Is a Marital Separation the Right Choice?
Home/  Blog/ Is a Marital Separation the Right Choice?

Is a Marital Separation the Right Choice?




Understand what a marital separation entails, when it is needed, and how it can be structured effectively.



Make an informed decision about your relationship, especially before beginning a separation.





What are the Do’s and Don’ts of a Marital Separation?


Do take the time to focus on your well-being and personal values. Virginia Satir, founder of the Satir Experiential Model of family therapy, discussed the idea of “living congruently,” this is when how you act and what you say matches with what you internally feel. 


When we live incongruently we lose track of our true self according to authors in the book Marriage and Family Therapy. Often during marital conflict, individuals operate on autopilot as they suppress emotions that come with their distress. 


If you take time to separate, prioritize your own needs in order to increase clarity on what is important to you. This includes whether or not you want to save your marriage.


Do have a plan. Many people experience a drop in their income during a separation states research in the Journal of Divorce and Remarriage. and have children with the partner they are separating from. It is important to consider things like bills, bank accounts, childcare, pets, living arrangements, and what communication will look like.


Consider also seeking legal advice, especially if you want a legal agreement in place during this separation period.


Do seek support outside of your relationship. This could be professional, familial, or friendship. A marital separation is often seen as more distressing and ambiguous than a divorce as a separation usually occurs first. Grief may even be something you should attend to during this time.


It is important to find trustworthy relationships to depend on for different needs during a separation.


Do prioritize your physical and mental health. Marital dissolution is one of the most significant life stresses someone may encounter and isolation is the most disruptive period of the process. 


Don’t triangulate others into the marital problems. It is very tempting to involve other people in conflict to feel like we have people on our side. However, this can cause problems later on if your goal is to reunite. 


For example, if you tell your sister everything negative about the marriage and your sister sees all of the negative emotions you are experiencing, this could impact their perspective on your spouse long after the separation. 


It is important for you to have support, but be aware of how involvement of others could be harmful to the relationship.


Don’t emotionally rely on your children. When emotions are challenging and parents do not seek adult support, parents will turn to their children to fill their emotional needs and share distress, this is known as boundary dissolution according to the Journal of Emotional Abuse.




Is separation good for marriage?


A marriage separation can bring a lot of challenges to a marriage. Dr. Pauline Boss, a researcher and mental health practitioner, who is widely recognized for her theory known as ambiguous loss, highlights how there can be ambiguous boundaries in divorcing couples. 


Ambiguous boundaries also applies to separated couples. Researchers in the journal Family Process states that a lack of clarity in roles negatively influences the family system’s ability to restructure which results in family stress and conflict. 


In a separation, parents need to consider specific boundaries between spousal and parental roles to meet the needs of their children as the family adjusts to the new physical boundaries states research in the Journal of Marriage and Family.




What are the “rules” of a marital separation?


Consider your personal purpose or goals of separating. Why are you separating? Is this a trial separation that gives you time to reflect on the future of your marriage, or just time apart before you find time to work on the marriage? How long do you plan to stay separated? 


Having clarity around the purpose of the separation will help provide “rules” and give an idea of the duration of the separation. 


Also, there may be “rules” to discuss with your partner to prevent problems during the separation such as decisions for children, how finances are managed, and communication with extended family.


Second, there are laws that apply during a legal separation that one may want to consider. When you separate legally, the law can help protect you against your partner doing things without your knowledge that you would be responsible for such as purchasing a property or opening a credit card.


 It may be important to think through what things could tie you to your partner legally and if you have concerns about their behaviors during the separation.


Separation Couple


Should I ignore my spouse during a separation?


If you have children, it is important to communicate for their well-being. Children are impacted by a marital separation, and it is important for children to have support from both parents and see cooperation. 


There are often sensitive topics for separating couples, but it is important to consider how communication now will impact children in the future.


If you do not have children, consider what you both would like to do and why. Is ignoring one another going to be helpful or harmful to the future of the relationship whether it is a decision to stay married or separate? 


Are you both agreeing not to communicate during this time? If one partner wants to communicate, while the other chooses to ignore, what is the purpose behind the ignoring?





Should you talk during a separation?


Research published in the Journal of Divorce & Remarriage states that men and women identify communication problems as the primary cause for marital separations. Therefore, many couples consider not communicating during this time because of the problematic communication and difficult emotions. 


It is important to consider the purpose of talking and if it is helpful or harmful to the future of the relationship. Some partners may need to limit their contact and consider their children if the communication is problematic, unhealthy, or abusive.




