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How to make a trial separation work and not always end in divorce

A trial separation is a lot different that divorce, though the idea of it can still be very difficult and worrisome for the spouse not wanting to separate. Living apart while maintaining your marital status can give you and your partner some space to evaluate your problems objectively. On top of that, it will allow you to understand the financial and emotional implications that a divorce will bring, but giving you the option to reverse your decision if it doesn’t work out.

Though many trial separations do lead to divorce, and it can be very stressful for both parties, if you take steps to define and structure your separation, it may be exactly what your relationship needs. To help avoid too much emotional turmoil and ease the anxiety of a non-initiating spouse, here is some advice on planning a trial separation.


Do

Do seek legal and financial advice

Understanding the legal and financial ramifications of a trial separation will help you to avoid costly mistakes both emotionally and financially. Consulting legal and financial professionals will help you set ground rules, alert you to legal concerns, and steer you away from costly mistakes. Gaining knowledge allows you to approach your separation with a sense of confidence and direction.

Do negotiate with your spouse on the logistics of the separation

A trial separation offers a unique set of logistical challenges and decisions. The more you and spouse can agree on beforehand the smoother your separation will be.
A few things to consider:

  • Who is moving out of the marital home?
  • How and when will the moving-out spouse will remove their things, and what will they take?
  • How and when will the moving-out spouse access the home?
  • How will the new residence be financed and furnished?

Do design and agree to a temporary parenting plan

Children often have a difficult time understanding separation. Offering a sense of security, safety and consistency will ease the transition. Consider:

  • When and where will the children see each parent?
  • Where is home base?
  • What happens if there is a scheduling conflict? How will child care costs be handled?
  • Holidays, vacations, and other occasions when you may want to travel with your children.

Do define a time table

Anxieties and frustration levels can be reduced when key decision-making expectations are defined ahead of time. When is the move happening, how long before you assess the productivity of the separation, three, six, nine, 12 months? Setting a time frame provides the non-initiating spouse a sense of peace that this won’t be a never-ending situation. Predetermined assessment dates will also help to hold the initiating spouse accountable.

Do keep communications productive

A trial separation will provide insight as to where you as a couple struggle with communication. People on a trial separation need to do their best to keep all communication productive and directed towards problem solving. Keeping emotions out of communication isn’t easy, it but keeping your side of the street clean always pays off in the end.


Don't

Do not enter a trial separation impulsively

Choosing to make potentially life-altering decisions on impulse can increase chaos, exaggerate emotional turmoil, and make way for costly mistakes. Many underestimate all that a trial separation entails. Don’t be part of that statistic.

Without a logistical plan, chaos will enter the picture almost immediately. Emotions are running high, stress levels are mounting, and yet you and your spouse need to strategize the when, where, who and how of this separation. Once again, impulsive actions without a foundation promote confusion and commotion. Children will have an extremely hard time adjusting when consistency and routine are nonexistent.

Do not change the ground rules

Obviously, logistics and finances may require some modification as things play out, but in general, don’t change the rules after you and your spouse start living apart. Emotions will be high and trust may be low. The success of your separation depends on your effort, your consistency, and how well you stick to your plans.

Do not worry about who’s at fault

Couples spend wasted moments trying to assign blame for the collapse of the marriage – a no-win battle that is fought to exhaustion. You’ll never agree on prickly points, so don’t even try. Invest your energy on what you can/need to do to move forward.

Do not obsess over what people think

You can go insane worrying that your spouse spoke poorly about you to a friend, neighbor, teacher or community member. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t – somehow, we assume only negative things are being said about us. In any case, it doesn’t matter. Oddly, this is an opportunity to see who your real friends are. People who aren’t a true friend are easy to spot. You don’t need 12, 20, or 50 people in your corner. You just need one or two strong allies. If you are doing your best to stay on the high road, your reputation will speak for itself.

Do not be surprised that you have become stronger

After a trial separation, people often say, “I grew in ways I could not have known were possible, which adds to my overall confidence level as a human being.” A trial separation can save your marriage. The time apart will give you (even if you are the non-initiator) a chance to understand where your marriage was struggling, to live on your own, and to see that you would be okay. During this time you can learn to set boundaries and make your expectations clear.


Summary
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A trial separation may be the next step; a well-planned trial separation can be enormously helpful. When approached with considerable thought and planning they do save some marriages. Just as important, they ease the stress of divorce if that’s how events end up playing out.


More expert advice about Surviving Divorce

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Debra BlockCertified Divorce Coach

Deb Block uses the insight and knowledge she has gained from her own divorce and from her years of divorce coaching to provide comfort, guidance, and a sounding board for women and men going through divorce. Deb grew up in Pennsylvania and mo...

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