It isn’t over until the fat lady sings, as they say. The same rings true for relationships. Separations, legal or otherwise, may be your path to reconciliation when your future is in limbo.

However, separations are to be used sparingly. They don’t always solve the problem or make the heart grow fonder. They can just as easily give license to unforgivable behavior and compound troublesome issues.

That’s why separations require the wisdom of sages. Don’t be rash, pass judgment, or propose a separation until you carefully examine the information provided in this article. Make certain a separation serves your game plan before you start down this road.

As in all aspects of your relationship, the thoughtful rather than the sudden, impetuous move serves you best.

What Can a Trial Separation Accomplish?

You are married or living together, but the relationship has gone sour. Going your separate ways is the solution both of you consider the most prudent at the moment. Neither, however, has the guts to sign the divorce papers or tear up the lease. So what can a preplanned separation possibly do for you?

According to research, separations either provide a transition into single life or a period of decision making removed from daily pressures. They afford breathing space, distance, and a neutral zone for communication. Within this setting it may be easier for partners to engage in self-examination, re-establish the friendship, and determine if the relationship is worth salvaging.

A good indication that there is still some stuffing in the mattress is, according to one researcher, if your spouse or partner feels like the two of you are still a unit. He or she will likely empathize with your failures and take pleasure in your achievements. If you don’t see any display of this attitude, your partner may already have mentally severed the cord.

Before You Separate

There are several things you should be aware of before you separate. Expect to feel:

Confused and ambivalent

Uncomfortable with the loss of your normal partnership role

Embarrassed by the exposure of your relationship problems

Do not let those uneasy feelings deter you from your work at hand. Try to make a preliminary judgment as to whether a separation might improve the quality of your relationship, boost your chances of reconciliation, or merely postpone the inevitable.

image for separation

One way to come up with an answer is to evaluate whether you and your partner can make permanent, fundamental changes within your relationship. Answering the following questions honestly will give you an indication if you both have what it takes to accomplish that.


Was there a period in your marriage or live-in relationship that was satisfying and happy for both of you?

2. Do you each have a clear memory of that period?

3. Do either or both of you want to salvage the marriage or live-in relationship?

4. If your partner wounded you emotionally, do you think you have capacity to forgive him/her?

5. Do you feel as if your spouse has changed but you want to get to know him/her again?

6. Do you think a fresh perspective would help solve your problems?

7. Do you need to separate yourself from the situation to make an independent decision?

8. Are you willing to try and jump-start a romantic affair with your partner?

9. Are you both willing to take the blame for the problems in your relationship?

10. Will you be able to make an earnest attempt to renew your commitment to your relationship?

11. Are you ready to work on the relationship?

12. Are you prepared to compromise for the sake of the relationship?

13. Do you have a sufficient level of trust in one another?

14. Are there at least a few hot embers of love still glowing in the dark?

Your score: It shouldn’t take a statistical wizard to inform you that 14 yes answers give lasting reconciliation the best chance and that just as many no answers the most dismal forecast. An optimistic outlook directly correlates with the number of positive answers you were able to come up with. The responsibility for reconciliation rests squarely on you and your partner’s shoulders.

The Dos and Don’ts of Separating

Before you separate, there are a few steps you ought to consider that will make the situation less stressful for you, your family, and your partner.


1. Try to engineer an orderly separation. Remember you once cared for this other person. A sudden departure is disruptive for children and adds to the humiliation and rejection felt by the party who is left.

divorce photo

2. Act responsibly, show concern, and take care of your financial end of the partnership.

3. Be careful if you date during the separation stage not to get romantically hooked up with someone else.

4. Be patient and practical.

5. Set guidelines, limits, and boundaries regarding your interaction with your estranged partner.

6. Agree on the terms of your separation.

Just as important as heeding the dos above is avoiding the don’ts below. Undoubtedly, any of these foolish actions could lead to unnecessary and prolonged problems.


1. Slam the door or fail to look back unless you are absolutely certain this breakup is for real.

2. Walk out and leave your home without seeking legal counsel, especially if children are involved.

3. Alienate friends and his or her family members. If you reconcile, it won’t help having made enemies out of your inlaws.

4. Act out in a way you will be sorry for later. Your behavior during this period can come back to haunt you.

5. Give up control over your actions or emotions. You can’t afford to lose your good sense at this critical juncture.

Making the decision to embark on a trial separation is important. However, how you go about putting that separation into play is equally significant. Sometimes the best route is to make it legal.

Should You Get a Legal Separation?

It probably isn’t a bad idea. A legal separation spells out financial responsibilities and obligations, childcare arrangements, and household agreements. Why take a chance on having your actions misconstrued later? Only a lawyer familiar with the legal system in your area is equipped to provide you with all the protection you need.

man on bench

Tina sure wishes she had gone that route. A devoted mother and professional with one child, she remained in her emotionally abusive household until she could no longer take it. Distraught and out of control, she packed her bags and sought refuge at her girlfriend’s. Her husband did not see this as a trial separation or a period in which to work out their problems. He got himself a sharp lawyer and won temporary residential custody of their son.

If Tina had called the domestic violence hot line in her locale or contacted a lawyer, she thinks she would have been advised to handle things differently. Now she is embroiled in a bitter custody battle with little hope of winning. In the Ohio city where Tina lives, the courts rarely, if ever, reverse the determination of temporary residential custodial parent.

