A separation takes place when two people elect to no longer live together. People choose to live separately for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is an economic decision based on where each partner can find work. Other times, couples choose to separate to gain perspective on whether or not they want to continue their lives as a married couple. Most people, when they hear the term “separation,” believe that it is a stepping stone toward divorce.
Working Together to Resolve Issues
Separation can be good for a marriage. When a couple is constantly fighting, can’t get along and can’t resolve their problems and move forward, a separation may be the very thing that will help save the marriage. Often, because of concerns about the constant arguing in front of children and the lack of communication, a couple will decide to take a “time out.” This time out, or separation, allows each member of the couple an opportunity to step back and look at both their own behavior and that of their spouse. It gives the couple time to determine how deeply they value the relationship and how willing they are to work together toward a solution. Time apart can help each partner recognize the other’s contribution to the family. Sometimes couples will agree to seek professional counseling during this time, either individually, together or both. The goal of the separation becomes to reunite the couple into a stronger, happier cohesive unit.
When one member of a couple finds the situation in which they are living intolerable, that person may elect to separate from the spouse. This can happen if a partner is verbally abusive, cheating on the spouse or abusing drugs or alcohol. Rather than allow the marriage to further deteriorate, the spouse elects to live separately for a period of time. Often, this can be a wake-up call to the troubled spouse that their partner is serious and that the behavior needs to change. It is an opportunity to seek help and resolve personal and couple issues. There is always the risk, in any separation, that one member of the couple determines that she is better off alone, and the separation becomes the first step toward a divorce.
Living Apart by Choice
Some couples live in separate towns or states because of employment or economic conditions. Sometimes couples live in the same community but in separate homes. When both partners enjoy their autonomy and the partnership, living separately can be the very thing that makes their marriage work. Both partners still need to work on the marital relationship and communicate honestly.
Moving Toward Divorce
When couples elect to separate because they have grown apart, they are no longer in love or one spouse’s trust has been betrayed, they may choose to separate as a step toward divorce. In these instances, it is likely that the relationship will end in divorce. Sometimes, however, the time apart allows each member to reflect on what has brought them to this point and then work to make changes in themselves and the relationship. Both members of the couple must be willing to try again to make the relationship work. If only one spouse wants to continue the marriage, it is likely that the couple will remain separated or divorce.
A couple can elect to live apart without a legal agreement, or they can seek a legal separation. The legal definition and the requirements for a legal separation differ in every state. Regardless of the path chosen, it is important to establish rules about the duration of the separation and how much and what type of contact the spouses will have during the separation. The purpose of a separation should be an opportunity to reduce conflicts and give each person some space.