A serious concept for couples whose marriage is in serious trouble …
Managed separation is for couples whose marriage would absolutely, positively end in divorce otherwise … it ensures a couple doesn’t end a marriage that could possibly have been saved. – Becky Whetstone
Sometimes married couples need to separate. Although most marriage and family therapists stand for marriage and wish every one could be saved, we know that not every marriage can or should be saved. Sometimes a married couple love one another, but feel so much anger and distress that one or both can’t see — or feel — the love and caring. What is really sad is that a legal divorce usually follows, and months or years after the fact one or both often look back at the end result and wishes he or she had waited longer to decide on divorce and had done more to save the marriage. And if you ask me, nothing is more tragic than to see a couple toss in the towel too soon, when a managed separation might have saved each from the suffering that’s sure to come with divorce and its aftermath.In my work, I manage a lot of separations, and I like to do it, because I like hopefulness. So long as a couple is taking a managed break and not making any rash decisions concerning ending the marriage, I know there’s a chance the relationship’s health may be able to be restored. The problem is that managed separations require an amazing amount of self-discipline and self control, and in my experience, there aren’t many who are able to pull it off – but maybe YOU can …
Why separating on your own doesn’t work
There has been a lot of research on why the majority of couples who separate on their own, and then reconcile, usually end up divorcing. The reason it doesn’t work is that the couple’s marriage is tension-filled, and then they separate, but during the separation most don’t do anything about working on the problems and issues that brought the marriage to the brink in the first place. Time apart warms the heart, and all of a sudden one or both miss each other, and in the missing the husband and wife focus on the wonderful things about the partner and experience amnesia about the annoyances. The cockles of the heart warm, a honeymoon period ensues, and the two reunite. But the honeymoon won’t last because old wounds, hurts, and disappointments are still there, and little by little they will all reappear. Things said and done leading up to and during the separation will be used against one another, and now things are worse than ever.
What the couples who go through this learn is that the only way trust, confidence, and security can be rebuilt, and wounds healed, is by doing individual therapy and couples therapy.
Don’t separate without a therapist to guide you through it
In most separations, one person wants to take a break and separate, and the other person doesn’t. (Although the research shows that if the person being left was totally honest, he or she would have to admit to being unhappy in the relationship as well). When couples come in my office in this situation, the person being left usually pleads with me to convince the one leaving not to go, but I know that if one person needs that space and time away, it is vital that he or she gets it. I describe that feeling as a person who is drowning and desperately needs air. If the person drowning doesn’t get the air, I can predict the marriage will end in divorce, when there was a chance it could have been saved.
That’s why I encourage the person who doesn’t want the separation to go along with the managed separation. The reason I call it a “managed separation” is because it is a deliberate and focused plan that is enacted for the purpose of saving the marriage. This is opposed to an unmanaged separation mentioned above, in which two people spend time apart, only to reconcile having not done the work they needed to heal themselves and the marriage.
In a successful managed separation, an agreement is worked out with the couple and a third party, such as their marriage counselor or trusted person. Here is what must occur:
- The attitude adopted must be one of love, and not fear. A therapist can help you with this. For example, in my practice, if there is hostility between partners who are considering separation, we stop the conversation. I do a guided meditation to relax them, and once relaxed, we continue. It makes a world of difference.
- Clear rules and boundaries are set forth regarding contact, visitation and details with children, dropping by the house, phone calls, text messages, who will mow the lawn, what to do when her or she gets a flat tire, finances, and dating.
- The initial separation agreement should cover a time period of three to a maximum of six months. If a person can’t get clarity in six months, then it is fairly safe to conclude that the decision is NOT in favor of continuing the marriage. Also, this period is so difficult for the person being left that it is simply unfair to ask anyone to endure such an experience for a longer time.
- Work out a plan for growth … this means individual therapy takes place throughout, and the couple meets for marriage therapy periodically – I usually recommend every two to three weeks – to check in on the marriage and to discuss frustrations, concerns, as well as hopefulness and stories of growth and understanding.
- During a managed separation, I strongly encourage both parties to avoid dating. There is nothing like dating to dig a marital hole even deeper. By the way, if a third party is involved, meaning an affair is going on, all bets are off. The purpose of a managed separation is to sincerely and honestly work to save a marriage. Marriage counseling cannot be successful, and a marriage will not heal, when a third party is involved.
- Once negotiated, the agreement is written down, and each party signs it.
Although the managed separation can be very successful if followed, it is easier said than done. That is why you need a qualified therapist to coach and help calm you through the process. You can download the document by clicking on the graphic to your right – it is $55 and contains everything you need to understand how it works.
If you would like to consult with me about this process, want me to help you manage your separation, click here for how to do that.