Love? It’s complicated. Marriage? It’s difficult. Divorce? It’s messy. In the relationship chain, the path to ‘happily ever after’ is strewn with obstacles, challenges, temptations and adjustments. Unfortunately, not everyone can make the journey and that’s when the vow of ‘till death do us part’ is replaced by ‘divorce do us apart’. However, before reading the laws, there is one list that couples should bear in mind as an attempt to save a struggling marriage – the trial separation checklist.
Trial separations have become very common now. It is a process where a man and woman, instead of separating from a marriage, decide to take a break from living together.
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This will be a mutual decision where there will be certain guidelines followed, so that they can judge their marriage objectively. At the end of the period, they take a call whether to opt for legal separation or come together again.
Are Trial Separations A Good Idea?
It’s a good idea because many couples find a perspective when they live separately. Some then decide to come back together but also realise that they are better off apart and they can end things on good terms. Trial separations provide the much-needed cushion before taking any drastic step. Moreover, it gives hope.
Celebrities as always, lead the way in these matters. Way back in 2013, the gossip mills were abuzz with rumours that Hollywood’s golden couple Will Smith and Jada Pinkett were splitting up. Turns out they did have problems and they were on a trial separation. Whatever they did, worked because they certainly got back together stronger.
Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones’ is another trial separation success story. They had a rather tempestuous start to their much-discussed marriage.
One doesn’t know what their trial separation checklist was but it looks like they followed it to the T as the couple have gotten back together and still enjoy a stable marriage.
Of course, not everyone can boast of such success stories and there are plenty of skeptics of the idea. Some experts feel it is a dangerous waste of time while others believe, it’s a good way to infuse a dose of perspective to a marriage. But regardless of the end result, there are quite a few plus points here.
Benefits of a trial separation
Those who have gone for trial separation will tell you that it has its benefits. For starters away from the negativity and bickering it allows you some time on your own to clear your mind. How does it help? We tell you.
- Breaking a set pattern: Brad Browning, a marriage and divorce coach, says in his video that trial separation can’t be a solution to the problems in marriage but should be seen for what it is – a last ditch attempt to save a marriage. “Most often problems arise in a marriage when couples are stuck in a rut and make the same mistakes over and over again. Separation can be a way to break that pattern temporarily.”
- Ends petty disputes: Sometimes petty disputes add to the overall problems. Maybe your wife is angry that you don’t help do the dishes. Perhaps you are annoyed that she doesn’t turn off the TV. Well, when there are no dishes or TV to bicker over during the trial separation, both of you might learn to not sweat over small things which otherwise leads to bigger fights. “It can help end the day to day drama,” says Browning.
- Gives you perspective: So you dislike your husband/wife. But when you take time off from each other, you might actually realise how worse life can be if you are not with your spouse. Will the formal separation definition be a better alternative to your relationship status than the ambiguity of a trial separation? You will know the answers to these questions when you opt for the latter option.
- You may become more positive towards your spouse: The cooling off period might help you shirk the negative emotions you have thus far associated with your partner. It might lead you to be grateful for the things you may have taken for granted. Perhaps the trial separation boundaries resulted in you moving away from and not meeting your children and now you may realise how important the ‘family’ as a whole was to you.
- It can save you money: If you go for a legal separation, not only is it a long drawn processes, it also leaves you poorer because of the lawyer expenses involved. In this case, you might be able to see your marital problems in a different light without the help of a lawyer. Of course this depends how well you follow what to do during a trial separation.
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Trial Separation Checklist
Trial separations have their benefits but there is a flip side too. As Browning says, “It might not help in the long run if you go back to the same pattern when you get back together. To make a concrete difference, you need to make changes permanently.”
To make it work, it is necessary to follow trial separation boundaries and some regulations, even if they don’t have a legal binding. Just the way there is a divorce checklist to be followed if you are legally separated (regarding children, property, visitation rights etc), even an informal arrangement like this one needs a trial separation checklist. It is essential that both of you are on the same page regarding the timeline, rules and overall reason. Here are a few things to bear in mind and ensure that you agree on each.
1. How long should the trial separation last?
Have an end date in mind, say three months or six months. The separation agreement depends on what your goals are: is it just to see how you feel when you live apart or is the final goal to give a shot at working through your differences?
