Could a Trial Separation Actually Save Your Marriage?

How to make a trial separation work and not always end in divorc

Could a Trial Separation Actually Save Your Marriage?

By Debra Block via

A trial separation is a lot different than divorce, though the idea of it can still be very difficult and worrisome for the spouse not wanting to separate.

Living apart while maintaining your marital status can give you and your partner some space to evaluate your problems objectively.

On top of that, it will allow you to understand the financial and emotional implications that a divorce will bring, but giving you the option to reverse your decision if it doesn’t work out.

Though many trial separations do lead to divorce, and it can be very stressful for both parties, if you take steps to define and structure your separation, it may be exactly what your relationship needs. To help avoid too much emotional turmoil and ease the anxiety of a non-initiating spouse, here is some advice on planning a trial separation.

Understanding the legal and financial ramifications of a trial separation will help you to avoid costly mistakes both emotionally and financially.

Consulting legal and financial professionals will help you set ground rules, alert you to legal concerns, and steer you away from costly mistakes.

Gaining knowledge allows you to approach your separation with a sense of confidence and direction.

2. Do negotiate with your spouse on the logistics of the separation

A trial separation offers a unique set of logistical challenges and decisions. The more you and spouse can agree on beforehand the smoother your separation will be.
A few things to consider:

  • Who is moving the marital home?
  • How and when will the moving-out spouse will remove their things, and what will they take?
  • How and when will the moving-out spouse access the home?
  • How will the new residence be financed and furnished?

3. Do design and agree to a temporary parenting plan

Children often have a difficult time understanding separation. Offering a sense of security, safety and consistency will ease the transition. Consider:

  • When and where will the children see each parent?
  • Where is home base?
  • What happens if there is a scheduling conflict? How will child care costs be handled?
  • Holidays, vacations, and other occasions when you may want to travel with your children.

4. Do define a time table

Anxieties and frustration levels can be reduced when key decision-making expectations are defined ahead of time.

When is the move happening, how long before you assess the productivity of the separation, three, six, nine, 12 months? Setting a time frame provides the non-initiating spouse a sense of peace that this won’t be a never-ending situation. Predetermined assessment dates will also help to hold the initiating spouse accountable.

5. Do keep communications productive

A trial separation will provide insight as to where you as a couple struggle with communication. People on a trial separation need to do their best to keep all communication productive and directed towards problem solving. Keeping emotions communication isn’t easy, it but keeping your side of the street clean always pays off in the end.

1. Do not enter a trial separation impulsively

Choosing to make potentially life-altering decisions on impulse can increase chaos, exaggerate emotional turmoil, and make way for costly mistakes. Many underestimate all that a trial separation entails. Don’t be part of that statistic.

Without a logistical plan, chaos will enter the picture almost immediately.

Emotions are running high, stress levels are mounting, and yet you and your spouse need to strategize the when, where, who and how of this separation.

Once again, impulsive actions without a foundation promote confusion and commotion. Children will have an extremely hard time adjusting when consistency and routine are nonexistent.

2. Do not change the ground rules

Obviously, logistics and finances may require some modification as things play out, but in general, don’t change the rules after you and your spouse start living apart. Emotions will be high and trust may be low. The success of your separation depends on your effort, your consistency, and how well you stick to your plans.

3. Do not worry about who’s at fault

Couples spend wasted moments trying to assign blame for the collapse of the marriage – a no-win battle that is fought to exhaustion. You’ll never agree on prickly points, so don’t even try. Invest your energy on what you can/need to do to move forward.

4. Do not obsess over what people think

You can go insane worrying that your spouse spoke poorly about you to a friend, neighbour, teacher or community member. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t – somehow, we assume only negative things are being said about us. In any case, it doesn’t matter.

Oddly, this is an opportunity to see who your real friends are. People who aren’t a true friend are easy to spot. You don’t need 12, 20, or 50 people in your corner. You just need one or two strong allies.

If you are doing your best to stay on the high road, your reputation will speak for itself.

5. Do not be surprised that you have become stronger

After a trial separation, people often say, “I grew in ways I could not have known were possible, which adds to my overall confidence level as a human being.” A trial separation can save your marriage.

