Is it even possible to make a list of rules of separation in a marriage? To answer this question, a research was conducted on 20 separated people. The study’s results indicate that separation is a ‘private’ and ‘lonely’ experience. Also, the sampled people said that separation was ambiguous and its outcome was unclear.
Is marital separation really not sustainable? Is there a marriage separation checklist that can make it easier? With the help of psychologist Dr. Aman Bhonsle (Ph.D., PGDTA), who specializes in relationship counseling and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, let’s take a look at the various complexities of marital separation and the rules to make it successful.
What Are The Different Types Of Separation In A Marriage?
It is incorrect to combine marital separation with divorce or assume that separation represents only a stepping stone to other marital statuses. A study points out that there are three types of separation: those leading to divorce, those leading to reconciliation, and long-term unresolved separations.
Dr Bhonsle explains, “There are various types of marital separation. Sometimes, the couple continues to live in the same building or even the same house. Then there is the classic case of the wife going back to her mum’s. Sometimes, the husband moves out. I have even seen unique situations where the husband moves out and the wife continues to live with his family.” Let’s explore these various types of marital separation in greater detail:
1. Spouses live in the same house but different rooms
Sometimes, husband and wife live separately without divorce, in the same household. This is done for the sake of the child. Dr Bhonsle elaborates, “For a child, a divorce can lead to isolation. Some children are not invited to Halloween/birthday parties just because the parents are not living together. So, parents try to avoid divorce altogether”.
Related Reading: 20 Ways To Make Your Husband Miss You During Separation
How ‘together but apart’ separation works:
- No one moves out because it’s a real estate problem (paying electricity bills for two houses is expensive after all)
- Parents don’t want to screw up academic prospects for their children so they continue to suffer in misery
- The children get emotionally disturbed due to parents bickering all the time
2. One of the spouses moves out
This can be considered a ‘trial’ separation. The husband and wife live separately without divorce to avoid the excruciating paperwork. This is also the time when they individually figure out if they want to reconcile or if they are happier without each other.
How a ‘trial’ separation works:
- All marital property like house/cars belongs to both (assets aren’t divided legally)
- All the earned income is considered joint income
- Couples can write the rules of separation in an informal document to avoid tiffs
3. Spouses decide that it’s over
This constitutes a ‘permanent’ separation. After going through the trial separation, one/both spouses realize that they want to end the marriage, for good. This marks the transition to divorce.
How a ‘permanent’ separation works:
- The couple decides against reconciliation of marriage
- The paperwork for division of assets begins
- The joint ownership of assets/finances/debts ends
4. Th D-word
And, finally, we arrive at ‘legal’ separation/when divorce officially gets filed in the court. Sadly, there is no such thing as an automatic divorce after long separation in any country. Dr Bhonsle says, “The biggest problem is that there is a socio-cultural stigma against divorce due to social/reputational/financial costs involved. The families involved consider it as a reputational crisis, instead of a relational one.
“Divorce becomes a ‘talking point’. Why was this family rejected? Which family has bigger skeletons to hide? Relatives don’t want to answer awkward questions because they feel like they don’t deserve to suffer. Their awkwardness becomes more important than the well-being of the children.”
How a ‘legal’ separation works:
- A separation agreement is given out by the court
- This agreement spells out child custody, division of assets, resolution of debt etc
- These terms may change during divorce negotiations/court proceedings
Hence, we arrive at the end of the types of marital separation. Now, let’s look at the causes and then the rules of separation in marriage.
5 Major Causes Of Marital Separation
I know a couple who’s not legally separated but living apart because the husband used to physically abuse his wife. He is an alcoholic and has severe anger issues. I know another couple who is married but separated for 20 years, simply because they are incompatible and not in sync about core life values.
So, the severity of marital problems differ from case to case. According to a study, marital problems like infidelity, spending money foolishly, drinking/drug use, jealousy, moodiness, and irritating habits are the most common predictors of divorce.
Sometimes, little problems accumulate over the years and become big, unmanageable problems. Here are 5 causes of marital separation, according to Dr Bhonsle:
- Communication gap between the couple (yelling/nasty comments/resentment)
- Not being able to deal with each other’s quirks (can be a result of high/unrealistic expectations)
- Infidelity/Extra marital affairs (may even start out as emotional dependency on someone)
- Power struggle due to finances (money swindling/shortage, different spending habits/salaries)
- Lack of respect (missing empathy then results in lack of physical/emotional intimacy)
“In the first two cases, the problems are highly fixable by therapy. But the other three problems are complex and not as easy to fix through therapy,” says Dr Bhonsle. Apart from seeking professional help, how does one navigate these complexities? Let’s find out.
