• Article by: Cheryl Sol

Can Separation Save a Marriage?

Marital problems can sometimes lead to a couple wondering whether to stay together or not. Divorce may seem like a huge step, but the marriage has become intolerable.

It seems that every day spent together creates more damage, but ending it is too final. There is still hope that the dream of being together can be revived but you have no idea of how to or even if you have the will to try.

This is often when the idea of separation becomes seen as a compromise option; that maybe living apart could lead to a less emotive way of managing the situation. But at the same time, this physical distance can also create additional complicating factors, for example, insecurity about what the other partner is doing, resentment about being the person who has had to leave the home etc.

Separation can be useful, but only under certain circumstances i.e. if it is properly managed and has a clear goal in sight. To separate simply in the hope that you might miss each other and therefore appreciate each other again, will not necessarily deal with the issues or incompatibilities that led to difficulties in the first place. Problems will soon arise again.

A separation aimed at punishing the other party never works because game playing in relationships is destructive. New constructive ways of working together on difficulties need to be found.


To increase the chance of a separation working certain guidelines are recommended below. If conflict is too high, you should work with a third party to negotiate the terms of the separation.

  • The separation must have an agreed upon time limit. Open ended separations create insecurity and anxiety. Along the way you can renegotiate the time frame if necessary.

  • The separation needs to have clear goals. Why are you doing this and what is it that you hope to get out of it in the end?

  • How are you going to go about meeting these goals?

You both need to be very clear about what the problems are and what is needed to work through them.

Some questions to ask are:-

  • Can we do this alone or do we need counselling? (Have you have tried all you can and become stuck).

  • When and how we going to meet during this time to work on our relationship?

  • What will the arrangements be regarding our children?

  • What are the rules regarding dating/relationships? The general guideline is that if this is a time to work on the marriage then introducing new complications is not useful. When feeling angry or anxious during a separation one is vulnerable to connecting with someone new who can make you feel better. It needs to be clear if this is still a marriage with boundaries of fidelity.

  • Are we prepared to make sacrifices and go through discomfort to try and make this marriage work?

  • Where do we each of us live? Agree about whose home is whose. The partner who no longer lives at the family home has to respect the boundary of not dropping in at any time as if they still lived there. Likewise, the partner who stays at the home should not arrive at the doorstep of their partner’s new home without consent.

  • How will the finances work regarding existing financial commitments plus new ones incurred by the separation?

No major decisions should be made regarding any big investments or expenses during this time. This may not always be avoidable but should be if possible.

At any time during this period of separation if something is not working, the problem aspects of the agreement can be reviewed to find what can be “tweaked”.

A separation that has the main aim “to see what happens” is likely to fail. Like a business, you need to be clear what you are aiming to achieve and not hope it will all somehow fall into place.

Ultimately all of this has to be negotiated and mutually agreed on and then translated into a simple agreement that is not a legal contract but a statement of intent.

If it becomes impossible to agree on the basic conditions of the separation, it is likely that the marriage/partnership itself does not have a good long-term prognosis.

Where the agreement is workable and adhered to and both people committed, there is the possibility of learning to work through old patterns and resentments to find a productive way forward.workable and adhered to and both people committed, there is the possibility of learning to work through old patterns and resentments to find a productive way forward.