A trial separation is not something to be taken lightly. However, you may have reached a stage in your marriage where you don’t feel like there is an alternative, and you need to bring it up with your partner. While it may not be a huge surprise to your partner, it could still be an emotional shock that should be given proper weight. A couple may choose to undergo a trial separation before initiating divorce proceedings, or the process can lead to reconciliation. In either case, a separation allows spouses time away from each other to consider their relationship, values, and long-term goals.
Talking With Your Spouse
• Prepare your spouse: You don’t want to blindside the person out of nowhere. Alerting your spouse that you want to have a discussion can help him or her mentally prepare for what’s ahead, even if they’re not aware of exactly what you’re going to say. Also, pick a good time to sit down in person. This conversation isn’t one you want to have over email or the phone. This conversation needs to happen in person, when your spouse has the time and emotional space to deal with it. You don’t want to be distracted by other things. It might be good ideas to have someone babysit for you if you have kids. While you don’t want to put it off, timing is everything. For instance, if your spouse’s parent died last week, you may want to wait a little while.
• Express your hopes and fears: You may want to circle around the topic, but it’s best to just get it over with, though you can be gentle about it. In addition, you need to take responsibility for why you want this separation. That is, you need to tell your partner why you feel the need to separate. Lead with what you want the discussion to be about. You could say, “I don’t think we’ve been in the same place lately, and I feel us growing apart. I’d like to discuss the possibility of a trial separation.” Don’t be afraid to talk about what you’re feeling. “I am afraid that if we go on like this we will fight and argue our way to divorce, and I hope that spending some time apart will help us see what our options are without ruining each other in the process.”
• Establish what you want from the separation: Now that you’ve broached the topic, you need to let your spouse know what you expect to happen from the separation. Though it can hurt, being in the same page is important because it helps to guide your expectations through the separation. For instance, if you think the separation is a stepping stone to a divorce, you could say, “Right now, I’m really just trying to figure out what I want. However, if things don’t change between us, I could see this leading to a more permanent separation.” On the other hand, if you want the separation as a time to think with the hopes of reconciliation, you might say, “I know asking for a separation is hurtful to you. However, I don’t think things have been right between us for a while, and I think we need some time apart to figure out how to move forward in our relationship. I really do want to work it out, though, and hopefully get back together after our time apart.”
• Give your spouse a chance to react: This conversation may come as a hard blow, even if your spouse realizes you’ve been having problems as a couple. Let your spouse have a chance to react, as his or her first reaction is probably going to be emotional. Give your spouse a chance to talk through it before you start trying to evaluate whether it’s a good option for your both. Once your spouse has gotten over the initial shock, start asking questions to determine what your spouse is feeling and thinking, such as, “So what do you think? Do you think it’s a good idea?” It may be that your spouse is on the same page, thinking time apart would do you good, but your partner may not want that all.
• Discuss goals: That is, you both have things you’ll need from each other to make your marriage work. If you’ve done your homework, you already have some ideas of what you need from your partner, but your partner will also have some for you. Remember, these goals need to be concrete and specific. For instance, “Be less distant” is not concrete enough. “Check in with me at least 2 times a day” is more specific. Be open to hearing what your partner needs, as well. Each of you should have 3 to 4 goals for the other person. Agree that both of you will work on the goals without resorting to looking over the other person’s shoulder. That is, you can’t blame not achieving your goals on the other person not achieving theirs.
• Decide on ground rules: Once you’ve had the conversation about the separation, you need to have another about the rules of the separation. You need to decide whether you’re going to live apart, how the bills are going to get paid, and who’s going to do what with the kids. You should also discuss whether dating is allowed and how far you can go on a date. For instance, if you expect to get back together, you may decide to rule out dating or sex. These rules will need to be very specific. For instance, if you’re talking about who gets to spend what time with the kids, you need to lay out what days and nights of the week the kids will spend with each party. Remember that the ground rules you set for a separation may affect what happens if you get a divorce, such as custody arrangements. For instance, if your kids are mostly living with one parent or the other, that parent may be granted primary custody. Talk to a lawyer to make sure that your ground rules are fair to both of you and your kids.
• Don’t let it drag on: Together, set a time limit for your separation. It could be 3 months, half a year, or a full year. After you’ve set a limit on how long your separation will be, you can decide to let it go for longer. However, you don’t want to keep dragging it out. If you keep asking for more time over and over, it may be that it’s just time to end the marriage. If neither of you are willing to fight for the relationship anymore, it may not be worth it.
