Sometimes when the marriage gets rocky, couples agree to a separate for a while. However, the question becomes, does this help marriages or cause more problems? Research shows that in the vast majority of cases, separations do not help couples reconcile but instead, they end in divorce. So make sure to educate yourself first, before jumping into a separation.
Reasons Couples Separate Instead of Divorce
Sometimes couples decide to separate as a trial. Just like couples who get married often go through stages of commitment; dating, engagement, and then marriage, a separation can seem like a step in the opposite direction. Couples don’t want to jump into divorce yet don’t want to be married so separation seems like a reasonable intermediary step.
For some couples, especially those with children, separation may seem like a logical answer. Couples may want to give their children time to adjust to the changes. They may want to test the waters to see how it goes.
There are financial benefits for some people that may lead them to prefer separation over divorce. Health insurance, shared accounts, and shared loans won’t have to be changed as long as you are still legally married. Stay-at-home parents may especially be afraid to divorce as they may fear the lack of income if they are divorced.
What Research Says about Separation
A research study, conducted at Ohio State University, reports that 79% of couples who separate eventually divorce. Researchers found that the average separation lasts a year or less. For couples who eventually reconciled, most did so within the first two years. Beyond two years, there is little chance that a couple will reconcile. Many couples who end up divorcing do so after three or four years of separation.
A few separations last more than 10 years. Those relationships tend to result in an ongoing separation where complicating factors prevent the couple from divorcing. These couples may just make an agreement to remain separated throughout their lives.
The Problems with Separation
One of the problems with separation is that couples grow apart rather than use the time to resolve their differences. If you live in separate residences, are not raising the kids together, and are not spending time communicating, it’s unlikely that your marriage issues will resolve.
Sometimes couples seem to feel obligated to separate prior to divorcing. They may have no desire to reconcile but feel obligated to separate as a step-down to divorce. In fact, some law makers are considering instituting a mandatory separation period before divorce will be granted.
Another problem with separation is that people often use it as a punishment or a “wake up call.” However, the statistics show that most people won’t ever reconcile after this period.
People also use this time to try and convince their spouse to change. They focus on what their partner needs to work on, learn, or do differently in order for the marriage to work out. Instead, of focusing on what each of them can work on, they only point fingers at their spouse.
A separation can be confusing for children. Children of divorced parents often wish their parents would reconcile. So when parents are separated, it adds a layer of confusion about whether parents are going to get back together or not. This uncertainty can lead to a lot of anxiety.
If you do decide to separate, try and establish a plan. Rather than having one person move out in the middle of the night after an argument, discuss your plans in regards to separating. For example, how often will you talk? Will you plan to share finances? What sort of custody arrangements will occur with the kids?
Alternatives to Separation
Before separating, enter into counseling. A marriage counselor can assist you in finding ways to improve your marriage. A counselor may help you find alternatives to separation.
If you do decide to separate, with the hope of reconciling, a counselor can help you find ways to address your issues and improve your relationship while you are apart. A counselor may suggest exercises or activities to help ensure you can grow together while resolving the problems that led to your separation.
Even if you do decide to divorce, a marriage counselor can help you deal with this as well. Although it may seem counter-intuitive to attend marriage counseling if you are divorcing, a marriage counselor can help you stay civil while breaking up. Sometimes individual counseling is recommended as well to help you deal with the end of the relationship and the associated grief.