‘Short Separation’ as a Marriage Counseling Tactic
“Can a marital separation save a marriage?” Usually my opinion is: it depends…
Whether the separation will help or hurt the marriage is unknown, unless you know the couple, have listened to them and assessed their mental state. Needless to say, a professional marriage counselor should feed-back his or her gained impression to the couple. Since the outcome could go either way, depending on what each of them really wants, this tactic should be an important topic during the marriage counseling sessions.
As a Psychologist who practices as a Marriage Counselor as well as a Life Coach and professional Relationship Advice provider I may quickly support a separation, for example when one spouse is living in an intolerable situation in the marriage. Perhaps one partner is verbally abusive, chronically has affairs, or shows continued disrespect towards his or her spouse in some other way. A number of couples are miserable living together and can’t seem to co-exist without continuous arguing. Living apart can help each partner to better use their emotional strengths and problem solving skills. In situations like this, a separation can sometimes save the marriage.
But fortunately enough, these are not the majority of cases I have encountered; which result in more complexities for me, as the professional counselor. The main issue is the motivation and the attitude of each partner: does each spouse want the marriage to work? Is there a strong willingness to seek marriage counseling and work on the problems and issues while they are separated? Does the couple in this situation plan to use this separation period to “let the dust settle,” and reflect on the marriage but taking responsibility for their part, and work with me on their individual and joint issues?
Sometimes the serious problems that the couple present and share are only a cover-up for more deeper and underlying issues: unfulfilled desires and a lack of trust for a better future. When there is a hidden desire to split apart, or try living under an alternative roof and relationship, a split could be a one-way ticket from renewing the marriage. There is therefore a need to use this simple ‘test detector’ apparatus: Do both spouses agree not to date anyone else? Do both commit to improve their marriage only?
A separation can be a time of healing, gaining strength and adding social resources to build new ties. Conversely living apart will allow each to pursue alternative relationships in which distance detachment and distance prevails while this period of ‘trial for a better luck’ continues.
Does it mean that a ‘free zone’ arrangement is the beginning of the end of the relationship? NO.
Human behavior is often as you see on the dance floor: two steps forward, one back, and then turn. It could be that one spouse or even both want to use the separation to build new relationships. Once they are on their own, they grow emotionally stronger, more independent but at the same time more in touch with their weaknesses. Each can now have a clearer perspective about their past negative contributions. Reconciliation in such cases is quick, meaningful and usually long lasting.
To summarize my Marriage Counseling approach regarding temporary separation: once you use a temporary split as a tool to heal your marriage:
1. Set a tentative time period for the separation; three, six, nine or twelve months, but no longer.
2. At three month intervals, set a time to meet and re-evaluate the decision to separate.
3. Agree to seek individual and joint counseling during the separation.
4. Set clear guidelines about how much contact you’ll have with each other during the separation; the less the better.
Dr. Joseph Abraham, Director, Center for Human Growth and Business Insights, Mechanicsburg, PA. Tel 717-943.0959 Online Psychologist and Life Coach: Marriage Counseling, Relationship Advice and Management Consulting. Online Counseling and Small Business Advice