The Top 5 Rules Of Separation In Marriage To Make It Successful
Being on the same page with your spouse regarding the ‘severity’ of the marital problem definitely helps in a marriage. In fact, a study points out that the risk of separation or divorce was lower when participants reported that their spouse also considered the problem as serious. What are the other ways to lower the possibility of divorce? Let’s find out.
1. Discuss the rules of separation in marriage beforehand
Dr Bhonsle explains, “At the onset itself, make everything clear by being very transparent. Leave no room for ambiguity when it comes to the co-parenting rules. Maintain mutual respect while discussing these issues with your spouse:
- Are you going to meet on occasions like children’s annual days, PTA meetings or Christmas celebrations?
- Is it going to be a complete state of embargo, in which you won’t meet until one person is hit by a truck or on deathbed with a terminal disease like cancer?
“Also, make it very clear as to why you both have not chosen divorce. Discuss if you both can date other people or not. If you are not legally separated but living apart, dating other people constitutes cheating/infidelity under the law.”
Related Reading: Second Marriage After 40 – What to Expect
2. Don’t turn it into a game of ‘Chinese Whispers’
Dr Bhonsle emphasizes, “Don’t get distracted by other people’s opinions. Your marriage separation checklist is your personal issue, just like going to the bathroom. No one else can tell you when you should take a shower or wash your face.
“It’s like a game of ‘Chinese Whispers’. Try not to gossip about each other to neighbors, relatives and friends. They have limited access to you and limited information about the issue. So, the chances of them talking nonsense are pretty high. Their advice is contaminated by their own biases, memory lapses and gender-specific agendas.”
3. Remember what NOT to do
The most important rule of separation in marriage is to make every move with caution. Here is a list of things you should certainly AVOID doing:
- Using your children as pawns/mediators
- Hiding assets from your spouse to gain an unfair advantage
- Contacting your spouse without a mediator
- Threatening your spouse
- Jumping head first into a new relationship
- Badmouthing your spouse
- Publicizing your separation
- Denying your partner time with your kids
4. Take decisions based on your own risk appetite
Dr Bhonsle says, “You can move on at your own pace. Is this your temporary or a permanent retirement from the world of love/romance? It all depends on your own risk appetite. Take a soccer player as a metaphor.
Related Reading: How I Made Myself a Home Again After My Separation
“After an injury and bedrest of 6 months, he may choose to stretch, train and come back to the game. Or he may even be done with the sport and choose something more leisurely like snooker/golf. His example holds true for the world of relationships too. Are you ready for Round 2?”
5. Seek professional support to know where you stand
Dr Bhonsle advises, “The rules of separation in marriage differ from case to case. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. But you should take couples therapy to know where you stand and why you are standing there.
“Also, a therapist will give you objective advice and will maintain confidentiality (unlike your relatives/neighbors/friends). So many of my clients have gotten back together after taking couples therapy.” If you are looking for support, our counselors from Bonobology’s panel are just a click away.
- There are various types of marital separation, be it trial, legal or permanent
- The causes of separation can vary from infidelity to substance abuse
- Other causes could be communication gap, financial issues, lack of respect etc
- Discuss the terms of separation beforehand; avoid gossiping about your partner
- Don’t use your children as pawns and avoid jumping head first into flings
- Move on at your own pace and seek professional help for healing
Finally, let’s end with a quote by Dr Bhonsle, “There is no such thing as a happy divorce. Divorces are always painful/unpleasant. But you can make a separation happy by following the above rules and being very clear about what you want.”
Yes, people do that a lot, due to tax/insurance purposes. Divorce is very expensive so people stay married but live separate lives.
There is no hard and fast rule. To avoid the cumbersome and expensive paperwork, people even stay married but separated for 20 years or even longer.
The first thing to do when separating is to sort out your finances. What are the assets under your name? Do you have to repay any debts? Can your profession sustain your lifestyle? Will you be able to provide for the kids?
Don’t badmouth your spouse or publicize your separation. Don’t threaten your spouse or contact them without a mediator. Don’t turn this separation into a power struggle/game that you must win at any cost. These are the most important rules of separation in marriage.