August 17

3 Things You MUST Agree On For A Trial Separation to Work [2020]

298  comments


Tags

deciding to divorce, divorce advice, divorce blog, parenting issues


Your marriage isn’t going well.  … Okay, your marriage pretty much sucks. But the thought of getting a divorce is terrifying!  You’re not even sure you want a divorce. You just want your marriage to change. You want your life to change. Maybe a trial separation will help.

The problem is, everything you’ve heard about trial separations is bad. People say that a trial separation is the first step toward divorce. They say it’s the beginning of the end. Although, the way your marriage is going, you’re afraid that the end is already closer than you want.

Before you throw in the towel on your marriage or rush into a trial separation you may later regret, it helps to understand exactly what a trial separation is, and is not. It also helps to know how to structure your trial separation to give it the best chance possible of actually working.

What is a Trial Separation?

The term “trial separation” has been defined as everything from “an informal splitting of a couple.” to “an experiment in living apart.” What a trial separation feels like is the end of your world … or a chance to finally breathe, depending on where you sit.

But that’s what makes trial separations so tricky.

Most of the time, only one person really wants to separate. The other person wants to stay together and work things out. That’s why setting the ground rules in a trial separation is so important.

Setting out your separation rules (preferably BEFORE you separate) can make the difference between a trial separation that saves your marriage, and one that ends it.

Gavel in front of a stack of court orders (documents)

What’s the Difference Between a Trial Separation and a Legal Separation?

A trial separation and a legal separation are totally different things. Understanding the difference between a trial separation and a legal separation is critical. Why?

Because one can save your marriage. The other effectively ends it, in all but the legal sense.

A true trial separation isn’t just the thing that happens when one spouse decides to move out of the marital home. A real trial separation is a conscious arrangement both spouses agree to before anyone moves out.

In a real trial separation, both spouses talk to each other about their expectations and the ground rules for their separation before they separate.  In a perfect world, they lay out their expectations and their rules in writing.

Regardless of whether their rules of separation are written or not, though, a trial separation is still an informal arrangement. It doesn’t require lawyers. You don’t go to court to put it in place.

A legal separation is much different. A legal separation is an actual legal change in status. It is much like a divorce, except that your marriage technically doesn’t end.

In a legal separation, a couple will divide up their personal property. They will make formal agreements regarding when and how they will see and parent their children. They will also agree on child and spousal support.

True legal separations are much rarer than they used to be. In the past, they were used by spouses who needed to stay married in order for both of them to keep health insurance. Spouses who want to stay married for religious reasons may also choose a legal separation instead of a divorce.

To get a legal separation, you must go to court. You also should have a lawyer.

Napkin with the word "Bye!" on it next to coffee cup. Divorce after a trial separation.

Does a Trial Separation Always End in Divorce?

Trial separations get a bad rap.

Lots of trial separations, maybe even most of them, ultimately end in divorce. But that’s often because the person who says they want a trial separation really wants a divorce. S/he just doesn’t have the balls to tell his/her spouse that their marriage is over.

So, instead of being honest, the spouse who really wants a divorce suggests having a “trial separation” instead.

Not surprisingly, that kind of trial separation usually does end in divorce. That couple’s marriage was over long before they separated. They just weren’t ready to sign the death certificate.

Trial separations between couples who need some time apart to work on their marriage, however, can have a much different result. Those kinds of trial separations can actually strengthen a marriage – especially if the couple gets the right professional support to help them along.

If you’re thinking of a trial separation, and you honestly want to try to save your marriage if you can, then how you manage your trial separation matters … a lot!

Managing your trial separation properly starts with creating a structure that will give you the best chance for success. To do that, you need three things:

  • Goals;
  • Rules; and
  • Honesty.

The 3 Things You MUST Agree on If You Want Your Trial Separation to Work

white ball with red arrow saying "common" meeting a blue arrow saying "goal" around the ball.

#1. GOALS: You Must Agree on Your Goals (… or at least be honest about them!)

If you think you’re separating to work on your marriage, but your spouse thinks you’re separating so you can figure out how to live apart, you clearly don’t have the same goals!

Knowing your goals, and agreeing on WHY you’re separating and what you hope to achieve by separating before you actually separate is critically important. If you don’t do that, you risk dooming your trial separation from the start.

Even if your trial separation goes along swimmingly, once your spouse discovers that you “were less than honest” about what you wanted when you separated, all the good you did during your time apart is going to go down the drain.

So, how do you agree on your goals? You start by deciding what you want and talking about it with your spouse.  If you don’t know what you want, that’s fine. But if you’re leaning more toward divorce than reconciliation, tell your spouse that!

Will your honesty propel your marriage into divorce?  Maybe. But, if it does, your marriage was already on life support anyway!

#2. RULES: You Must Agree on the Rules of Your Separation

One of the main things that differentiate a trial separation from separations that are really unofficial divorces is rules. Real trial separations have rules. If possible, those rules should be in writing.

Here are twelve rules you need to establish if you want your trial separation to work.

Hand with chalk writing "Rules" on a chalkboard. What are the rules of a trial separation?