Working on the Separation
• Consider a therapist: If you’re having enough trouble to want a separation, a third party mediator, such as a therapist can help. A therapist will help you to discuss your problems without getting so heated and hopefully work on finding common ground. A therapist will expect both of you to be emotionally present, working hard to put your relationship first. Ask around for recommendations for a couple’s therapist from friends you trust. More than likely, some of your friends have had problems, too, and may have seen someone who’s good for you and your spouse, too. A therapist can be objective about your relationship, whereas it’s harder for the two of you to be objective about something that you are both so emotionally invested in. Therefore, suggest to your partner that you consider going to a therapist. Another option for a mediator is a pastor.
• Get a lawyer: A lawyer is also important when you’re separating. Once again, it’s good to ask your friends who’ve been through a divorce if they have any recommendations for lawyers. A lawyer will go over the legal ramifications of your separation so you know what to expect if you do get a divorce. In addition, your lawyer can act as a mediator for you if you need one. You can also look up reviews of lawyers online to find one that most people have been happy with. Meet with the lawyer before deciding to engage him or her as your personal lawyer. Ask the lawyer if they’re willing to act as a mediator if you need it and how often they’ve worked with people on a trial separation. Plus, you want to make sure you connect with your lawyer and trust him or her as a person. As noted in the step about laying out ground rules, it’s important to remember that what you do in your separation can affect your divorce. What you decide about who takes care of the kids now, for instance, can be used to decide who gets custody of your kids.
• Continue to talk: If you have a trial separation without spending any time talking, you won’t be able to work through your problems. If you really want to get back together, you’re going to need to spend time talking through your problems, preferably with a third party. For instance, you could try talking on the phone twice a week. Consider addressing specific issues each time you talk. Talking on the phone cuts out some of the emotional charge in the situation. If you’re really emotional, you may want to start with emails and the move up to phone calls. If you’ve engaged a therapist or you’re visiting with a pastor, that can be one way you can continue to connect with each other.
• Keep it to yourself: Of course, telling your close friends and family that you’ve separated is appropriate. However, now isn’t the time to post a huge announcement on social media. You are trying to decide if things will work out, and having the whole world (or at least all your friends, including the person you never liked from high school) weigh in isn’t going to help. What happens going forward should be between you and your spouse, and possibly a good therapist.
Sorting Out Yourself First
• Sort out your feelings: You’re obviously feeling like something is wrong with the relationship. However, you need to be able to put your finger on why, not just put it in general terms. That needs you need to spend some time thinking about what you think has gone wrong with the relationship. Some areas you can think about are whether you still have fun together and laugh and whether you still have similar goals. Sex is also an area that can cause problems. Another area you can look at is the way you communicate. Has communication broken down in your marriage? Can you identify where it started breaking it down? Also, consider the ways you care for each other. Happy couples enjoy doing things for each other. If you find you are doing all the work in the relationship, both the emotional work and the physical work of living together, that could a large part of the problem–your spouse isn’t holding up her or his end of the marriage.
• Be able to lay it out in concrete terms: That is, you have figured out why you’re unhappy. To be fair to your spouse, you need to be able to lay out in exact terms what’s not working for you. The best way to do that, once you figure out what’s wrong, is to give concrete goals and ask for the same in return. For instance, maybe you’re unhappy because you don’t feel like your spouse pays attention to you anymore. A concrete goal would be to spend alone time together at least twice a week. Come up with 3 to 4 concrete goals that you can discuss with your spouse.
• Decide what you want from the separation: That is, are you almost certain you will get a divorce after the separation? That’s something you need to be up front about. However, if you really want a separation to help you decide if you still want to be in the relationship, it’s okay to bring that to the table, too.
• Have a time frame in mind. In many cases, couples who have a trial separation set a certain time frame. When that time frame is up, the couple either decides to get back together or to divorce. One therapist recommends 3 months as a good time frame, but you should have a time frame in mind when you talk to your spouse, along with a good justification for that amount of time. For instance, you might feel like half a year is better to figure out your feelings. Alternatively, you may want to separate for 3 months to give your spouse a chance to go through rehab. If they don’t, you may choose to divorce at the end of that period. Of course, you can reevaluate after the time period. If you’re both still unsure, you can agree to another length of time.
Separation Lawyer Free Consultation
When you need legal help with a family law matter, whether that is a separation or divorce, child custody or child support, a prenuptial agreement or post nuptial agreement, please call Ascent Law LLC (801) 676-5506 for your Free Consultation. We want to help you.
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