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When I separated from my husband, Sam, a few years ago, we'd been in counseling for several months and were going nowhere. At the final session when I announced I was leaving – at least temporarily – our therapist threw this statistic: 80 percent of separations end in divorce.

Fine by me. Separation, in my book, is not inherently a step toward reconciliation. It's a just step. A great big step out of the everyday of your life into a space where there is room enough to think and re-think yourself and your relationship before taking another step.

Sam called it Purgatory, our separation, and in some ways that's what it is. The space between.

Last week I read this article, "5 Key Rules to a Successful Trial Separation," and I've got to say, that author has most of it wrong.

She equates success with a preserved marriage, so already were at odds. Success, I say, is moving forward into healthier lives, it may or may not mean continuing the marriage.

I've got a few rules of my own.

1. Don't set a time limit for the separation. Give yourself time to think. What I hear over and over from women coming out of marriage is they don't know who they are anymore. They are lost from themselves. Why put even more pressure on this decision or create ultimatums dictated by time limits. Maybe three months or six months will be time enough to know and maybe it won't. The goal is, after all, to know yourself well enough through the separation to make the best choice, to trust the decision and to give your partner space to do the same.

2. Give yourselves at least a one month break where contact is limited to necessity. If you have kids talk only enough to continue civilized co-parenting, if you're childless step away completely. Remain committed to counseling, but take a good break from it – at least that first month. Then scrutinize with fresh eyes.

3. Draw up terms of separation with a legal mediator – bills, debts, custody, alimony, child support, dividing assets, all of it. You achieve two things: First, it removes most potential fight material during separation, freeing both of you to talk (when you begin talking again) without haggling and continually negotiating details. Second, should you decide to divorce, a frame work exists.

4. Do not have sex with the ex. True, I broke my own rule here but we had been separated for a year and "dating" for several months before I let Sam back into my bed. I was ready to give the relationship another shot.

5. Be honest with your partner, even when it means saying you don't know, or that you're leaning toward divorce. Sam never stopped trying to save our marriage, he asked me back into counseling from the day I left. I was honest about my ambivalence for almost two years, even after we started having sex again, right up to the day I recommitted.

If the benchmark of successful separation is remaining married, Sam and I had succeeded. But I still maintain it would has have been a successful separation even if it had ended in divorce. And for the record, every couple I know who also "succeeded," has one thing in common: separation was approached as and end, not a means to avoid ending.

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3 comments

  • Comment Link Guest Sunday, 01 March 2009 10:20 posted by Guest

    DAMN good list! I would: DAMN good list! I would adjust #1 to say DO set a time limit: A MINIMUM. Too many people rush the process, thus sabotaging it. It takes as long as it takes. If you go back in just because you start to miss the other, you haven't done the work, and you'll end up right back where you started.

  • Comment Link Andrea Friday, 27 February 2009 09:35 posted by Andrea

    I agree: Definetly on #4. I am not saying that it happens ALL the time, but I am willing to bet that a lot of estranged husbands would welcome the "friends with benefits" package of separation: all the fun and none of the work. I think it would hinder working through any issues whatsoever, cuz they have no motivation.
    Number 2 is also VERY important. When we were in counseling, I made it VERY clear that I would not talk about anything in between sessions. Since we were not separated, this was impossible and I was constantly pressured to "deal with issues" that I was just not comfortable doing without the pressense of a 3rd party to mediate.

    The rest are also good ideas, but 2 and 4 are paramount.

  • Comment Link Guest Friday, 27 February 2009 09:25 posted by Guest

    As Usual, You Nailed It!: You are one wise woman, and Sam is a lucky man. You're right, and the author of that article is living in La La Land. Perhaps they should look the word up: Separation ~ a place, line or point of PARTING. There's noting in the definition about "staying together." Wanda Woodard