Is sleeping with someone during a separation adultery?


Adultery is defined differently amongst adults and in relationships, although it is typically seen as betrayal to a partner. If sleeping with someone else during your marriage would have been an act of disloyalty and you are hoping to stay in the relationship, you may want to consider how it could impact your spouse.


 If you are not interested in staying with your spouse, it may be important to still consider how this could impact the future of the relationship. Also consider if you have children, how you work together as co-parents.





How long should married couples stay separated?


This really depends on the purpose of the separation and what you hope to accomplish by being separated. If you have clarity about the future of your relationship early on during the separation, your relationship may move out of the “separation” status. 


However, if you don’t have clarity in the future of your relationship, the separation process may be longer. As a clinician practicing couple and family therapy, I think it is important to seek counseling around the time of separation, whether that is couples’ therapy or individual therapy. 


A therapy service called discernment counseling, founded by Dr. William Doherty and Dr. Steven Harris, was created to help couples find clarity in the future of their marriage. The goal of discernment counseling is clarity and confidence regarding the next steps for the relationship, based on a deeper understanding of each partner’s contributions according to the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy


This short intervention may be important to consider to gain an understanding on the direction of your relationship.


If you believe your marriage is in a crisis state, consider working with an ALL IN Therapist. 





What percentage of separated couples get back together?


According to Bloom et al., (2013), getting back together rarely occurs. From their studies, at about an 8-month separation period, individuals become accepting of their growing separation as a reality. 


While this may be true, it is important to consider the mindsets of both people. If both partners see the separation as a break but intend to get back together, there is a greater chance for them to get back together.





What should you not do during a separation?


If it is important to you to get back together with your partner or stay on “good terms,” you should consider what things were off limits during your marriage and continue those during your separation. 


For example, if in your marriage, you set a boundary that both partners would not communicate with ex-partners, this is something you should consider holding to during your separation.  If there were things that were off-limits during your marriage and you do them during the separation, this may hurt your partner.





Can I stay separated forever?


Technically, yes, However, your partner could seek a divorce which would create the legal separation. If you decide to stay separated indefinitely, it is important to consider what things tie you to your partner legally and if having these connections could create problems. 


A partner does not need permission from the other to get a divorce, however, more cooperation between both partners will aid in the divorce transition and decision-making.


For more information, please consider reading about Couples Therapy, Discernment Counseling, or make an appointment with a Couples Counselor.






Bloom, B. L., Hodges, W. F., Caldwell, R. A., (2013). Marital separation: The first eight months.  

In E. J. Callahan, Life-Span Developmental Psychology: Nonnormative Life Events. Saint Louis: Elsevier Science.


Boss, P. G., Greenberg, J. R. (1984). Family boundary ambiguity: A new variable in family stress theory. Family Process, 23, 535-546. http://doi.org10.1111/j.1545-5300.1984.00535.x


Doherty, W. J., Harris, S. M., & Wilde, J. L. (2015). Discernment counseling for “mixed-agenda” couples. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 42(2), 246-255.


Kincaid S. B. & Caldwell, R. A. (2008). Marital separation: Causes, coping, and consequences. 


Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 3-4, 109-128.


Madden-Derdich, D. A., Leonard, S. A., & Christopher, F. S. (1999). Boundary ambiguity and

coparental conflict after divorce: An empirical test of a family systems model of the

divorce process. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 61, 588-598. doi:10.2307/353562


Martinez, J., Hollingsworth, B., Stanley, C., Shepard, R., & Lee, L. (2011). Satir human 

validation process model. In L. Metcalf, Marriage and family therapy: A 

practice-oriented approach (pp.175-199). New York: Springer.


Peris, T. S., & Emery, R. E. (2005). Redefining the parent-child relationship following divorce: 

Examining the risk for boundary dissolution. Journal of Emotional Abuse, 5, 169-189. 





Disclaimer: ALL IN Therapy Clinic aims to improve people’s lives through providing effective mental health counseling by passionate professionals. We publish quality material for your own education. Our publications are researched, cited, reviewed, and edited by licensed mental health professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of a qualified healthcare provider.




Written and reviewed by

Dr Kyle Zrenchik, PhD, ACS, LMFT

Dr. Kyle Zrenchik is the Co-Founder of ALL IN, the Creator of the Couples Erotic Flow model for treating sexual issues in individuals and couples, Designer of the Deep Dive programs at ALL IN, and is one of the most well-respected couples counselors in the Twin Cities.

Need Help ?