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Separation & Divorce

If your marriage is getting to the point where it feels intolerable for you to be in it anymore, then you might start thinking about separating or getting a divorce. Sometimes it gets thrown around in fights as a threat, “Well, we should just get a divorce then.” Unfortunately, this threat is very real and quite scary.  With the divorce rate hovering around 50%, it is a real possibility for many couples and families.

Most marriages rush into getting a divorce much too quickly.  They do this because the pain and discomfort has become so immense and unbearable that divorce feels like the only viable option to extinguish the pain. For many couples, this pain and discomfort has been growing for many years and little has been done to acknowledge or help. They have been suffering in silence until it becomes unbearable. And then they want out. And they want out fast.


What is the difference between separation and divorce?

Divorce is much more permanent than separation. Divorce is the legal dissolution of a marriage. Separation is temporary and is ideally used as a tool to see if the marriage is viable.  Separation can look many different ways, depending on what the couple decides.  Ideally, separation is used with the intention of finding out if there is the possibility of both people coming back together to make the marriage work in a better way than before.

In this way, separation can serve much like hitting a reset button on the marriage.  Many couples that separate do come back together to successfully reengage with their marriage.  With divorce, on the other hand, everything that was shared is now redistributed, from the care and custody of children to the financial assets to possessions.


Why marriage separation?

Separation can be helpful for couples to take a pause in their marriage so that things can reset. One of the reasons separation is helpful is because it gives each partner some time where they can focus predominately on themselves and what they want.  Often when couples are constantly in a state of activation by ongoing marriage challenges, they do not have the space and time for reflection to figure out what the heck is going on.

Separation can gives you that space and time where you can calm your nervous system and just attend to your own needs. It won’t happen immediately though. It takes time to let your nervous system relax. But, if you are intentional and persistent in your commitment to finding some peace during your separation, you each will be rewarded with clarity about your underlying needs and how to move forward.


Help with separation

When couples separate, it is vital that everyone receive professional counseling support to help them each figure out whether or not the marriage is viable. Individual counseling can be helpful for each person to get clear about what they want, while marriage counseling can be helpful for working on the relationship itself to see if the core issues in the relationships can be repaired.

Often couples balk at the impending cost of a separation: the cost of renting and furnishing another living place, the cost of therapy, the cost of time and energy around navigating the logistics with children, if there are kids involved. However, the truth is that the cost of divorce is much much higher. In short, it is well worth the investment to do a 6 month trial separation along with counseling in order to bring much needed clarity to a confusing and overwhelming situation.


When to separation

You know you might consider separation when one or more of the following are true:

  • if you have tried many different things (including marriage counseling) to improve your relationship and nothing seems to help
  • if your relationship is highly volatile and escalates quickly in fights repeatedly
  • if one or both of you are feeling unsafe in the relationship
  • if you have children and they are feeling unsafe because of the escalating reactivity that happens in your fights


How to cope with separation

How to Cope with Separation

1.) Don’t keep it a secret

It is often easy to feel ashamed when your marriage is having problems and then not tell people. Resist this urge for secrecy. Make a concerted and conscious effort to let some of your close community know the challenges that your marriage is facing.  Be clear with them what is the best way you can be supported.


2.) Get the support you need

Get as much support as possible right away.  Enlisting the help of close friends and extended family that you trust can be vital for the success of your separation. Remember that your separation is about taking time to let you your nervous system deescalate, find some peace, gain some clarity and perspective, and ultimately decide whether or not your marriage is viable. The team of support you create can serve as an excellent sounding board for your reflections as they arise.  Use them.  You might notice that it is tempting to isolate yourself during this process.  See if you can resist that urge by seeking support by close friends and family.


3.) Take care of yourself

This is the time to amp up your self care regime, if you have one. If you don’t, create one. Regular exercise, journaling, meditation/yoga, eating more healthy are all examples of ways you can take care of yourself. This helps to create a clean and calm environment inside of you, which is important when everything on the outside of you is looking chaotic and messy.


4.) Start individual therapy

Find a therapist that you like and work well with. There should be good chemistry between the two of you.  Therapy should feel safe, but sometime uncomfortable. Click here to learn more about if individual counseling is for you. Individual therapy can help you get your bearings.  This means figuring out who you are as a separate entity from the marriage.


5.) Marriage counseling during separation

We highly recommend finding and working with a marriage counselor during your separation.  This is essential if your main goal of the separation is to get some perspective on your marriage and decide whether it makes sense for you both to come back together to work on it.

Remember that one of the main reasons to have a separation is gain clarity about the situation. Think of the forest/tree metaphor: It’s hard to see your way forward when you are in the middle of the forest. You need to climb out of the forest and see it from an above mountain top. Separation is getting this perspective.

But, now how do you know what you’re looking at?  Having a counselor who is trained to understand relationship dynamics is like having a guide up there on the mountain top showing you what the forest looks like and the different paths forward.

→ Couples Counseling can help you through separation & divorce Call 503-349-2281 to make an appointment Email us