12 Rules for a Successful Trial Separation

1. Have a clear end date.

Trial separations are meant to be exactly that: trials.  They are meant to be a time during which a couple works on figuring out whether to stay together or split for good.  

In order to keep your trial separation from morphing into a de facto divorce, you’ve got to put a limit on it. 

Most trial separations run for about six months. If you’re apart too much longer than that, your chances of ever getting back together diminish enormously. 

2. Figure out your living arrangements.

Obviously, if you and your spouse decide to separate, someone is going to have to move out. You need to figure out who that will be.

But, you also need to decide the rules surrounding your original home. Can the person who left come and go as s/he pleases?  Since both you and your spouse still own (or lease) the home together, the spouse who left may still feel like that’s his/her home, too.  But, then what about the staying spouse’s privacy?

It helps to set out the house rules on the front end.

3. Decide how you will pay the bills while you’re apart.

When you’re living apart, you’ve still got to pay all of the marital bills, plus the bills for a second apartment.

How are you going to do that? Who is going to pay for what?

If you don’t set rules about paying the bills from the beginning, your trial separation can turn into a full-blown divorce really quickly!

4. Set your spending rules during the trial separation.

Paying the bills isn’t the only financial issue you have to think about when you separate.  

What if one of you wants to take an expensive trip to some exotic place while you’re living apart? S/he will still be using marital money to pay for the trip. Does that mean that the other spouse gets to take the same amount of money out for something for him/herself too?!

What if one spouse runs up a huge credit card bill?  It’s wise to set limits on your spending from the beginning before you create long term financial problems.

Dating scene of man and woman having coffee.

5. Talk about dating during the trial separation.

Dating other people during your trial separation can make your struggling marriage totally flat line. 

On the other hand, since you and your spouse will be living separately for a while, one of you may assume that dating others is part of your deal. That’s why you and your spouse have to talk about the rules surrounding dating others.

What’s more, you MUST be on the same page about this. Either you both agree that dating other people is okay or you don’t date. (Obviously, you also need to honor your agreement, too.)

6. What about sex? (… with each other and with others.) 

Dating other people is one thing, but sex takes dating to a whole new level.

Having sex with third parties affects your spouse’s health. It also dramatically increases the chances that one of you will form a more serious relationship outside of your marriage. Once that happens, putting your marriage back on track will be next to impossible.

If you think your spouse would never dream of doing that, ask! You may be surprised to discover that you and your spouse have very different definitions of “dating.” (And, if thinking about your spouse having sex with someone else makes you crazy, can your spouse still have sex with you? Hmmm.)

7. Set a schedule for when each of you will see the kids.

Once you and your spouse separate, you can’t both be with your kids all the time anymore. You’re going to need a schedule for when each of you sees the kids.

Look at your schedule for the next six months (or whatever time you have agreed on to be separated). Talk about when you will each see the kids on a weekly basis. Talk, too, about how you will handle any holidays or vacations that come up while you are separated.

(HINT: If you want to give your kids a feeling of security and stability during this period, make sure that you also let them know in advance what their schedule is going to be!)

8. Decide how you’re going to parent your kids during your separation.

Making a parenting schedule is only one small part of parenting your kids.

You and your spouse need to agree on what you are going to tell your kids about your separation. You need to talk about how you will make decisions about your kids, and how you will handle the issues that always come up with kids.

For example, who gets to decide what activities the kids participate in? What happens when the kids try to play you off your spouse or vice versa?

The more you can figure out in advance, the smoother this time will be for your kids.

9. Set rules for how and how often you will communicate with each other.

This may seem like a silly thing to waste your brainpower on. But, if you think you’re separating so you can get some space to think, you may not want your spouse texting you 347 times a day!

Or, you may be okay with texts, but you don’t want calls. Or maybe calling is okay, but “just dropping by” to visit isn’t okay.

Whatever you and your spouse decide is up to you. What’s important is that you decide something.

Frustrated couple going through marriage counseling with a therapist.

10. Get professional help while you’re separated.

You don’t need to go to couples counseling just because you and your spouse separated. But, if you want to dramatically increase the chances that your trial separation will end in reconciliation, you will. (Getting an individual therapist wouldn’t be a bad idea either!)

Also, you might want to talk about whether it’s okay to talk to a divorce lawyer or a financial planner during this time. You may think talking to a divorce professional at this point is wise. Your spouse may think it’s a sign that you have no faith in your marriage.

There is no right and wrong decision. Again, you just need to make one.

11. Decide what you will (and won’t!) tell your friends and family about your separation.

Unless you live thousands of miles from all of your friends and family, someone is going to notice that you and your spouse are no longer living together.

If you tell an inquiring friend that you and your spouse are “just taking a breather,” and your spouse tells that friend that s/he is now “almost single,” you’re going to have a problem! (And, not just with your friend!)

Take the time to write a short “elevator speech” that both you and your spouse can get on board with now. That will make answering questions later a whole lot easier.

