This is NOT the time to start new relationships.
Separation between couples is often misunderstood due to the lack of guidelines and the ease with which it can be carried out. It's fraught with many pitfalls if certain clear objectives aren't 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 without undue influence from each other. However, couples often get distracted and confused, and lose sight of their goal. Their trial separation ends in divorce.
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.
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 it doesn't just drag on without any conclusion. The time should ideally be between three and six months so 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.
2. Set clear boundaries.
It's 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. 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's usually very little listening as a couple plays the blame game.
However, separation can be a useful time to step back 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.
4. Plan for financial obligations.
There should be clear agreement about what happens to the finances during a separation, with equal sharing of resources and children adequately taken care of. Running two households is likely to be more expensive.
How the finances will work should be agreed upon before the separation takes place so the person left with the children doesn't bear the brunt of any financial burden that might ensue.
5. Decide if you will remain intimate.
Whether you will have sex and if you will spend time with one another is paramount. The couple should reach a clear agreement as to the amount and intensity of intimacy between them during the separation. It's better not to engage in sexual interaction while separated, mainly because it tends to cloud the issues and will delay the conclusion, especially if one person is still getting what they want without having to sort out any issues.
Separation will be more successful in its objectives if it's regarded as such. If it's treated as a continuation of the relationship, or as a time for both parties to act like single people, not much can be achieved from that. There will simply be more of the same behavior without any conclusion and divorce is likely to follow.