Why Trial Separations Do Not Work

November 1, 2019 by

Often, the idea of a separation comes out amidst an argument when people are at their wits’ end.

Or it may seem like a kind of release valve. A way to get some distance from the pressure and frustration attached to working through issues. 

The idea can seem like a relief. Is it really, though?

The Idea Behind a Trial Separation

Proponents of trial separation believe there are benefits to be had. They say: 

  • Separation provides time and space to realize your partner’s worth.
  • Time apart allows you to let go of petty issues you have with one another.
  • The break offers a fresh start and a healthier perspective on your life together.
  • You’ll be able to focus on yourself and sort out your personal issues.

That last one’s got it partly right. Healing and strengthening any relationship does begin with you. However, there are some big problems with the other supposed positives.

What’s Wrong with the Idea of Separation

When you are successfully working through personal issues, this is a positive experience. And if you achieve a breakthrough, your natural inclination will be to examine all of the elements that led to that achievement. 

So, think about what it means to reach a goal and feel better than before... without your partner. None of those positive feelings will be associated with them.

Moreover:

  • A trial separation severs communication… at least to some degree. 
  • Temporary independence may feel good, but your responsibilities don’t just go away.
  • Returning to a situation that hasn’t really changed may make it easier to let the relationship go.   
  • If you achieve a positive feeling while avoiding doing the work together, it may justify more future “breaks.”

The healthier, more long-term route for a committed couple is to directly confront and try to resolve conflict. It can be tougher. But it provides longer-lasting and more satisfying results. 

Wouldn’t It Be Better to Just Start Over?

You may be asking yourself whether scrapping this relationship might be a better option. After all, you can just start over fresh, and the next one will be different, right?

Not likely, according to researchers with the University of Alberta. The recent completion of one eight-year study proves what relationship therapists and couples counseling have seen for years: “Although some relationship dynamics may change, you are still the same person, so you likely recreate many of the same patterns with the next partner.”

What You Should Do Instead

Instead of starting all over with someone new, Imago therapy tells us that working together on improving relationship issues is a better answer. 

The trick is to set the stage for honest conversation and create realistic expectations for your partnership. One way partners can do that is in a couple’s therapy session. 

Or, you can start with a workshop. Over a single weekend, you’ll dive deep and learn some easily applicable tools to help you rediscover your potential together. 

Working through personal issues as a unit defines how you find your “couple’s answer” to the various conflicts you may be having instead of solving your problems alone (and apart).

Ultimately, building and sustaining a loving, emotionally nourishing marriage is more difficult than we imagine during the new romance phase. It takes work and practice and time. But you’ll find rekindling the flame is incredibly satisfying!


Walt Ciecko, Ph. D., BCB
1301 North Harrison Street, Suite 101
Wilmington, DE 19806
302-429-0195 Ext 1