Marriages sometimes seem to fall apart when there are extreme life stresses like affairs or addictions. When one spouse has an affair or suffers from an addiction, the other spouse usually is getting hurt, lied to and betrayed on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis sometimes. There are moments where the person who is being unfaithful or suffers from addiction has to hit rock bottom, before real change occurs. Couples who are in these extreme situations often do a trial separation, sometimes where they live separately, but often sometimes because of finances or young kids will do an in-house separation. Trial separations do not mean divorce is the only outcome, sometimes space can really help clear your head and you can understand what you truly desire. How do you know it’s time to think about a trial separation? Some reasons are:
- If there is constant fighting.
- A need to get some space and clear your head.
- To see how life would be without your spouse and to see if that is what you want.
- Time to see how your actions have affected the marriage and where it’s headed.
- If the unfaithful or addicted refuses to get help or keeps breaking boundaries.
How do married couples have a successful in-house separation is one of the most important questions. Some following ways to have a successful separation are:
- Have guidelines or boundaries
- When two individuals are separating, you need to sit down, discuss the problematic or hurtful behavior in the relationship and agree that time apart will be best.
- In that discussion, both individuals need to agree to a certain amount of time apart, i.e. one month, three months, six months, etc.
- There should be guidelines about interactions. Are you two going to have a no physical contact boundary? Are you guys going to eat dinner separately? Are you guys going to only interact because of kids or finances? Are you guys going to be faithful or are you truly putting your marriage on hold, and want to see other people during this time? Are you guys going to only use your individual bank accounts or are you allowed to use the joint account? These are the things that need to be agreed upon for the separation to work.
- Have structure or routines
- Being in the same house but separated can be complicated. What happens when you both are hungry and want to use the kitchen, how will you manage that? What if there is only one computer in the house and you both need to use it? Come up with a schedule that you both can agree to if your goal is minimal contact during this separation.
- Think about your children
- If you have children, they are going to be impacted by this decision, so making sure that this separation is amicable and smooth is important for the child’s stability.
- Establish a parenting schedule or routine for your child. Figure out who will take them to school, who will pick them up, who will take them to activities, or if your child is still an infant who will be there during the day to watch them. All these things are very important to discuss before any action is taken.
- If there has already been an established routine of who cooks dinner, or if you eat as a family, those are things that should remain intact during this separation, for the child’s sake of stability and a sense of security.
- If you and your spouse have decided that it’s okay to see other people during this “pause” then you need to think of the children. Establish rules of not bringing a date into the house, or establish rules on what you will tell or not tell your children.
Have a discussion, age-appropriate, with your children about what is going on. A child needs a sense of security, and seeing their parents not interact suddenly with no explanation can be very confusing and scary for a child. Telling your children that you and your spouse are taking some time to have space, is perfectly okay. If this separation is just so you can get space, then assure the child that you will be back together after X date. If you and your spouse really aren’t sure if you are staying together, then just let your children know that you and your spouse are trying to work things out at the moment, but you both still love your child.
- Be open to change
- You might have originally thought the trial separation was a step towards divorce, and you really thought the marriage was over, but with some time that changes. That is perfectly okay. If you realize as the separation goes on that the marriage is still viable, then allow that to happen. It’s okay. Maybe the extreme circumstance of an affair or addiction have changed, maybe they went into recovery, maybe they cut off ties with the affair partner. Just be open to the possibilities through this separation and know things can change.
Trial separations can be hard for both the person who wanted it, and the person who has done the damage to the marriage. If you are the spouse asking for the separation, just be considerate of the fact that this might be hard on your partner. If you are the spouse that hurt the marriage, know that you should do your best to respect your partners’ requests and boundaries during this time, and do what you need to do to make amends with your partner. In-house trial separations can work as long as both are considerate of the boundaries, and both follow the boundaries. In addition, do the individual work needed so you come to a decision of what you want for the marriage.