9 Important Tips When Considering a Trial Separation

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Frequently, when couples come to a crossroads in their relationship, the idea of a separation does come up. It is often due to some negative event that causes an emotional disconnect between them, such as infidelity, job loss, a death in the family, or simply growing apart.

Challenging issues and events can really shake things up, and there are times when it is beneficial for a couple to temporarily live separately. A trial separation gives both partners some breathing room. It gives them a chance to take a step back and sort out their personal feelings about the issues at hand, as well as their relationship. It’s a time for thinking through possible solutions and planning ways to make the relationship stronger and healthier going forward.

Trial separations are meant to be temporary, and are always done with the intention of getting back together. Far too often, however, couples agree to a short-term separation for the wrong reasons.

Situations when a trial separation is doomed from the outset include:

1. One or both partners are interested in pursuing other people. If this is the case, time apart will likely not be focused on saving the current relationship. Inviting other partners (and physical and/or emotional complications) into your life is almost always an effective way of sabotaging your relationship.

2. One partner is angry at the other and this is a way of lashing out by using the separation as punishment. This is usually a knee-jerk impulsive decision that simply isn’t productive at all.

3. The real reason for proposing a split is to avoid serious relationship issues. Avoiding the discussion of troubling topics erodes your connection, and the “elephant in the room” will only intensify and increase your discomfort over time.

4. You’re trying to let your partner down easy, but you really want out of the relationship (or you’re 90% sure). This is the worst case scenario of #3, but, again, not dealing with differences upfront certainly won’t help your relationship be healthier down the road. Unfortunately, this situation occurs more often than you’d think.

5. One or both partners need space, yet have made no stipulations on the terms of their separation or how to move forward. Splitting up with only vague ideas (if any) of what the relationship timeout is intended to accomplish can spell disaster.

Trial separations can work and have proven to be beneficial for some couples, but it’s critical that these guidelines are followed:

1. Prior to initiation, each partner’s concerns regarding a trial separation should be discussed and processed. Discussing each partner’s concerns in advance can prevent misunderstandings during the separation.

2. Set clear boundaries and expectations for your time apart. Agree on the time length of your separation as well as the frequency and form of contact during this period. Will you remain sexually intimate? Are all visits to be scheduled, or is dropping in allowed?

3. Create and keep regular “dates” to stay connected and spend time together during the trial separation period. These dates should include pleasurable activities as well as time for serious discussions regarding the future.

4. Consistent couples counseling should definitely be part of the plan. If you and your partner are considering a trial separation, and the goal is to get back together for a healthier relationship, it’s important to get professional help to maximize the best possible outcome.

Coming to a crossroads in your relationship does not have to mean a permanent parting of ways. A trial separation can be an important step if it’s done for the right reasons and is set up properly. Don’t hesitate to seek the assistance you need to get your relationship back on track.

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