12. Decide in advance what will happen if someone breaks the rules.

You can have all the rules you want, but what are you going to do if you or your spouse breaks one?

Does it matter which rule someone broke? Will you agree to talk about what happened before anyone does anything rash? Or, will breaking a rule be the last straw that ends your marriage?

Again, there are no right or wrong answers. What matters is talking about the questions, preferably before you’re in crisis.

Woman with Pinnochio nose. Be Honest

# 3. HONESTY: You Must Be Honest (With Your Spouse AND With Yourself!)

All the rules in the world won’t matter if you just B.S. your way through them. If you really want to see if you can save your marriage, then being honest is non-negotiable.

If you don’t care about saving your marriage, then do everyone a favor.

Just get divorced. Forget about a trial separation.

I mean, seriously. What’s the point?

Being honest with your spouse, of course, can be rough – especially if you haven’t had the courage to be honest for a long time.  Or ever.

Being honest takes work. It takes guts. It may even take professional help. (Hence, another reason to get a therapist!) But it is an absolute must if you want your trial separation to be anything other than a ginormous, painful waste of time.

Now, here’s the bad news. You can’t just be honest with your spouse. You have to be honest with yourself, too.

Yeah. I know.

Denial can be a beautiful thing.

You may have been telling yourself for years that everything was going to work out fine. Or, maybe you convinced yourself that you “should” want to save your marriage. But, deep down, you know you just want out. Or maybe not.

Whatever the truth is, now is the time to face it. In the end, that’s the only way you’ll ever create a marriage that’s worth saving.

________

Need help navigating a trial separation?  CLICK THE BUTTON BELOW to get your FREE Trial Separation Checklist now.

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  • Hi there my name is sherry. Im from ohio. Am thinking about a legal seperation. My husband is in prison to me i already consider our marriage a trial separation. What do you think.

    • Sherry,

      Well, if he’s in prison and you’re not, you are definitely separated! Whether you turn this into a legal separation or a divorce depends on you. When you’re deciding though, ask yourself what you want. These days there isn’t usually a benefit to getting legally separated vs. divorced. So whatever you do, make sure you understand what you’re doing and what you want. Otherwise, you may end up having to go through the legal process twice for no reason.

      • My husband & I separated 2 weeks ago. He is bipolar, refused help, & went on a spending spree which has drained our bank account. He is currently sleeping on his mothers couch. I am going thru bankruptcy. He tells me he loves me very much but has done nothing in the way of a marriage counselor. He continues to blame shift & guilt me. Tells me how much money he would’ve had had he not married me 15 months ago. He has mentioned divorce many times then he’ll say trial separation, then he guilts me & says I don’t want to be married to him. I need one month to get thru my bankruptcy if we were to divorce & before there will be any financial relief. He is calling himself homeless. He needs money & a place to stay (granted he spent ($1300 in 10 days on frivolous things) Do I let him move back in for 1 month as a trial? Our arguing is so toxic & I have 3 teenagers in my house that I don’t want them exposed to the tension. I feel I’d be breaking my boundaries I set. He has went on & on about his family & how I’ve kept him from them but now…where is his family? I do really feel he & I should figure this out rather than put his living arrangements on his family. What to do?

        • So, I have questions for you:

          • Do you want to let him come back because you feel guilty about his family, or because you really want him back?
          • If he comes back, will your arguing affect your 3 kids?
          • What’s more important, your kids’ mental health or his?
          • If your husband hasn’t gotten help for bipolar condition, what will change if he comes back?
          • WHY would you let him come back for a trial? A trial implies that you are “trying something out.” What do you hope to achieve by this trial? If the trial has no purpose, doing it makes no sense. If you truly want to save your marriage, then maybe a trial will be helpful. But if you want to save your marriage, my guess is you’re going to need help. That means marriage counseling. Is he willing to do that? If not, what will be different?

          The more honestly and completely you can answer those questions, the more clear you will get on what to do.

          Hope this helps.

          Karen

          • Hi Karen,
            I have been seperated from my spouse for 2 weeks now and have moved out of the house with our 3year old, I love this man dearly however his every weekend partying is out of control as well as his infidelity, we were to marry 27 Sept 2018 but he was having yet another affair this time with a colleague and I found out 2 weeks before our wedding and I cancelled our wedding. You would think that was an eye opener yet he still continue to disappear on weekends and then cannot take responsibility for his actions and then blames me and sometimes even gets violent, he also has had great success in work and has admitted that he has felt invincible since and needs to come back down to earth the thing is, he will mess up, apologize, change for 3 weeks to a month tops and then go back to this behavior. I do love him dearly hence putting up with this so I feel I need a proper break from him to not only emotionally recover from all the chaos he has brought upon us but I want him to seek help for his issues as he thinks he can change it but it just doesn’t work. He has issues deeper than our things too and he seeks such overboard affirmation and attention from me and others and no matter what I do he just cant be content not only with me but himself, he is someone that cant be happy in even keeping his own company and cannot be alone which really bothers me. He needs help and so do I naturally my family hates him through all this stuff, he has good qualities however the bad definitely has outweighed the good for some time and he has no respect for not only me, but none for himself.Do you think a trail seperation is good in this instance or that a clean break is better? P.S I had no clue where to post my comment hence the reply haha oops. Thanks

          • Oh my! It sounds like you’ve got a lot of things to work through. I agree with you 100%: you need help working through it. I STRONGLY recommend getting yourself into therapy. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with you. But a good therapist can help you make sense of what you’re going through and what you’re feeling. S/he can also help you emotionally recover from what you’ve been through.

