Is a separation ever justifiable in a relationship?

This question is layered and one that is asked in my office often. The short answer is yes. The long answer is - It’s complicated. As with everything in life, intention is key. I ask people everyday, “what is your intention?”

Statistically, when a couple separates there’s a roughly 50/50 chance of success. Again, depending on the intention. Separations have to be done the right way and for the right reasons. I am a believer in the therapeutic value of a temporary separation with the intent on strengthening the relationship. The general consensus on the length of time is roughly six months (which can be tailored).

A separation needs to be seen as a period of time to gain perspective on the relationship- a retreat of sorts. Often, when couples get to the point of separation there have been other interventions that were unsuccessful. Often, couples are feeling hopeless at this point. In life, perception and perspective means EVERYTHING! Instead of looking at a separation like a means to an end, and letting the fear take the wheel, separation can be seen as a tool to stay together. As counterintuitive as this may seem, for many it works very well.

Of course, there are some people that this will not work well for AT ALL. If you are seeing someone else and are going to continue to see that person while separated, likely will not sit well with your partner. If you start surfing dating apps to see if the “grass is greener” you need to check your intentions. When there are REPEATED breaches of trust a separation will likely not work. If a coupe is considering a separation they need to be totally honest with themselves and their partner. If this can not be done for whatever reason then a separation is not going to lead to positive results.

So what are the rules for a positive separation/retreat?

  1. Back to intention- If the intent is to work through some issues and gain some perspective then a therapist or relationship coach that works well with couples is an absolute MUST. If the intention is anything other than that the relationship is a ticking time bomb.

  2. Communicate- while in therapy, you’ll likely be learning better ways to communicate, negotiate and collaborate- This is the time to put these new skills in to practice.

  3. Set clear expectations- The cliche statement “trust is the foundation of every relationship” is TRUE! This is a time of rebuilding trust. And, it’s a very fragile time when it comes to emotional trust- if one person expects to have a phone call every night and the other desn’t, there’s going to be hurt feelings and emotional trust is going to start to diminish. Talk about it. What are the expectations during this time?

  4. Work on tailoring the separation to fit both your needs with your therapist or coach. This will enhance the separation.

While grasping the idea of a separation may be difficult for many, there are some great books on the topic.

One of them is titled “Contemplating Divorce: A Step-by-Step Guide to Deciding Whether to Stay or Go” by Gadoua. Another good one is Survive Marriage Separation: What to Say and Do to Keep Your Marriage” by Wasson. And, another great one is “Hope For The Separated” by Chapman.

Separation is a time of reflection, re-connection, and growth both individually and as a couple.

If you are in this space, follow the above rules, educate yourself, and keep your intentions in a positive place and you can get through it and have a more depthful relationship.