A common assumption is that separation always leads to divorce. This is a myth! I believe that with some hard work on the part of couples that this does not always have to be the case. I have worked with many couples who have used separation to improve their relationship, grow as individuals and create a more satisfying marriage.
How can more space for an ailing relationship help?
During a crisis such as an affair or perhaps a stuck time when passion has dwindled in a relationship, a separation can act as a major “wake up call”. When couples are engaged in ongoing and unresolved conflict, space can allow partners to gain some distance and perhaps a new perspective from the way they relate. This can allow those bruised, hurt and angry feelings to lessen as the relationship pattern is interrupted. A physical separation can draw new energy into an ailing and unhappy relationship.
Space alone may not be enough!
Space can be beneficial to marriages and relationships that have developed hurtful or stagnant patterns of communication, but only if clear ground rules and goals have been identified for the separation. Goals must address the purpose of the separation.
Here’s what you can do:
- Conflict must be managed and productive communication has to start. Partners have to hear each other’s concerns and complaints about what is not working. If both partner’s attempts at communication breaks down into defensive battles, blame, criticisms, character assaults or withdrawal, real feelings and unmet needs will not be heard. You must learn to listen.
- Each partner must take responsibility for his/her part of the relationship pattern that has developed. If one partner refuses to look at his side of the pattern continued conflict is usually the result.
- Specific goals and expectations for each partner as well as the relationship must be established as a necessary part of the separation agreement. Without goals I often hear “We tried a separation but it didn’t work”! With clear goals, couples can evaluate whether or not any change has taken place.
- Couples that “do not fight” and make little effort to communicate productively, will build ice walls. During separations, these couples must plan on regular times to meet and talk. These couples must learn how to share their feelings and how not to be so afraid of the conflict or hurting their partners. They are already hurting because they are not talking and faulty assumptions have clouded their perceptions of each other.Couples counseling can be very helpful in these situations.
A positive, proactive and purposeful approach to a separation can allow partners to take the time to find out if their relationship can become more fulfilling.