            If your fiance/spouse (I’m not sure which it is) will go to marriage or relationship counseling with you, that would be awesome too. But you definitely need your own therapist to help you figure out why you’re putting up with this kind of treatment. Yes, I know you love this guy. I can totally hear that. But he’s treating you like garbage. That’s not okay – even if you love him!

            As for whether a trial separation or a clean break would be best, that’s not my call to make. You’re the only one who could sort through that. But, again, a good therapist can help you do that. If you’re not sure where to find one, check out BetterHelp. They can help match you with a good therapist in your area.

            I wish you the best.

        • Hi Karen,

          My husband and I just separated recently without ground rules due to escalated argument that’s been going on for a year. We are not good at communication. It’s been 3 weeks and still no progress. He initially wanted divorce, out of anger? I’m not sure. But our fights and his behavior has hurt me emotionally. We’re mostly happy during our marriage until we have a disagreement or lingering past issues that were not resolved. Our age gap was not a factor, atleast I thought, but I’m unsure if he is going through a mid-life insecurity coz he won’t tell me or in denial. During our separation, I worked on myself and am learning to forgive him and myself. I don’t wanna rush or force him to stay or work on our marriage if he doesn’t want to but I would also like to know if he’s willing to work it out or not so I could move on. I want him back obviously but I also want him to acknowledge his mistakes and So am I. I gave him the option to leave in which he did. Our contact has been minimal but somehow gives a mix signal that he misses me but he won’t be direct about it. Could you please advise how to move forward on this or guide me step by step. I am confused what he wants. Attempted to do a marriage counseling but he has refused in the past. Please advise, Thanks.

          • Oh my! It sounds like you are confused and have a LOT going on!

            I know that your husband has refused marriage counseling in the past. But at this point, he may be willing to give it a try. It’s definitely worth asking. You might want to start there.

            No matter what he says, though, you would probably benefit a lot from getting your own therapist. A good therapist will help you work through your own issues AND the issues that you see affecting your relationship. S/he may also be able to give you some insight into how you can end the argument that you’ve been in with your husband for a year, and how you can improve your communication. All of that could help a lot.

            I’m sorry I can’t be more specific here, but it sounds like you’re dealing with a whole lot of issues, and I’m sure you’ve left out a lot of details. (For privacy reasons, that’s a good thing!) Without knowing a whole lot more, I can’t tell you much of anything. But that’s why a good therapist can help you so much. In therapy, you can talk openly and freely, and fill in all the details that someone would need in order to guide you responsibly.

            I wish you the best.

            Karen

      • My husband and I have been married for 10 years and have a 4 year old. We are terrible with communication and there is already a lot of resentment on my end due to some of his actions, and my desire for more. We definitely had things to work on that counseling could have helped with but we kept putting it off or acting like everything was fine.
        Recently I found out he has been taking indecent pictures of me in my sleep where my clothes had either shifted or he moved them himself for at least 5 years. Initially I told him we need counseling immediately and how much it hurt and thoroughly broke trust between us. But I decided we need separate counseling first, to see why he thought it was ok and to see if it’s something I can even get past. It’s been 3 weeks now and I don’t feel any better about it. He got a therapy appointment but it’s not for another 3 weeks, i’m in the process of finding a therapist.
        My issue is that I don’t want to be around him, I want him to go stay somewhere else so I don’t have to pretend to be ok around him in front of our child, and so I can actually process what’s happened. He is not on board with leaving even though he said he’d do anything I needed from him. He specifically told me that me needing my space was a mistake.
        I feel like not taking time apart is just going to make me bitter, angry, and mean. Also, not feeling like I can trust him makes me not even want to work on our other issues so i’m just stuck feeling uncomfortable in my house around him unless I leave myself.
        I just feel like him not leaving is one more violation of my needs and that he’s way more concerned about nothing changing instead of actual happiness…

        • I can see why you want your space. Your husband’s refusal to leave does tell you something.

          On the other hand, if things get too difficult, you can always take your 4-year-old and live somewhere else too. I know that can be challenging, both physically and financially. But if things get too difficult, it’s a possibility. At the very least you might want to think of sleeping in separate bedrooms and putting a lock on your bedroom door.

          I wish you the best.

          Karen

        • Hi Karen. We’ve been married almost 19yrs. Both our second marriage. Last 5yrs. Have been bad in that she watches Tv for hours and that’s basically all we do together. Her inactivity has hurt her physically. I have tried to get her out to exercise but she’s content w the Tv. Now her hip and back pain w her weight has kept her from being active. And don’t see her even try. Our intimacy is really non existent. But she is ok w that. She has had depression issues and is on medications but this behavior has depressed me.I’m active and would love to have a partner that I can do things with. I’ve told her how I feel but things really don’t change. I’m planning a trial separation to work on ourselves. Do you think it’s time for that? Thankyou

          • I wish I could answer your question, but the only one who can do that is you! (Sorry!)