The time apart will give you (even if you are the non-initiator) a chance to understand where your marriage was struggling, to live on your own, and to see that you would be okay.

During this time you can learn to set boundaries and make your expectations clear.


A trial separation may be the next step; a well-planned trial separation can be enormously helpful. When approached with considerable thought and planning they do save some marriages. Just as important, they ease the stress of divorce if that’s how events end up playing out.

Should you have any questions about any of these matters you please contact our team at Resolve Conflict Lawyers.


Trial Separations: Do They Work?

Could a Trial Separation Actually Save Your Marriage?

A trial separation agreement is often a flexible, informal agreement between a husband and wife who have hopes of repairing their marriage and rebuilding their relationship.  It’s a stepping back period and a time to figure out if repair of their marriage is even possible.

Some trial separations in troubled marriages are no more than one spouse moving to a different part of the house or going to stay with friends or family for a while.  In fact more and more women who contact Midlife Divorce Recovery say that they can’t afford for one partner to pay for an apartment, so they co-exist in the same house.

Trial separations in marriage where both partners stay in the marital home are considered because of insurance, issues concerning child care, or lack of financial ability to formally separate. A trial separation while living together is sometimes necessary, but usually extremely stressful on everyone, including the children.

“A separation isn’t the same as a divorce.  Separation means that you are living apart from your spouse, but you’re still legally married until you get a judgement of divorce from a court (even if you already have a judgment of separation).

Generally, a legal separation does affect the financial responsibilities between you and your spouse before the divorce is final.  There are three different types of separation. (trial separation, permanent separation and legal separation) In most states, only one (legal separation) changes your legal status – but all three have the potential to  affect your legal rights.”  

Consult an attorney regardless of what kind of separation you are considering. Different states have different rules about the legal ramifications of any kind of formal or informal separation.

Why Try A Trial Separation?

Sometimes a trial separation is agreed upon while the husband and wife still stay in contact and are both trying to fix things.  For example, some spouses are working on forgiveness for infidelity while their spouse is supposedly readjusting to life without the affair partner.

(In truth, from my experience in my divorce recovery work, many times the spouse who is having an affair welcomes a separation because it makes connecting with the lover easier!) In those cases, the trial separation is usually more of a bridge to divorce than a bridge to reconciliation.

Other couples embark on a trial separation if there is a lack of communication, or too much fighting or not being able to come to an agreement in other important areas of married life.

For instance the following situations may get so intense that they suggest the need for a temporary or trial separation:

  • Sexual incompatibility
  • Financial incompatibility
  • Emotional incompatibility
  • Controlling and manipulative attitudes and behavior
  • Substance abuse
  • Any kind of verbal, physical or emotional abuse
  • Arguing and fighting on a regular basis
  • Serious disagreements about child rearing
  • Problems with ex-spouses
  • Extended family issues

Do Trial Separations Work?

Since many informal separations are not considered in research, the reconciliation rates after separations are hard to know for sure.  However, the general consensus is that divorce after separation is more common than reconciliation.

“A research study, conducted at Ohio State University, reports that 79% of couples who separate eventually divorce.  Researchers found that the average separation lasts a year or less.

For couples who eventually reconciled, most did so within the first two years.  Beyond two years, there is little chance that a couple will reconcile.

Many couples who end up divorcing do so after three or four years of separation.”

Rules & Boundaries

There are several things to consider when a marriage is struggling and a couple is deciding whether to end the marriage or try to fix it.  In my opinion, marriage is a sacred trust and every marriage deserves an opportunity for healing and rebuilding stronger and better than ever before.

No one should be forced to stay in a relationship that is toxic and destructive.  If you feel as if you cannot be the person you were created to be and stay in a relationship, you have to do some serious soul searching.  Can we reconcile? Is our marriage so damaged that it cannot be fixed?

If you are considering a trial separation agreement, the first question to ask is, “What are we trying to accomplish in this trial separation?”  What do we want the end result of this separation to be? The answer should be something , “A new and better marriage for both of us.” If that sentiment is not part of either partner’s goal, then a separation will probably not work.  Below are some things to agree on before you even start a trial separation:

Set A Timeframe

It seems as if the best results from a trial separation come when there is a specific time frame for the separation.

 In my work, it seems that often women, especially when infidelity is discovered, immediately send the spouse the home.