Splitting and Getting Back Together Again

It can be done. I have interviewed legal separation and watched couples who have been successful at it. Among these couples, three common situations prompted trial separations: the affair, major changes in personal direction, and a midlife crises. Here are some tips on how to handle each of these stumbling blocks.

The Affair

A case in point. Saul and Sally are typical of a number of longtime married couples who find themselves in trouble. Sally was busy with her career, raising the kids, and playing hostess for Saul’s business. She didn’t know he was feeling the pinch of poor economic times or the loss of a major lucrative construction contract. Saul’s ego plummeted. Sally did not notice. Along came sexy Samantha. She made Saul feel like a million bucks and thus the affair began.

When Sally found out, Saul agreed to move into his own abode for awhile. Before Sally could even address the issue, she had to get her head together and pick up the pieces of her heart. Fortunately she didn’t speak out of turn, held her head high, and sought the assistance of her clergyman. What he helped her see was that she still wanted to make this marriage work. By this time, Saul was repentant and wanted to come home.

Prudent tips. Sally opened the door, but not wide enough for him to come back immediately. She suggested they get an objective counselor and see each other for dinner outside the house where they could talk. When she did allow him to move back into the family home and her bed, it was with the assurance that Samantha was a thing of the past never to surface again.

Changes in Personal Direction

A case in point. Melinda married Murray when she was just out of college and became pregnant right away. Murray’s career flourished, the family made two moves, and Melinda’s resentment grew. What happened to my private life, goals, and aspirations? she asked herself 15 years after walking down the aisle.

She was having an identity crisis, blamed it on the fact that the family took their lead from Murray’s career, and projected her anger onto her partner.

At first Murray was dumbfounded and confused. Melinda wanted the right to her own life. She thought things could be better on her own. Murray afforded her the opportunity to test it out. He rented a house down the street so he could be near the kids and share responsibilities. Melinda went back to school for her masters degree. She and Murray agreed they could each date if they wished, and Melinda entered the dating arena.

Prudent tips. Murray played Melinda’s hand well. He knew she could throw the trump card but didn’t quit playing his bid. Once he swallowed his own anger, hurt, and pride, he did whatever he could to help Melinda. He urged her to take some of their savings to pay her tuition, insisted keeping the kids during exam week, and never questioned her about the men he saw pick her up at the house.

Melinda began to see Murray in a new light and finally got a handle on the source of her own frustrations. When she walked into a restaurant with some female companions and saw Murray with another woman, she panicked. The game was over. Her identity crisis had abated. She wanted Murray back.

separating hands

He was wise to take his time, even though all the while he was packing his bags and getting ready to park his car in his old garage for keeps.

Mid-Life Bleepers

A case in point. Ralph was in his early 50s. He had one set of kids between the ages of 20 and 24, another set in the primary grades. He was feeling trapped in his second marriage although he exchanged vows in earnest and with much love. But the confines of this younger family were getting to him at a time of life he thought he would be free to reap the rewards of his hard labors. The quick passage of time began to ruffle his feathers.

Roberta was a first-time mom and had no intention of missing school plays for a night at the theater in New York, nor was she willing to leave the kids behind on the frequent trips Ralph wanted to take. When Ralph took off seeking new adventures, Roberta was not surprised. She didn’t panic, call in a team of divorce lawyers, or give Ralph her blessing to sow any leftover wild oats.

Prudent tips. Roberta was not foolhardy. Toward Ralph, she was understanding, supportive, and firm. There were lines not to be crossed that would create irreconcilable differences if they were to work things out as she hoped they would. She recognized that the situation called for a level head, compromise on both sides, and some restructuring of the family.

She patiently awaited Ralph to come to his senses, arranged for sexy sleepovers, and sought an objective counselor to look for deeper seeds of discontent while negotiating a settlement. Roberta put into black and white the way she planned to divide her time into parcels for herself, the children, Ralph, and the family unit. A pie-shaped graph illustrating before and after the separation was a clear-cut way to demonstrate how far she was willing to go.

It took time, but Ralph found his way home, and Roberta was there to greet him at the door.

The story isn’t over yet. If you decide to reconcile successfully, there is a set of commandments to learn and obey.

Reconciliation Commandments

Reconciliation is more difficult than you may have imagined. It takes determination, forgiveness, and handling ambivalent emotions. You must be able to call upon each of these traits to effectively live up to the commandments that are essential if you take on the task of reconciling.

separated couple

1. You will commit to the process.

2. You won’t punish one another for past wrongs.

3. You won’t dwell on the pain of the separation.

4. You will love, respect, and care for each other.

5. You will display an improved attitude toward the health of your relationship.

6. You will actively take responsibility for the well-being of your relationship.

7. You will get the wheel of love spinning by returning now and then to the ecstasy of the infatuation phase.

8. You will take pride in your history together.

9. You will accept the same agenda.

10. You won’t promise to make things better just to get your mate to move back in with you.

The trial separation is your chance to bail out and save a relationship. It is one step you can take before untying the knot, walking out the door, or cutting the rope. If you decide to give it a try, do it for the right reasons, employ logic, and maintain a cool head. Remember this is merely a trial. The jury is still out, and a decision will have to finally be made.