Can a Trial Separation (In the Same House) Help Your Marriage?

Couple seperated into different boxesAre you tired of intense and destructive marital arguing and want it to stop? Do you need some space to think about things more clearly? Are you thinking about a separation but are not sure how to pull it off without making things worse? Do you feel like you just need a break from all the tension?

It might be time to separate—either formally, legally, or “in-house.” In an effort to save a troubled marriage, a separation can be useful if done with agreement between both spouses and a high degree of respect (even when you are angry). A separation does not signify that a divorce is inevitable. It is a time to get clarity about the direction your relationship should take.

In Lee Raffel’s book Should I Stay or Go?, she reviews specific steps couples can take that will enhance the probability that their marriage will be saved. She refers to this as a Controlled Separation. She tells stories of couples who have successfully separated in order to repair the relationship, learn new skills, and enter back into the relationship with a new mindset and optimism. Both partners need to be committed to change, compromise, and self examination. The reward is a much improved marriage and avoidance of painful and costly divorce.

This article is not about the legal or financial aspects of separation but is about the psychological and emotional issues and how to stay focused on getting a good outcome for an “in-house” separation. The two of you need to agree on why you are taking the separation and how long it will last. You need to both recognize that your marriage is on the brink and drastic changes are needed. Keep an open mind. Slow down the decision making. Other issues that need to be resolved—what part of the house is his or hers. Are you going to tell family or friends? Do you continue splitting chores up between the two of you in the same way. If the holidays are coming up, do you attend as a family? Are you going to be sexually intimate? Do you eat dinner together? Do you talk to each other when you pass each other in the house? This is not a license to see other people outside the relationship.

The following are some reasons that couples cite for taking a controlled, in-house separation:

• A stop to the fighting
• A time to cool off
• Time to determine your next course of action
• An opportunity to see how you feel about the relationship
• Time to reflect on your responsibility in making the marriage go sour
• You don’t have the money for a formal separation

If you think you would benefit from an in-house separation, both you and your spouse will need to act in good faith as you call this truce. Your first step is to establish some ground rules that the two of you can agree on. Establish a time frame—1 to 4 weeks—at which time the two of you will renegotiate. Make an attempt to understand the reasons your spouse wants a separation. If you do not want a separation, be clear about your concerns that things may get worse. These should all be written down which will help you stay focused. Get marriage counseling if you feel you can’t manage the details of a separation on your own. offers lists of therapists in your area.

Separation is a serious thing not to be entered into lightly. It will not fix everything on its own. It is a tool to be used to bring healing to the relationship.

© Copyright 2010 by Pamela Lipe, MS, therapist in Saint Paul, MN. All Rights Reserved.

Permission to publish granted to The preceding article was solely written by the author name above. The view and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Prince

    June 23rd, 2010 at 4:17 PM

    well,according to me,this may or may not be a great all comes down to the problem that the couple have and also depends on their nature and couple may take this as a nice way to get away from each other,another may well use this as a way to feel the real need for each other and get back it should be done only if recommended by a marriage-counselor,in my opinion.

  • Jemma Rowans

    June 24th, 2010 at 3:39 AM

    It is a good idea according to me, and may well be the saving grace in a marriage that is on the rocks. It would serve well for couples who want to separate due to their problems but are holding back because of the children. This will definitely make them feel about how incomplete about each other.

  • Sally

    June 24th, 2010 at 4:32 AM

    Think about how strange this would be for your kids to be doing this kind of in home trial separation. In some ways I really think that it would be easier to just go all out and have one parent move out, that might be easier to explain to the children. Also some time apart typically does most couples a little bit of good anyway.

  • Pam Lipe

    June 24th, 2010 at 10:56 AM

    Separation in marriage is always difficult. It is best if a couple talk to the children together. Ideally, they can explain that the separation is temporary and that both mom and dad are NOT separating from any of the children. Then give all the children a little extra time and reassurance.

  • Kelley

    May 13th, 2015 at 2:44 PM

    cool blog

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