 Continued infidelity is one of those breaches of trust that are not compatible with staying married or sometimes even staying in the same house before the divorce is final.

When I first learned of my ex-husband’s affair, I didn’t want to see his face!.

 I didn’t want to hear his voice! I was so angry and sad that I wanted him to fall off the face of the earth, never to be seen again, so I told him to get out!!  I later calmed down because I desperately wanted to save the marriage. I contacted an attorney, and we decided on a legal separation. However, no specific time frame was included.

Determine The Living Situation

In some situations, a couple can continue to live together while trying to work things out.  In other cases abuse, infidelity, and substance abuse, things become so difficult that it is impossible to be in the same house.

There must be pre-determined trial separation boundaries in several areas.

  • Are we going to live in the same house during the trial separation?
  • Are we going to have sex during the separation?
  • What activities are acceptable?  Dating? Online dating site exploration?
  • Will there be equal access to the marital home?
  • How will co-parenting work during the separation?
  • How will finances be handled?  

Discuss Finances

It is very important to determine the financial details during a trial separation.  I am not an attorney, but the financial questions are of utmost importance. Please check with an attorney in your state to make sure that you are protected even during this time of trial separation.  

One of the benefits of a legal separation is that vital financial protections for both parties are put in place and legally binding.  My attorney early on suggested that we institute a legal separation to secure binding protections for both of us.

Questions to answer before starting a trial separation:

  • Who is responsible for what, financially?
  • How will the payments be made?
  • Will the spouse who leaves the home have access to bills and other financial records?
  • Who is responsible if a bill is not paid?
  • Who has access to bank accounts?
  • Who is paying for insurance?  For spouse? For children?
  • What about educational obligations for children?
  • What legal protection does each spouse have?

Separation or Divorce?

In my case, I wanted an open-ended separation until my then-husband decided to give up his girlfriend and commit completely to our marriage.

 For three long agonizing years and three different separations, he continued to maintain a relationship with the other woman even though he promised to end it.

Because I wanted to save our 33 year marriage, I kept extending the deadline for him to give her up.  He didn’t.

We also were in couples counselling during some of that time.  I wanted to give our marriage every opportunity to heal and succeed.

 I wanted to know that I had tried everything that I thought might help before filing for divorce.  A trial or legal separation is usually a final step in trying to save a marriage.

Some couples, for religious reasons never divorce, but have a permanent separation agreement.

Even though statistics show that more than three times as many separations end in divorce than end in reconciliation, I believe it’s still worth a trying to save your marriage.

If you are in a trial separation, or a legal separation and are trying to save your marriage, or if you are considering divorce, or already on the divorce road, sign up for our FREE 5 Day Crash Course. It’s 5 days of free encouragement sent to your inbox that will explain a little more about who we are and what we’re all about.


Can a Temporary Separation Make a Relationship Stronger?

Could a Trial Separation Actually Save Your Marriage?

  • A separation can strengthen a marriage if it's done for the right reasons and if there are clear agreements from the start.
  • Elements of a successful separation that enhances a relationship include getting third-party support and maintaining regular communication.
  • A separation should not be used as a way to gently break up with a partner.

Source: Wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

There are three main reasons why couples separate—as a step in the divorce process; to gain perspective on the marriage; and the one I will focus on in this post, to enhance the marriage.

I am a big believer in the therapeutic value of a separation to strengthen the marriage if it's done in the right way for the right reasons and if there are clear agreements from the start.

This separation can be done at any time and, indeed, is being done by more and more couples.

Yet we still think something is «wrong» if couples live apart, and we usually see separation as something used mostly by couples that have reached the breaking point.

They have usually tried various other interventions and tactics to get the marriage back on track and are now at a place where there's nothing left to do but split up, physically separate, and, ultimately, divorce.

Rather than a means to an end, however, separation can be a helpful tool to stay together. This seems counterintuitive when a marriage is in trouble and relations are fragile. Most of us believe that when we feel our spouse slipping away from us, we should merge more, get as close as we can, and do more 'to make the marriage work.»

The thought of creating distance at such a time instills a great deal of fear of losing control of your spouse and your relationship.

This option is especially challenging if the bond between the two of you has been weakened by a betrayed trust.

