One Thing I See As A Therapist That Means It Is Time For A Trial Separation

This red flag means you need a separation ... but not necessarily a divorce.

unhappy couple in bedroom NDAB Creativity / Shutterstock

When I meet with couples, I ask in the initial meeting what is the goal of our therapy sessions. It is vital to learn relationship skills in order to reconcile or learn how to part gracefully. 

Oftentimes each partner has different goals, which makes things more difficult, of course. This is usually indicative of the status of the relationship in general. 

There is a general disagreement about most things most days. Topics of disagreement can range from lifestyle to eating and drinking habits to finances, parenting, friends, religion, spirituality, career, work ethic, a family of origin, etc. 


Being disagreeable is the one thing that means it is time for a trial separation, in my experience. 

I studied 78 married couples for my dissertation, and the results were that being agreeable leads to marital satisfaction and sexual satisfaction. In my practice over many years, I have witnessed this hypothesis as true.  

I have also observed that disagreement leads to marital dissatisfaction and usually a lack of or limited sexual interactions in the marriage. Being in what appears to be perpetual disagreement leads to relationship dissatisfaction and high disrespect and disregard for each other.


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How trial separations can help 

A trial separation allows individuals to determine if life will be better without this person in their life.

Is this person causing you such unhappiness and distress that your life would be better without them? Are the arguing and disrespect becoming unbearable, or is the arguing the only form of intimacy that we show how we still care? 


Arguing and disagreeing can become destructive habits. Destructive to each individual, the relationship as well as children, family members, and friendships.

10 questions to ask yourself before taking a trial separation.

  1.  Is life truly better without this person in my life?

  2.  What do I like about my partner?

  3. Will I choose to be open-minded to hear and listen to their perspective and or stances about our areas of disagreement?

  4. Will I choose to understand my partner?

  5.  Will I value my partner once again or for the first time?

  6. Will I choose to compromise?

  7. Will I choose to forgive?

  8. Will I always choose to be respectful even if we disagree?

  9. Will I choose to be agreeable?

  10. Will I learn and apply new skills to make this relationship work?

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Whether there are many things in a marriage that are not agreed upon or one or a few major topics that are individually important that are leading to discord, a separation can be helpful.

I discuss trial separation as one temporary solution only if I observe that the disagreeable stance causes high levels of verbal or behavioral disrespect, disregard, devaluation, and contempt. 


John Gottman emphasizes contempt as one of the four horsemen of divorce. The other three are defensiveness, criticism, and stone-walling. Contempt is when there is a disregard and devaluing of another person. 

When we are disagreeable with another person, we begin to disrespect and disregard what they say and most things that they do. I see eye rolling, dismissive behaviors, and blatant verbal statements such as “he or she is lying, that is not true, they are crazy, he or she does not know what they are talking about,” and other extremely argumentative and dismissive statements.  

When we disagree with another person, many times, we refuse to see things from their point of view. There is an egotistical stance taken that whatever you say, I will not listen to you. That is an example of stonewalling behavior.  It comes under the guise that I am right and you are wrong, and I will not give you the courtesy or respect to hear your perspective on your belief.

We cannot love what we do not understand. If a person is not willing to walk in their partner’s shoes or see things from their perspective, then it is very difficult to reintroduce the respect that is needed to sustain a relationship long term. 


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Love always trusts and always respects. This means even if we agree to disagree on many or a handful of topics.

Healing the relationship and shifting from disagreeable to agreeable can begin with a trial separation if the contempt and disrespect levels are not changing after a few meetings in therapy. 


A trial separation would have rules and guidelines that are agreed upon. Some timelines and goals are set.  

I have seen relationships thrive after a separation and choosing to become agreeable, and learning more effective relationship skills in general.  After releasing the anger, contempt, and disrespect that is a result of being disagreeable, a loving, satisfying, long-term relationship can blossom.

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Dr. Susan Pazak is a clinical psychologist and life-change expert, as well as the author of the new book “Simplify: Powerful Words For Life’s Complicated Situations”