            You’ve written a tiny bit about your life here, but I’m sure there is so much more to it! That’s why I can’t answer your question. But it sounds like you may be ready to answer it for yourself.

            One question you might want to ask yourself before you dive into a trial separation, though, is: what are you trying to accomplish? There are lots of reasons for trying a trial separation. Maybe you want to see if you miss your wife if you leave separately. Maybe you want to see if you’re okay on your own. Maybe you want to use a separation to see if it will re-invigorate your marriage.

            Whatever your reason is, it helps to know it on the front end.

            Trial separations are exactly what they sound like: trials. They are not meant to last forever. Knowing your purpose – knowing WHY you wanted to try separating for a while – will help you know when it’s time to end the trial and either move back in or move on.

            I wish you the best.

            Karen

      • Hello,
        My wife and I separated 3 weeks ago due to lack of communication and just her feeling alone in our home. We argued often but used silence to cover up the wounds. She announced that she was moving out and looking for a place to live. At first she wanted full blown divorce. After talking she said the divorce was off the table and she wanted to be by herself for a while and see if she really misses me. We have been married 14 years and have an 11 year old son. She is very apologetic about hurting my feelings. But has put up barriers for contacting me and holding back “I love you’s”. She admitted she still loves me but holds back on everything except a hug and embrace. I want her back ASAP but trying to be respectful of her space. I try to text or call only once a day. We have worked out time with our son and agreed to talk about us after some time. What else can I do?

        • I’m sorry to hear about your situation. It sounds like you love your wife and want her back. But you’re in a tough spot.

          You HAVE to give her space. If you push too hard you’ll push her away. At the same time, if you don’t push at all she will think you don’t care. So you’ve got to hit that fine line between too much and not enough. (I know. It’s hard.)

          While you try to navigate that, you can also work on yourself. If she’ll go to marriage counseling with you, that would be awesome. The two of you can use that time with the counselor to work on your communication skills. But, whether she goes with you to counseling or not, I also suggest you get yourself a therapist too. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with you. But: A) Having a therapist will give you someone to talk to so that you can work through your own feelings and issues (we all have them!); and B) a good therapist may also be able to guide you in how to handle your relationship with your wife moving forward. (As much as I try to write great answers to your questions here, it’s still only ONE website comment. A therapist can go way deeper.)

          I know this time has got to be beyond frustrating for you. But remember: Slow and steady wins the race. Push, but not too hard. Work on your communication. Show your wife that you love her like crazy. That’s really the best you can do.

          Best,

          Karen

      • Hello my name is jasmine and I wanted to know how I can get a divorce from my husband he’s in prison and i don’t have any children by this man so please can you help me get and divorce now he’s never coming back he has life sentence

        • I wish I could help you, but what you really need is a good divorce lawyer in your area. You need legal advice, which I can’t give you online or outside the state of Illinois. Sorry I can’t be of more help.

          • I’ve got a good one for you. My wife told me she wanted a divorce on thanksgiving. I was shocked at first, but understood for my work had gotten to a point I was having to work 14 to 16 hours a day for about 2 months and no way out of it at that time. I asked her to be patient until after xmas for I was getting an evening supervisor to take the strain of me, but I guess she couldn’t. When I told her I was not moving out for I was going to stay with my kids she then decided that we would stay together but separate. She said she can do that for she loves me as a friend and being a great father. We get along great as friends, we communicate now so much better. She would hold everything that bothered her inside until it was a boiling point then just yell, and I would get defensive from being yelled at and not really hear what she was saying. I have a room with my oldest son we share to give her space to hopefully think. What hurts the most is we still have intimacy from time to time then she goes into no hugs or kisses until the next time. I have seen her get to the point she don’t know what to do when I impress her. We went to a bash for New Years and danced laughed and had a great time. Stayed the night in the hotel When we got back home the next day she said she needed to think about what just happened she was confused, so as soon as we pulled into the driveway she kissed me and when we walked into the house it just turned cold for a week. I finally asked if she was ok and what she was going to do. She told me I was reading to much into it she was just being what she thought I needed for the night it was not real. I told her I know what I saw and heard but it’s you that can only make that observation. We have had intimacy again but back to the same way, just now she refuses to do dates unless it’s with friends. I’m in love with my wife, but so confused by her

          • Oh my! I can totally understand why you’re confused!

            The question is: what kind of marriage do you want? Are you happy with the way things are going?

            I don’t know what the issues are between you and your wife, but there are definitely issues! I also suspect that those issues go well beyond two months of crazy work hours. Something else is going on. I STRONGLY suggest working with a marriage counselor so that you and your wife can start to sort all this out. If your wife isn’t willing to do that, then that tells you something.

