Trial Separation - Does it Work

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Trial Separation: What People Say

Is a trial separation an important ingredient before deciding to reconcile or divorce? That’s a tough one to answer. It works for some couples while for others, it can be detrimental. Here are some comments we’ve heard from couples who agreed to a trial separation when their marriage was on the rocks:

Trial separation works:

  • “We both realized we needed “me” time. We felt we were feeding off each other and neglecting our own needs.”
  • “I discovered that I had talents I thought I never knew I had. By spending time away from Jim, I was able to revive my interest in music and literature.”
  • “When Trish and I separated for a few months, it was only during her absence that I began to appreciate her positive traits. When we were together, all I could focus on were her negative qualities.”
  • “My relationships with my friends and family improved when Bill and I separated. I re-united with family members who were glad to see me more frequently, and my friends welcomed me back into their circles. Bill and I had such hectic lives that we were often angry with each other. We neglected family and friends because we were too busy making money. It was wonderful to know that your family will always be there even if you can’t maintain close ties with them. Bill feels the same way.”

Trial separation does not work:

  • “The freedom of doing what I wanted was exhilarating. I felt I was living in a cage all these years and that I had lost all sense of freedom. I got to thinking, “why be married when I can stay single?”
  • “When James and I agreed on a trial separation, we had reached a point of no turning back. Maybe we should have gone on a trial separation much earlier when the first signs of our troubled marriage appeared. This trial separation made me decide that I definitely wanted out, and that our marriage was beyond repair.”
  • “When the period for our trial separation was drawing to a close, I dreaded going back to Pat. I was finally at peace with myself and not having to endure her putting me down regarding my lack of ambition. She’s eager to get back into our marriage and start fresh, but I don’t share her enthusiasm. Fact is, I’m more inclined to continue this trial separation indefinitely.”

Essence of a Trial Separation

Bringing about major changes in one’s life is supposed to spark off a new set of emotions and sentiments. When you graduate from university, for example, you look forward to conquering the world and making big plans. When you get married, you anticipate raising a family, buying your first home and taking active part in the community. A trial separation brings with it a different set of dynamics.

  • A trial separation is a message to both couples that their marriage is salvageable. It means hope and “taking stock” of what transpired during years of marriage. Questions like “what did we do wrong” or “Can we rebuild our relationship by distancing ourselves from each other” are common.
  • A trial separation means that there is desire and willingness on the part of husband and wife NOT to take the drastic road to divorce. A trial separation will confirm that two people still love each other.
  • A trial separation is a profound examination of conscience. People make mistakes. By separating, couples need time to think things out and be alone with their thoughts and feelings. A trial separation is fundamentally a time to turn inwards and reflect on the problems and solutions of marriage.

Some people believe that trial separations are just a camouflage for a terrible marriage that is beyond repair or a band-aid solution to failed marriages. It could be also that couples want to avoid the costly logistics of a divorce so a trial separation would be the next best thing.

There are many problems that potentially crop up when a trial separation is used for the sake of shielding hurting couples from major financial decisions. If they decide against a divorce because they want to leave their assets where they are and avoid lawyers’ fees and shared expenses for the children, a trial separation, regardless of its duration, will not solve anything. It only prolongs the agony, and if there’s anyone who will bear the hurt and be permanently scarred, it’s the child.

Sometimes it is better to bite the bullet and just divorce, especially when it is clear that the marriage can no longer be saved. In a divorce, there’s the element of finality and the concept of closure. In a trial separation, children are kept in the dark about whether or not “mom and dad will ever get back together so we could be one happy family again.”

Giving Trial Separation a Chance

Initiating the trial separation requires planning. The classic packing of bags and the “I’m leaving you because I need time to myself” is too sudden an announcement. Couples must agree to a trial separation calmly, intelligently and sincerely: calmly because strong emotions will affect our judgment; intelligently because dialogue between spouses is vital; and sincerely because couples will need to address the issue about whether or not a trial separation is truly a better alternative than divorce.

The decision to go for a trial separation must be preceded by open and honest communications and a definite plan. This plan must include:

  • Who is leaving the house
  • Visits to children
  • Responsibilities of each spouse
  • Financials
  • Length of the trial separation
  • The need for a marriage counselor
  • Frequency of communications between spouses and children

By carefully planning for a trial separation, each party is clear about expectations and outcomes. Let’s not forget our support systems. As Loriann Hoff Oberlin said in her book, Surviving Separation and Divorce (2005): “I’m not just referring to the tangible surprises like lasagna, a box of chocolates or a tall bottle of bubble bath. I’m talking about calls to check in on you, a shoulder to lean on, arms to hug you when it feels like you’ll never again have close contact. These gifts don’t cost anything but our friends’ time and they are given freely out of concern and love.”

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