Why A Temporary Separation May Not Work To Save Your Marriage

If your marriage is struggling, you may be contemplating a temporary separation. While many think that living apart from your partner for a limited amount of time will inevitably lead to divorce, that's just not the case. At the same time, if you're extra hopeful about this strengthening your marriage, you may want to consider the following information. According to Divorce Statistics, while 13% of marriages reconcile the relationship after being separated, 87% do not. This is due to the many reasons why time apart from your partner may not be beneficial. 

With that being said, there are some scenarios where separation is the best option. If you're experiencing verbal or physical abuse or don't feel safe with your spouse but aren't ready for a divorce, this may be your only choice. The following information is meant for those who may be contemplating separation for another reason, such as a lack of commitment, infidelity, conflict, getting married too young, or financial issues, some of the top reasons for divorce (via a 2013 study published by Couple & Family Psychology). 

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support on their website.

Too much distance

Sometimes with the physical distance of a temporary separation comes emotional distance as well. Some may need this separation to reevaluate what they truly want and perhaps remember why they married their partner, but others may find that they no longer feel close to their spouse and don't know how to bridge the gap. Another issue that can arise is an incorrect understanding of the purpose of the distance, which is to hopefully resolve some of the issues in the marriage and be able to live together again. If one party believes that the separation means that they don't have to put in as much effort or that they can have a break from their spouse, more problems will arise later on. 

Further, while distance may make the heart grow fonder, it could also ruin the relationship. As the National Communication Association points out, while some relationships may improve temporarily with separation, distance can also make it more difficult for two people to ever live together again. This is because less interaction can make the relationship feel more thrilling, and once the separation is over, they may believe that their marriage is boring or lacking in some way.

Less opportunity for intimacy

When one partner moves out of the home, it becomes much harder for the couple to connect. Of course, because the spouses are no longer sleeping in the same bed, there will be less opportunity for physical intimacy. But intimacy doesn't only mean sex. According to Better Health, it also encompasses both emotional and mental closeness. During a temporary separation, unless the couple is intentional about making time to connect, all of these aspects of the relationship could greatly suffer. Additionally, because couples will see their spouse less during a separation, some may feel like they're just dating instead of being married to their partner. And while this could benefit some couples, it may cause others to take steps back in their relationship. 

Therefore, those who want the temporary separation to lead to reconciliation need to be clear about how they will create moments of intimacy, whether that be emotionally, mentally, or physically. They'll need to set aside time for these things and truly make an effort to connect — but because many couples don't do this, their marriage suffers.

Emphasis on self improvement, not relational work

During a temporary separation, individuals may begin to focus only on improving themselves and not the relationship. While self-improvement is crucial to making a marriage last, individual growth may also hinder the relationship. For instance, maybe one person starts reading more books, getting individual therapy, or exercising more, and while these things are great, if the spouse doesn't make any efforts to invite their partner into these areas of their life, they may create more distance. Examples of inviting the partner into these spaces include asking them to join them at the gym or opening up about what they're learning in therapy. 

The distance created by solely emphasizing self-improvement and neglecting the relationship can grow over time, which may be difficult to reconcile. In fact, one person in the relationship may make so many improvements to their personal life during the separation and could cause the other to assume that their life is actually better off without their spouse, which can lead to divorce

Difficulty in communication

When two people are apart for most of the day, it can be more difficult to communicate. Obviously, those who live together have the most opportunity for conversations, closeness, and connection — but when you remove the aspect of living together, these times are most likely going to be less frequent. Additionally, every time spouses talk during a temporary separation, it will most likely be very serious and emotionally charged since they'll be trying to work through their problems and improve the relationship. While this is necessary for the marriage to grow, it may also place pressure on both parties and may cause them to grow apart. 

In other words, both members need to be committed to communicating with one another through texts, phone calls, and in-person meet-ups. The experts at Marriage.com point out that establishing a base of transparency, being consistent and trustworthy, and setting clear goals for the future are all crucial for the relationship to improve. However, one member could easily neglect communication and ignore their spouse, which will cause the marriage to become stagnant. 

Less conflict resolution

Oftentimes, we see arguments as a bad thing, and without good communication skills or ways to resolve the conflicts, they can be. However, they're also necessary to grow as a couple and learn how to compromise. When married people are apart, the issues that caused them to temporarily separate may not come up, which could lead to issues never being resolved. Then, if the couple decides to move back in together in the future, these conflicts may still cause the same disruption they did before the separation.

This is why couples therapy, not just individual therapy, is so important during a separation, and both spouses need to be willing to open up during the sessions. According to The Gottman Institute, therapy is essential for couples to learn their needs in the relationship and why they're not being met, as well as how to create a plan of action for the future. However, oftentimes one spouse doesn't want to go to therapy, either out of shame for what they've done or because of the hurt caused by their partner. Yet, another reason why a temporary separation sometimes doesn't work — both parties must be fully committed to trying to make the relationship last in order for the separation to be beneficial.

Relational anxiety and lack of trust

When apart, partners may experience more anxiety about what their spouse is doing, which could lead to an overall lack of trust. This is especially true for relationships that have experienced cheating or infidelity in the past — one of the most common reasons for divorce, behind a lack of commitment (via the 2013 study published by Couple & Family Psychology). Because spouses won't see their partner every morning and night like they used to, one may worry about what the other is doing and if they're staying actually staying committed. 

This is why communication, honesty, and vulnerability are so important during a temporary separation. If spouses are not truthful with one another, it's easy for one partner to start questioning the relationship. Of course, it's also important for both parties to understand that a temporary separation is not a divorce, and being physically or emotionally open with someone else is a breach of trust.