            I also suggest that you start working with an individual therapist yourself. You need support. You also could use having someone around who you can talk with on a regular basis. It sounds like you’ve got a lot going on, and your wife’s behavior is all over the boards. A good therapist can help you figure out what may be going on, and help you decide what you want to do about it.

            I wish I could tell you more. I know that what you’re going through is hard. Unfortunately, ignoring it, and expecting your wife to suddenly change, is not a great option. Human behavior is consistent. Whatever is going on with her, or between the two of you, is not likely to change until you address it head-on.

            I wish you the best.

            Karen

        • My girlfriend and I had been together for 4 years and lived together for 3. We fell in love hard early. She feel in love with me much much faster. She has two boys and I have a daughter. The kids were able to get along fine. The relationship has always been a on/off type of relationship. I did cheat on her early in the relationship and thankfully she was able to take me back. After that I put my past in the past and was there for her and her boys. We would constantly talk about marriage but she had a hard time forgiving me and was trying to control my every move. She was in therapy for two years. Mainly because of her bi-polar disorder and her anger rages but also becuse she didn’t feel love in the relationship although she constantly talked about marriage with me. Anyways she kind of dropped a bomb on me and ended it. I asked her if she was sure and if she wanted to take a break but she said that she is choosing her and she needs to heal. I tried to tell her that things are getting better because her her anger had diminished and she agreed but she felt like she still has personal issues she needs to work on. Well I moved out with my daughter and a week later she states that she wants to reunite and I can move back in after my six months lease. She is being very accountable and vulnerable by saying she needed to release the pain so she could treat me the way I needed to. She felt sorry for all the rage, anger and disrespect and realized she was self centered. For the past 3 weeks she has been great and she wants to re-date. I do to as well as I love her much but I can’t get over the fact that she dropped the bombshell my saying she is choosing herself. I am hesitant about moving back in because I would like stability but she is saying she will even be ready for marriage then! Confused on why she would leave and then a week later want to fix things and feel bad that I was gone.

          • I have no idea why she would leave and then come back a week later either. I can understand your confusion. More than confusion, though, I think you need to have a healthy dose of caution here. People don’t go from: “You need to leave because I want to work on my personal issues so I’m choosing myself,” to “Everything is great. You can move back in AND let’s get married!” in one week! That’s NOT normal! I’m not surprised that you don’t trust that things will magically work out if you get back together.

            I also have a question that you didn’t raise in your comments, but I’m sure you are thinking about.

            What about the kids?!!!

            I can understand that you love this woman and want her back. But how do you think all of the children (yours and hers) are going to cope with all this back-and-forth stuff? What are you teaching your children about love, relationships, and marriage? How are they going to feel when one week they’re all living together, the next week they’re not, and then the week after that you and your girlfriend are back together and planning to get married.

            Your daughter and her sons need stability. Right now, with all due respect, this relationship is NOT stable!

            If you want to date your ex-girlfriend, fine. But I would also suggest that you two get into relationship therapy AND that you take things slow. I wouldn’t plan on moving back in until your relationship gets back on solid ground.

            Sorry. I don’t know that that’s what you wanted to hear. But I hope it helps.

            Karen

        • That depends on what the law in your state is. Many states require parties to be separated for a certain period of time before they get a divorce. The length of time varies depending on the law in that state. Some states, like Illinois, have abolished a separation period for couples who agree they both want a divorce. So you need to check with a lawyer in your state about what the law is for you. (And if you don’t live in the U.S., I can’t tell you anything about the law of whatever country you’re in! You need to check with a local lawyer.)

      • My wife told me she wants a trial separation for 6 months but could be less if her feelings change. Told me she loves me but the spark is gone. We have been married for 20 years together since 16 years old. She said she doesn’t want to date that she simple wants some time alone. She also said she wants to go on dates and be like boyfriend/girlfriend to get the spark back. I found an apartment and will be moving out any day. She has only mentioned divorce once saying it was a possibility if nothing changes, but said that was not what she wants. Im scared, sad, heartbroken, but trying to stay positive. Do you have any suggestions? She has had bad experiences with counselors (not marriage) in the past and is not open to them as of now. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

        • I’m so sorry! I can hear how heartbroken you are.

          If your wife won’t go to a counselor, would she consider going to a coach? A good divorce coach could help you structure a trial separation so that you and your wife are both clear on the ground rules. That will help discourage misunderstandings in the future that could push one of you into a divorce that you might have been able to avoid.

          Meanwhile, I encourage you to stay as positive as you can. Remember what you did to win your wife’s heart 20 years ago. You know her even better now. What could you do to win her back again? What can you do to show her you love her and that you will fight for her – without being too over-the-top creepy or pushy? Do those things! (Just be careful. If you push her too hard you will totally turn her off. You need to finesse this situation. You want to show her how much you love her and want her back WITHOUT begging, pleading, or coming on too strong.)

          Finally, you would probably be wise to spend some time working on yourself. Do what you can to make yourself happy. You can never lose by improving yourself.

          Keep your chin up!

          I wish you the best.

