In-house separations can be especially attractive for both financial reasons and can be least disruptive to children. Parents can continue to be available to their children daily while they figure out what they are going to do with their relationship.
In-house separations are usually short-term and offer couples a cool down period during a particularly intense time of conflict or crisis. An in-house separation usually works best when one or both partners simply need some space to sort out feelings and decide to detach or have minimal contact for a brief period of time. This kind of separation actually happens naturally in many relationships, during high-stress times, or when one or both partners want space for any of a variety of reasons. Sometimes during conflict periods, partners will detach and get space to cool down and regain perspective on the relationship. What’s important in an in-house separation is that each partner works toward adjusting expectations of the other for a period of time.
I always caution my clients that it’s important to establish clear guidelines and ground rules for an in-house separation. Otherwise, it may create increased tension within the home. Some couples choose an in-house separation while they are waiting for a physical one. This can work, too, provided the ground rules are clear.
For an in-house separation to work, you must be able to at least stand seeing and being in the presence of your partner. You must also agree that you can act civilly around each other, as you must continue to take care of family responsibilities. If you agree to this sort of separation, however, you can use it precisely to learn how to handle the feelings that surface when your partner’s behavior triggers a reaction in you.
I teach partners and couples how they can disengage from conflict situations. Not only can they prevent conflict, but with some distance and time can learn to re-engage and perhaps have some meaningful communication instead of fighting.
This type of separation is not advisable if you or your mate is so angry that you are not able to be civil and in control of yourselves. If either of you are very emotionally dependent, in-house separation can be particularly challenging. But the challenge can be just what you need, to learn to rely more on yourself and to discover what it is you really want from your mate. One of the downsides of in-house separations is that they can be used as a way of avoiding problems or of punishing your partner. For this and other reasons, I strongly advise getting counseling together during the separation period. The last thing you want to do in a separation is exacerbate an already negative pattern of distancing andpoor communication. You must eventually learn to communicate with each other once again about wants, expectations, and whatever else is fueling the conflict in your relationship. You will also have to learn how to detach and reattach after periods of conflict. You can see how important it is to work on self-reliance, care, and management during periods of distance and fallout with your partner. During conflict time, you are often emotionally on your own! Of course, an in-house separation is the least costly of separations because no one has to bear the expense of moving and financing two households. Also both partners are still available to their children as usual.
In short, in-house separations are most effective if
- they are short-term (three months or less) with agreed-upon time frames,
- both partners are willing to identify and take responsibility for their part in the conflict and agree to distance, detach from each other, and learn to control anger and conflict while living under the same roof
- ground rules are established and agreed to so that family tasks and chores, childcare, meal times, social events, etc. can be carried out.
- both partners agree on temporarily lowering and/or eliminating expectations of each other, and be very clear re: necessary talking about children, finances and important family issues vs. personal issues between the couple such as sleeping separately, affection, sex and emotional sharing and communication.
- there is a plan to review what each partner has learned during the period of separation and deciding what the next steps and goals will be for partners and the relationship.
To summarize, “in-house separations” can be useful for both financial reasons and being available to children providing partners can agree to the terms and manage conflict.