In case you haven’t been watching the news, celebrities Courtney Cox and David Arquette just announced that they have decided to do a Trial Separation... And their hope is that the separation could ultimately save their marriage and they will not have to resort to divorce. I’m happy that they decided to go that route instead of just throwing in the towel and heading right for divorce papers as so many other stars – and “average” people, do. Trial separations can actually be extremely helpful as it gives an opportunity to both the partners to experience the feelings of being separated, before making any final, permanent decision. Plus, it has the major advantage of being reversible!
The main purpose of a trial separation is to develop skills to resolve problems before moving back together, to reflect on and evaluate the relationship with a clear head, and to, hopefully, work on improving the relationship. It’s a great time to think, to analyze, to reflect calm down and cool off, without being in each others space or bickering. It offers the space to make thoughtful decisions and thus, potentially SAVE a marriage.
So yes, I am a fan of couples doing a separation first and I think it can definitely help save a marriage – but here are some rules and guidelines you want to follow in order to make the separation a successful and smooth one:
1. Talk with each other about your individual goals for the separation
Make sure you are honest and clear and are on the same page. Are you both committed to making it work? Are you both committed to putting IN the work in order to MAKE it work? What do both of you ideally want as a result of this?
2. Have a time-line for when to reconvene and decide which way you’ll go.
Don’t just let the separation drift into infinity. Typically 3, 6 or 9 months is a good time-frame to have your space and gives you enough time to evaluate the situation. The separation shouldn’t go longer than a year or else you’re really just fooling yourself and procrastinating the inevitable. After a year, it’s shit or get off the pot time.
3. Have RULES for the separation and make them clear!
Make sure they are mutually agreed upon. Will you be allowed to see other people during the separation? Allowed to sleep with others? Sleeping with each other?? What happens with the kids? Etc. The last thing you’d want is a “Friends” like scenario with one person thinking you’re allowed to see other people and one person oblivious.
4. Keep the Communication lines healthy and open.
Have regular ‘check-ins’ with each other, ideally on a bi-weekly basis. Don’t talk every day though, or else you won’t get the space you need to clearly evaluate things.
5. Start DATING each other again, at a distance first.
I would recommend taking the first month or two off completely to give each of you a chance to really have your space and think, but then gradually start ‘dating’ again, setting up ‘date nights’ with each other once a week or bi-weekly. It helps to rekindle the romance and see each other like you did when you first started dating.
6. Be HONEST with your feelings.
Now is not the time to hold back! Whether you realize just how much you really love him, or you realize that you actually do not want to work on the relationship and you do want to end it, you need to be honest and communicate. Don’t stifle something important out of fear of hurting them either; It will only end up in wasted time for both you and your partner, and even more hurt in the end.
7. Make "Relationship Improvement" LISTS for each other...
About how you are currently feeling about your partner, and what your needs and desires are that are not being met by them. What could your partner do that would make you happier? What could your partner do to make the relationship work for you? What do you need in order to feel loved? Secure? Satisfied? Rather than just listing the negative things about your partner or your complaints, try to always state them in the form of positive requests so they are constructive and not hurtful.
8. Avoid Gossiping, “Venting” and Sh*t-Talking about your Partner to your Friends & Fam!
Really avoid the temptation to share everything (especially the negative things) that’s going on with your friends, family members, mom, etc. Don’t tell them all the details of your gripes about your partner or what they’ve done wrong, what they said in the therapy session, and so on. What happens when you do that is you end up tainting everyone’s opinions about your partner – so inevitably, THEY begin disliking your partner if the majority of things you talk about with them are negative things, and you start generating a ‘negative support group’ around you. This is NOT what you want when you’re trying to make a clear-headed decision and your goal is reconciliation. Because when things are going well, or you if you start talking about reconciling, these people that you’ve previously been sh*t-talking about your partner to will be the first to remind you of all those negative things, and will start nay-saying against your reconciliation, and swaying your decision. Not to mention that if you DO end up back together with your partner, now it’s going to be awkward because the people you ragged about him to will now hate him! I know you may want to vent a lot during this process, but beware the dangers of dissing on your partner to friends and family for this reason.
9. Seek Therapy, Relationship Coaching, counseling or other tools.
During this time of separation, one of the major purposes is to learn new tools and develop new communication and relationship skills that will strengthen your relationship and allow you to work through your issues and come out the other side stronger. The two of you should definitely go to relationship coaching or Therapy together to learn these new skills during this time, or else nothing will change if you get back together.
10. Work on yourselves and your own inner conflicts and weaknesses,
so you can be a better partner for your partner this next time around, if there is a resolution. This is also a time to work on YOURSELF! It does take two to tango and you need to take responsibility for your part in the relationship’s weaknesses as well, and not point all your fingers at your partner. Do whatever you can during this time to improve yourself, seek feedback from your partner about what you can do to meet your partner’s needs and desires more, and work to become that better partner, whether you do end up rekindling, or for the next partner you have.