But employed carefully and skillfully (and usually with some type of professional support), this tool can be quite effective in bringing two people closer together.

Guidelines for an Enhancement Separation

Here are some thoughts on how to go about creating your own Enhancement Separation.

  1. Get Third-Party Support. While some couples can do this on their own, I highly recommend seeking out some type of neutral third party to help facilitate this process. It can get tricky, especially if this is being done while there is currently some tension or problems between spouses. This can be a therapist, clergy, mediator, or lawyer.
  2. Set Clear and Reasonable Expectations. Ground rules are a must to maintain a sense of trust between the parties. If one person expects to communicate every day but the other doesn't, this could cause hurt feelings. Knowing what to expect avoids this type of situation.
  3. Know Your Goal. Don't assume that you both have the same goal. You both really need to agree that your intention in living apart is to enhance your marriage. Again, if one spouse thinks the separation is a step in the divorce process but the other thinks it's a temporary «time-out,» this can cause a major rift in the trust between the two. Having the same goal in this exercise is particularly important in making it a successful exercise.
  4. Maintain Regular Communication. Having no contact at all for an extended period of time may actually begin to hurt the marital connection. Instead of an «Absence makes the heart grow fonder» mentality, it may end up being, » sight, mind.»

The average length of an Enhancement Separation is about six months, but some couples have enjoyed it so much, they continue it indefinitely.

Who Should Not Embark on an Enhancement Separation

There are some people for whom this tool will not work.

It is crucial that each spouse is honest with themselves and honest with each other about why they are doing this exercise: If you or your spouse is trying to make the splitting up process gentler and easier, this is not the tool to use. If you don't intend to stay with your partner, the worst thing you can do is pretend to be interested in working things out.

If you are confused about whether or not you want to stay in the marriage, it's important to state that upfront. It's far harder on your spouse's heart if you've led him or her to believe that you will be coming back fully committed to the marriage once the separation is over, only to find out later that you wanted to leave the whole time.

Those who have had repeated breaches in trust, or those who have a hard time trusting, should not try an Enhancement Separation. This exercise requires a great deal of maturity and it can raise more anxiety than it's worth for those who are dishonest or insecure.

An Enhancement Separation can be tailored specifically to your needs and your situation and can be implemented or rescinded at any time.

Parts of this post were taken from Contemplating Divorce: A Step-by-Step Guide to Deciding Whether to Stay or Go by Susan Pease Gadoua.

No part of this publication may be reproduced without the express written permission of the author. Failure to comply with these terms may expose you to legal action and damages for copyright infringement.

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Can a Trial Separation Make a Relationship Stronger

Could a Trial Separation Actually Save Your Marriage?

What is a trial separation?

Generally speaking, a trial separation or a marriage separation of husbands and wives in marriage is a symbolic event – one which usually signifies finalization, a step in the process of divorce.

But what if we turned this idea on its head? What if separating wasn’t just a means to an end but instead a wise idea that could help struggling couples grow stronger in their marriages? Can separation help a marriage? 

Taking time apart to strengthen relationship during the period of couple separation can be instrumental in saving a relationship. 

But how does separation work to save a marriage?

Here are some things to dwell on if you are considering a trial separation. Read on to know the answer to the question, can separation save a marriage?

Also, factor in the trial separation rules and apply them to save your marriage.

Trial marriage separation advice

In marriage counseling, the theory that space and time apart can actually strengthen a marriage may seem counter-intuitive.

Most people (especially women) are programmed to clutch on tighter, work harder and give more when they feel their partners are slipping away.

 It stands to reason; after all, marriage does take work but trying too hard can create new problems and exacerbate existing ones.

Many things can change as a result of separation and there are really no predictors as to what will change, or how. For some, space enables communication to let up, which can be a blessing in some marriages. In others, communication failures will be made worse by distance.

Under the right circumstances, however, the distance can be a powerful tool that brings out the most effective communication in couples. It is unclear though why this is so, perhaps due to structured time periods, or due to the fading of resentment, or through a new sense of self-reliance by which partners begin to appreciate their spouses again.

Using space as an enhancement strategy affects all relationships differently, and what works for one couple may not work for another – even if they face similar issues. But on the whole, reclaiming identities, missing one another and dissolving that negative energy through space are just a few of the benefits couples enjoy during their hiatus or marital separation.

