Should I Separate From My Spouse? How To Know When To Call It Quits

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Should I Separate From My Spouse?

There are days in every marriage when spouses look at one another and wonder what the heck they were thinking. You might even be curious about how to separate.

There are times when that contemplation goes on for quite a while. It can stew in negativity with a focus on all that is unhappy and “not right.”

Left untended, it can lead to asking, “Should I separate from my spouse?” and maybe even, “Should we divorce?”

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The decision to separate — temporarily or permanently — isn’t, however, one to be taken lightly. It’s not an opportunity to go on a Calgon-take-me-away solo vacay in the same way you may have “played house” prior to getting married.

Separation is a step toward permanence — either together or apart. And, in those cases where couples choose a permanent, legal separation, it is an agreed-to, permanent Limbo.

How do you know when it’s time to call it quits, either temporarily or permanently?

If you don’t know whether it’s better to stay in an unhappy marriage or divorce, separation may offer the headspace you need. But just as with divorce, there are plenty of things to consider before you pack your bags and move next door.

The first answer to your question, “Should I separate from my spouse?” is actually another question: “Why am I even asking this?”

Assuming you entered into marriage with the intention to stay in it, you should feel the twinges of struggle when you ask this question.

Here are 8 questions to contemplate before you separate or call it quits on your marriage altogether.

1. Is the decision mutual?

Do both you and your spouse want the separation or divorce, or is only one of you pushing for it?

2. Why do you want to separate?

This, of course, is the million-dollar question. But its answer will determine your entire course of action.

If for example, one of you has been unfaithful and doesn’t intend to end the affair “just yet,” a separation could be the beginning of the end.

But if the stressors of life have caused you to lose perspective on the value of your marriage, a separation could be a remote refresher course.

Knowing whether you are trying to ease your way out of your marriage — or work your way back in — will inform your decision.

3. How would a separation affect your children?

You have to weigh heavily how you would explain to your children both a temporary and permanent separation.

Do you have a plan for how you would handle custody, visitation, and other logistics during a separation?

4. Have you really worked on your marriage?

Have you dealt directly with the difficult issues? And have you spent any time in therapy or couples counseling?

Have you both been equally willing to do the necessary work, or has the effort been one-sided? How would that change during a separation?

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5. Do you want to save your marriage?

In the end, this is really what it all comes down to, isn’t it? Do you want to save your marriage?

If you do, you will consider separation as a time of work and reparation. You won’t use it as a means of returning to your single days and escaping responsibility.

If you don’t want to save your marriage, a separation may be a moot point. It could also jeopardize factors like the division of assets, especially if one spouse isn’t trustworthy.

Knowing when to call it quits in your marriage doesn’t come with a decisive formula. Only you and your spouse know what’s in your hearts and how much you want to work on your relationship.

But some circumstances point the decision needle more toward divorce than staying together. Here are just a few...

6. Is there physical or emotional abuse?

Abuse of any kind demands intervention — for everyone in the family. Victims — including spouses, children, elders, and pets — need to be protected and counseled, and abusers need rehabilitation.

Abusive behavior doesn’t have a quick fix, and the pattern of abuse followed by a short-lived apology and correction is often dangerously convincing. The abuser needs to be separated from the rest of the family, possibly on a permanent basis.

If you need help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

7. Are one or both of you are unwilling to work on the marriage?

While you can always work to improve yourself and hope that your spouse will be inspired to do the same, you can accomplish only so much alone.

Sometimes separation can give a reality check to the partner who is ready to leave the marriage. But if the separation isn’t going to be about doing the work to save your marriage, you may need to call it quits now.

8. Has your relationship has become contemptuous?

In John Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the (Marital) Apocalypse, contempt with its counterpart stonewalling is the greatest predictor of divorce. By the time contempt is present in a marriage, the foundation of respect and trust has all but been destroyed.

When it comes to knowing whether you should separate from your spouse, there is no definitive answer. And knowing when to call it quits for good is an even bigger leap from separation.

Assuming that safety is not an issue, you and your spouse will have to do some soul-searching. Is there any memory of the joy in your relationship? Do you want to get back to it? And, if so, what are you willing to do to get there?

RELATED: How To Maintain Your Self-Respect During A Marriage Separation (Especially If You're Hoping To Get Back Together)

Dr. Jerry Duberstein and his partner Mary Ellen Goggin offer private couples retreats, couples counseling, and coaching via telephone, Skype, or in-person in the quaint seaport of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. To learn more, schedule a half-hour complimentary consultation.