          Karen

    • Hello,

      My wife and I have been together for almost five years, married for almost four. We also have a 17 month old son that is the absolute light of our lives.

      Recently, I have left my job and industry I was in, and have taken a significant pay cut. My wife also lost her job around the same time, and there was a period of time where she was searching for a job but was unsuccessful and just now got back into the workforce.

      She has pointed out that I have attitude problems and I snap irrationally when we talk, or at times I remain silent when she tries to talk to me. It’s not that I don’t want to talk to her, it’s simply because I am not the best oral communicator in the world, and when I try to think of how to get the right words out, she yells at me and demands that I start talking. I should add that most of the time when she gets in her snappy moods, she interrupts me all the time when I try to talk. So it’s not like I don’t try.

      Also, there is all sorts of pressure from our families about when we are going to get a house for our son and ourselves. I’m in a career transition and don’t even know what I want to do for a profession, and both our credit scores are demolished beyond repair. She has all these unrealistic expectations for us, and I really don’t know if I can provide enough for her and our son. I have thought about telling her that a separation would be the best thing for us, mostly for me to work on fixing our credits and working on myself personally so I can try to be a better husband and father. She has said on more than one occasion that she can find somebody better than me in a heartbeat and I don’t doubt her. I really think she is the more desirable one out of the two of us, but I just can’t deal with her temper sometimes and it just makes me depressed that we are in the situations that we are in. Not to mention, she has all her family here, and my family is about 1200 miles away. So a separation would most likely hurt me the most, as I would have no family to fall back on. I also know that if we would proceed with this, she would come after me for every wage I would earn to try to fix our finances, so that’s another reason I haven’t done it yet. She has also said that if we do separate for any reason, I would never see my son again under any circumstance. So that’s a reason why I’ve just kept my mouth shut about it and I’m scared to ask about this. I don’t know how to proceed forward with this. I love her, but I would rather see her with somebody that can provide everything she wants and I don’t think I can live up to her expectations. She also has family members that are still married and hate each other, and I don’t want that to turn into us. She also will refuse to go to therapy under any circumstance. What do you suggest I do? I’m truly at a loss and any advice would be greatly appreciated.

      • Okay, since you asked, I’ll tell you what I think. But be prepared for a little “tough love.” (If you don’t want to read it, that’s fine. Hit the back button now!)

        First of all, I know you’re hurting. I can hear it through what you’ve written. My heart goes out to you.

        I also hear quite a bit of feeling sorry for yourself. It’s great that you want your wife to be with somebody that can provide her with what she wants, but there’s no reason I have read why that can’t be you! It’s time to take the bull by the horns and see if you can pull this relationship up from the depths. If you can’t, and you have to divorce, so be it. But with a 17 month old son involved, you probably want to make sure you’ve tried everythign to make your marriage work before you throw in the towel.

        So, what to do? It starts with you! YOU have to step up and work on yourself. It’s not enough to say “I’m not the best communicator.” Communication is a skill. You can learn it!

        You and your wife also may want to try marriage counseling. That, too, can dramatically improve the communication between the two of you. (It sounds like she’s not the best communicator either. So both of you could learn a lot in counseling. Just remember, you can’t control her or change her. That’s up to her.)

        As for your credit – why do you think you need to separate to work on your credit? Is that really true? I don’t think so. Go talk to a credit counselor and find out what you have to do to start to repair your credit. Then start doing those things!

        Finally, with all due respect, you are NOT in a position to buy a house now. With both of you in career transitions, and given your current credit situation (not to mention your shaky marriage) buying a house is the WORST thing you could do!

        Again, I don’t mean to be hard on you. But you have so much more potential than you think. You are stronger than you are letting yourself believe. Do what you need to save your marriage. Will it work? I can’t say. But, if it doesn’t, you will know that you gave it your all. And any improvements in communication that you and your wife can make will also help you even if you get divorced. Remember, no matter what, you will both be your son’s parents forever.

        Hope this helps

        Karen

        PS Lots of people threaten each other about the kids when they’re upset. Talk to a lawyer. It’s highly unlikely that you will really never see your son if you divorce.

        • Hi,
          My husband and I have been together fifteen years, and married for seven. We have a beautiful family, which includes two sons together (ages:7 & 14) and his two children (ages 15 & 16) from a previous relationship, we have had full custody for the last fourteen years. We began a relationship when they were babies and I have raised them like my own. We both work full-time jobs and I also go to school, so our time is limited.
          We have been struggling to make things work for two years now but we have been through worse, or so I thought. In the past two years, I started working outside the home (I had always worked in the home) and had great success in promotions and raises, his father, uncle and brother passed away, he hates that I make more money than he does, our son was diagnosed with epilepsy and the list goes on. It has been a lot of change. Yesterday, he told me he wants to seperate and I’m really struggling with it.
          My own parents seperated for two years and it was hostile to say the least and ultimately ended in divorce. I’m terrified that this is the beginning of the end, neither of us is easy to live with and we have made mistakes in this relationship, I am owning my mistakes regardless of the good intentions that I had to protect him. I’m afraid that this time won’t give him space to clear his mind but space to clear his heart and stop loving me. I’ve tried to tell him this but now he won’t speak to me because of how I, initially, reacted.
          How can I help him to understand my fears and how can he help me to understand his need to leave?
          Thank you.

