Separation between couples is often misunderstood due to the lack of guidelines and the ease with which it can be carried out. It is fraught with many pitfalls if certain clear objectives are not laid down or ultimately met. The most basic goal of any separation is to give the couple space and time in their relationship to decide on future action, particularly in saving the marriage etc., without undue influence from each other. However, couples often get distracted and confused and lose sight of their goal and their trial separation ends in divorce.
Furthermore, once separated, some people will see the break as a license to look and opportunity for them to start new relationships, which then complicate the situation and make finding a solution to the marital problems much harder.
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In order to make a trial separation successful a couple should agree to five key rules:
1. Determine a time frame. The break should have a specific time attached to it, so that it does not just drag on without any conclusion. The time should ideally be between three and six months so that a sense of urgency and sincerity is retained, especially where children are involved. The longer the separation continues, as people settle into their new routine, the harder it is to get back to the old life. Any separation that drags on will gradually turn into two new and separate lifestyles.
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2. Set clear boundaries. It is important to know the rules of the separation—what is acceptable, what isn't. Write these rules out and stick to them.
3. Remain committed to couples therapy. There should be communication between the couple, with regular times to meet - either with or without a counselor - so that progress can be made toward reconciliation. This is communication can be difficult as couples are likely to blame each other and recount past behavior rather than finding solutions to steer a better course together. There is usually very little listening as a couple plays the blame game. However, separation can be a useful time to step back from what has gone before and try to understand the other person and their concerns. If the other person is doing the same, a better understanding of the underlying problems and how they can be sorted is likely to be reached with much less acrimony.