Could Marital Separation Save a Marriage?

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Could Marital Separation Save a Marriage?

By Nancy Wasson, Ph.D.

As an experienced counselor, one of the questions I'm asked frequently is, "Can a marriage separation ever save a marital relationship?" My answer is a qualified "yes."

Sometimes a couple is miserable living together and can't seem to co-exist without having constant harping and bickering. If they have children, they may worry about the impact on them of all the fighting. Each spouse wants the marriage to work and is willing to work on the problems and issues in marriage counseling while they're separated.

Couples in this situation often plan to use the separation period to "let the dust settle," reflect on the marriage, take responsibility for their share of what has happened, and work on individual and joint issues in counseling. One goal is for the spouses to use their problem-solving skills in counseling to address and resolve the most serious problems before moving back together. Both spouses agree not to date anyone else and to focus exclusively on working to improve the marriage.

For these couples, the marriage separation can be a time to think, to reflect, to analyze, to cool off and calm down, and to take a break from each other. It also provides time and space for each spouse to make unhurried, thoughtful decisions instead of waiting for things to blow up and then impulsively leaving. Used in this way, a planned separation can actually help to save a marriage.

In other cases, one spouse or the other may move out on the spur of the moment after an upsetting argument. The separation is unplanned, and there are no plans for marriage counseling, no guidelines agreed upon about seeing others, and no tentative time-line for the separation.

There is usually much anxiety on the part of the partner who has been left unexpectedly and there are many unanswered questions: What is happening? Will the partner file for divorce? Will the marriage survive? Whether the separation will help or hurt the marriage is unknown in this case. Things could go either way, depending on what happens.

Another situation that can result in separation is when a spouse is living in an intolerable situation in the marriage. Perhaps the partner is verbally abusive, chronically runs around, or shows continual disrespect towards his or her spouse in some other way. The spouse may have tried to get the partner to go to counseling, but the partner always refused.

Sometimes the best thing the spouse can do is to decide to separate and hope that the partner will be shocked enough by the unexpected action to finally agree to work on the marriage. In situations like this, a separation can sometimes save the marriage.

The partner often says, "I knew we had some problems, but I didn't think they were that serious. I never thought she (or he) would really leave. She kept telling me, but I didn't believe her." The spouse then has to stand firm and let the partner know that she is going to live separately because "I refuse to be in a marriage where I'm treated like this. I deserve more."

By not rushing to file for divorce, the spouse finds out during the planned separation if the partner is finally motivated enough to enter counseling and work on changing. If the couple enters counseling, the therapist will then be able to give them a recommendation about when they are ready to live together again, if ever.

Of course, there are no guarantees in a marriage separation. The separation might be instrumental in saving the marriage, or it may widen the gap between the two spouses and eventually lead to divorce. A planned separation is always preferable to an impulsive one.

The following five tips can help you if you need to think about separating from your spouse:

1. Talk with your spouse about what your individual goals are for the separation. Are they the same or different?

2. Try to reach agreement that neither of you will date anyone else during this period of time. If your marriage is going to have the best chance possible, you'll want to agree not to have sexual entanglements with others so you can continue to work on your relationship.

3. Set a tentative time period for the separation, such as three months. At the end of that time, you can both re-evaluate the decision in terms of what's best for each of you.

4. Agree to seek individual and joint counseling during the separation to address the key problems and issues that have caused conflict in the marriage. This is an ideal time to do some deep individual work on your own personal issues as well as to address core relationship issues.

5. Set guidelines that you both agree to about how much contact you'll have during the separation and what kind of contact it will be. It doesn't do any good to have a separation if one spouse or the other is calling on the phone every five minutes and constantly wanting to talk more about the problems. The separation is supposed to reduce conflict and give each person some space and relief from constant pressure and arguments.

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5 Mistakes About Marriage Proposals

Photo By: IritNir

5 Mistakes About Marriage Proposals
By Michael Webb

Did you know that a man once hospitalized his girlfriend trying to propose to her?

It's true! He slipped the engagement ring into her shot glass and as they toasted to his speech, she swallowed it! Now, she survived, but they did need a trip to the emergency room.

In fact, it's 'embarrassing yet funny' proposals like these that remind me of the 5 ways that guys totally DESTROY this precious moment for women by making horrendous mistakes. Please don't make these mistakes...


Whether it's a party, family get-together or Yankee game, realize that you should never propose to your beloved if she wouldn't feel comfortable with a public proposal. Not only may it embarrass her, but she may feel pressured to say "Yes," only to tell you the truth later. Bottom line, think about what sort of person your lady is: Is she shy, cautious or a little reserved? Then maybe a private proposal is the better way to go.


Some men's idea of an amazing proposal is slapping together all the "usual" romantic things into one big event and calling it a "marriage proposal." Sadly, this couldn't be further from the truth. For example: A man serves the candlelit dinner, presents her flowers, chocolates, a teddy bear and then proposes to her.

Yuck. I'm sorry, but if you believe your lady deserves the most magnificent experience of her life, then understand that normal "everyday romance" is only good for... everyday romance! Not a proposal. She'll never admit it, but she'll most likely be disappointed.


You usually only get one shot at your proposal so you MUST get it right! No pressure :D. Always rehearse through the things that could go wrong, create backup plans and please make sure your proposal idea is safe! If you're creating a more elaborate proposal, you'll need extra caution. Physically rehearse through the situations, discover what could go wrong and work out solutions around them. Get your friends together and brainstorm the sticky situations that could come up on the day. Of course, life is unpredictable and things may change but be prepared the best you can.


Hang on! You're probably wondering, "How is spending TOO MUCH money on a proposal a problem?" Well it all depends. The problem with money is that it often becomes a substitute for creativity. As a result, you get a "nice" memorable proposal but nothing that's "jaw-dropping!"


Now here's the biggest mistake of them all. Yes, coming up with creative and original ideas to propose is tough, but it's a must if you want your moment to be remembered and talked about for years to come!

Your proposal needs to be personalized to your girlfriend. What are her favorite hobbies, music and interests? These are the starting points to an incredible proposal that everyone will talk about for years.

While the Eiffel tower, hot air balloons and getting the waiter to bring out the ring on a platter are "okay" ideas, they're not creative and original enough for the most important and memorable moment of both your lives.

For more Marriage tips click here.