          • It’s hard to make someone listen to you. You can talk to them. But whether they listen is really up to them. The only one you can control is you.

            Instead of focusing on getting your husband to understand you, focus instead on understanding his need to leave. (Yeah, I know. It’s hard.) But here’s the deal. Until your husband feels like you’re hearing him, there’s no chance that he’s going to hear you. I know that seems like a contradiction. But when both of you are thinking only about what YOU want to say, that doesn’t leave a lot of space to listen to what the other person is saying.

            I also suggest that you work with a marriage counselor or coach so that you set ground rules that will work for you during this separation. Not setting the rules before you separate is a great way to promote misunderstanding and mistrust once you’re apart. A good marriage counselor can make a world of difference in how your trial separation goes, and whether it ends in reconciliation or divorce.

            I also think that having your own individual therapist right now might be a good idea too. You’ve been through A LOT in the past two years! All that turmoil had to bring up issues for you as well as him! A good therapist can probably help you a lot.

            Hang in there!

            Best,

            Karen

    • Hello Karen,
      My wife and I are 10 years apart and are about 7 years married now. We tries counseling but it was only surface level. Neither of us REALLY dug deep and got uncomfortable so although it felt better it wasn’t where we should have been. We continued to go for a while until my best friend passed away suddenly this Feb. It obviously derailed what we had going on and my wife (self admittedly) is not a good communicator while I on the other hand an an over communicator and can be overly sensitive. Bottom line is that I pushed and she slid back. I believe I am a codependent which also has played a major role in my insecurity in our marriage. We are now at a place where I want to make it work and she doesn’t know what she wants or just doesn’t want to tell me that she doesn’t. I continued to go to the therapist we used to go to together since I started with her and she goes to a separate therapist who suggested discernment therapy and/or separation to see if she would even “miss me anymore” if I wasn’t around. This has all come out over the last 6 weeks and it has been pretty rough for me. We have 3 children (1 I have from a previous relationship not marriage) and it’s hard to look at them and think that this may not work. I feel as though my wifes only staying because of that at this point although she hasnt said that outright. The fact that she brought up discernment therapy and separation tells me somewhere in there she may want to try. So if I decide to go with it and not just ask for a divorce myself, do you think we should go to discernment therapy before a trial separation? So many more details but not trying to send an essay.

      Thank you for your time.

      • Yes, I think going to discernment counseling first makes the most sense.

        The problem with trying a trial separation first is that people often just separate without taking the time to establish the ground rules. That turns what was supposed to be a “trial separation” into the first step toward divorce.

        Going to discernment counseling will give you the benefit of a therapist who can help you dig deep and get to the bottom of what’s going on and what you really want. It’s not a comfortable process, but it works.

        Best,

        Karen

        PS I hate to be the bearer of bad news but I wouldn’t read too much into the fact that your wife brought up discernment therapy and separation. It could mean she’s open to trying to save your marriage. It could also mean that she’s already done but is looking for an easier way to tell you that. (Sorry!)

    • My husband and I are in the process of building a new home and he hit me recently with he loves me but isn’t “in-love” with me and doesn’t know if he will ever be again.
      Instead of rushing to divorce, he wants us to be smart about this and process things slowly. We settle on the new home in about a month and a half and he wants us to move in and live in separate rooms from one another. He said he doesn’t want to have to answer to me but we will bar dating other people. Basically that he wants space.
      I don’t have any family or friends here to stay with so if we did this plan, I’d have to live in the house with him so I can stay close to my job and not spend my whole paycheck on renting my own place. He has a few friends he could stay with while paying the mortgage of the house I’m living in but doesn’t want to burden them with himself so he’d rather we both live at the house.
      I just don’t want to be stupid and do this, then he hits me with divorce anyway. I don’t know if I can trust him as he did have an affair in the past (1 night stand).
      Should I just be safe and go back home and to my family and quit my job here. Start a new life and file for divorce?
      I really feel like living with him and watching him come and go would feel like I’m being used to help pay the mortgage so we don’t lose the house and not because he wants to marriage to recover.
      The only upside with my staying is I can pay off my car and save some money before I leave him and go back home to start over.
      I just don’t want to prolong the pain if it’s going to happen anyway is what I’m saying.
      Thanks for your help

      • Sherry,
        Forgot to add some other stuff. We’ve never had a problem with our sex life, in fact he says sex with me is amazing and always tries to have it with me. He has told me I’m an amazing wife and his best friend. His main complaint is we’ve had some hard times in our marriage and can’t get those moments out of his head. He says when he looks at me all he sees is fighting.
        I just find it strange he’s so attracted to me for not being “in-love” with me. Maybe he’s stringing me along cuz he wants no one else to have me? He knows I’m a beautiful, educated, loyal, and nurturing woman but says the fighting has taken its toll.