rules for another couple, and that's okay. However, if you're not sure if you're covering all the bases with your ground rules for separation, you might want to discuss your plans with a therapist who can find holes in your plan and help you plan better.

Benefits of couples therapy during separation

One of the most important things you can do while separating from your spouse is to go to couples therapy. Couples therapy is an important part of any trial separation. A marriage counselor or therapist will be able to help you and your partner discover where things went wrong in your marriage and address the problems head-on.

There are many benefits to couples therapy during separation. Some of the things you can discover or work on in couple's therapy include:

  • De-escalate existing conflict that led to the separation
  • Gain an understanding as to what led to the separation
  • Able to see and understand how conflict is affecting each other
  • Guidance in decision-making about the relationship
  • Healing and repair of the relationship
  • Guidance and help in transitioning back to one home

If you are not getting couples therapy while you are separated, you have a much lower chance of successfully getting back together with your spouse. If you or your spouse are timid or have fears of therapy, now is the time to address those together for the sake of your marriage. 

You may find that your best option is virtual therapy, as this can allow you to participate in couples sessions without coming out of separation. Since online therapy is just as effective as in-person therapy, you would both receive the same level of professional mental health assistance.


If you aren't entirely sure about how a marriage separation might help you or how it should be done, one of the best things you can do is talk to an experienced counselor or therapist. Marriage counselors and therapists are knowledgeable about what makes a separation work for both parties. If you are unable to find an affordable marriage counselor or therapist in your area, Regain is an online counseling platform that offers a network of licensed counselors and therapists that can work with you and your spouse on how to stay strong during marriage separation.

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