Rules of separation in marriages

There are certain guidelines and circumstances which must apply; rules that both partners must create and then observe in order to achieve the desired results.

Terminating marriage can come as too radical for couples who are still on the threshold of deciding to quit or make it work.

Since divorce is a life-altering decision, giving trial separation a shot could be a better alternative. A trial separation can help you decide whether to stay or head for a marriage termination.

  •  A shared goal – Couples that want to try enhancement separation as a benefit need to be on the same page. If one partner isn’t sure whether they plan to reconcile, this needs to be communicated, as it may inform a decision as to whether enhancement separation is really the best course of action.  If one partner has doubts or definitely does not plan to reconnect, maintaining a façade of hopefulness will only result in hurt feelings.
  • Get support – Some couples may try Enhancement Separation on their own, but appointing a mediator will significantly improve the situation. This can be a family friend, member of the clergy or counselor.  The mediator should be there during tough or sensitive times and can act as a sounding board, provide communication guidance and give the final word in settling disagreements.
  • Marriage counseling – Both individuals should agree to participate in joint marriage counseling, as well as individual sessions, at least for the duration of their time apart. Seeking the help of a professional counselor can really save the marriage and even enhance it.
  •  Set ground rules – The length of the separation should be three or six months and must never exceed twelve months.  The time period should be determined in advance along with your expectations for when and how often you’ll communicate. What is (and what is not) acceptable should also be established at this time.  For example, most couples will agree not to date other people.
  •  Checking in – At some consistency, you will need to check in. Establish when and how often you will discuss the status quo.

Enhancement separation is not recommended for couples in certain situations, although opinions around this will vary between psychologists.

Some say that couples should not embark on separation if infidelity is an issue of the relationship, however, there are reported cases in which couples that created a separation of space after infidelity were actually able to rekindle ties, re-establish trust and stay married.

wise, individuals with significant co-dependency or trust issues, or those who do not deal well with change, are depressed or otherwise unstable are typically not good candidates for this method.

It would also be helpful to check out the leading therapist and best-selling author, Susan Pease Gadoua’s Contemplating Divorce.

Additional things to consider during trial separation

The biggest advantage of a trial separation is that the time out can help couples review their marriage, see how things are panning out, and how the partners feel for each other despite the challenges. It also gives them time to dwell on areas that need to be worked on, etc. This is crucial as in the midst of daily life, the couple are unable to think clearly and see things for what they are.  

Pros of trial separation

Does separation help marriage? Here are some of the benefits of a trial separation.

  • Separation from spouse gives both individuals the time and space they need to realize each other’s place, value and importance in their lives.
  • Separating from spouse can help both the partners to let go of trivialities and biases they may have for each other.
  • Temporary separation could offer a much-needed break to both partners which they can use to focus on themself, sorting out their personal issues, and working on their shortcomings to improve the relationship.
  • Taking a break from marriage offers couples a new and healthy perspective on life and relationships which helps them to start afresh, all over again.

Cons of trial separation

Is separation good for a marriage? Not always. Sometimes the answer to the question, “does separation work to save a marriage” is a firm no.

  • At times, a separation can create more distance between the couple. This happens because the partners may communicate less often with each other which may then cause them to drift away.
  • Among couples who are not consciously working on their relationship during the trial separation, they may start to focus too much on their independence. Eventually, such couples do not feel the need to reconcile the marriage.
  • It is also possible that couples may start indulging in such ‘breaks’ any time there is conflict or friction in the marriage. Avoidance of tackling a problem together serves no good for any relationship. It only brushes things under the carpet for the time being.

Can trial separation save a marriage?

On how to save marriage during separation, following the trial separation, the idea is for the couple to reconvene and discuss their thoughts and feelings regarding their commitment to one another.

If both are still committed to the process, the next task is to stay together again, returning to a marriage that is stronger and more fulfilling than ever.

Also, do not wait to long to seek professional help.

Reaching out to an expert can help you find the right tools in place on how to save a failing marriage and restore happiness in your relationship. With their adequate training and credentials they are the best and the most unbiased intervention to save your crumbling marriage. 


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