2. Discuss money, don’t hesitate
It is an important point to include in your trial separation checklist regardless of the period of staying apart. What do you plan to do regarding the joint accounts and credit cards?
Such an agreement will also prove handy if in case, you decide to separate legally later on.
3. The point regarding marital home
This is very essential – who moves from where? Will you continue to staying in the home you married into or will your partner? At times, you can also opt for a trial separation in the same house especially if you are guaranteed of personal space.
In which case, the arrangement will mostly likely be of two roommates as you negotiate the tricky spaces in your relationship.
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4. Who will the children stay with?
Separation can be extremely painful for the family. If the process is a mature one, you and your spouse should discuss how it will affect the children. Who will they stay with during this period?
Ideally it should be a practical decision taken depending on the distance from school/college and in ways that doesn’t disturb their lifestyle. Also, if you are preparing for separation from your husband, your children’s feelings would be uppermost on your mind.
5. Are you allowed to date?
In a messy separation, if you date or meet someone during the period you are away from each other, it can be used by your spouse as a ground for adultery. But if the love has gone from your marriage, you would be perhaps tempted to date again.
It would be best to add this clause or talk it out so that there are no expectations of fidelity from each other during the trial separation. On the contrary, if either of you are particular about loyalty, honour it. Rules regarding dating and sex are trial separation boundaries that must be clearly defined to avoid complications later.
6. Do not miss out on couples therapy
Often, counselors advice squabbling couples to go for a trial separation. But if you do end up doing that, do not use it as an excuse to run away from your marital woes.
Remember that the objective of doing this is to see if you can save your marriage. So even during the separation period, do not miss out on your therapy schedules. These small steps might go a long way in saving your relationship.
7. Decide on a story
When a seemingly solid couple separates, tongues are bound to wag as it did in the case of Will Smith-Jada Pinkett and Michael Douglas-Catherine Zeta Jones. The world and the rest of your family will be interested, even if the matter concerns only the two of you.
It’s best to decide on what to say and how much to reveal to the world. Ideally, you should limit the involvement of friends and family.
8. The intimacy in your own relationship
Sex can confuse and cloud matters. But in volatile relationships, they can prove to be a turning point even if the couple is fighting a battle. If you are in the process of separating but staying together, take a call on whether you will have any intimacy at all.
A suggestion: Don’t get too close that may leave you in a dilemma regarding the nature of your relationship.
How To Survive Trial Separation
It is still easy to draw up a trial separation checklist and the trial separation boundaries. The challenge lies in following it. There are emotions and possible legal complications involved.
In the movie Sex And The City, Miranda and Dave go for a trial separation after an incident of infidelity. The counselor tells them ‘You don’t know if he is going to cheat again but you just have to trust each other that it won’t happen again because of the love you share’.
That is the key to negotiating a trial separation successfully. It is impossible to say whether you will end up together again or not but go into it giving it your best shot and not worrying about the outcome. It will at least help reduce the bitterness if nothing else. But there are always ways and means to survive it.
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1. Do not date
Do not jump into the dating game even if your trial separation checklist allows you to. Take the time to focus on the relationship that is fraying, not a new one that may or may not have any possibilities.
A no-strings-attached fling might be very tempting but stay away from it.
2. Reconnect with yourself
This period of staying apart is a good opportunity to connect with your inner self. Take part in healing sessions.
Try to remove the negativity caused by troubles in your marriage. Work on yourself, it might help you work on your marriage.
3. Don’t consider it as a solution
As Brad Browning says, “A trial separation can’t fix your problems until you have solved everything else.” Therefore it should be looked as a last resort than the first option.
And once you sign up for it, commit yourself to it.
4. Respect the boundaries
These separations can either be a dress rehearsal for the final signature on the divorce papers or it can be an opportunity to reevaluate the terms and conditions of the current relationship and come back together.
If you are going through a trial separation staying in the same house, it becomes all the more essential to honour the limitations and rules you have decided. Have healthy boundaries.
Related Reading: How Do You Set Emotional Boundaries in Relationships?
5. Never neglect responsibilities
This should also not be an excuse to shirk work or responsibilities. Be it regarding bills or children’s education or maintaining the house, do what you always used to.
You haven’t walked out of each other’s life completely yet so do not stay away from day to day responsibilities.
All in all, relationships are very personal and when they hit the rocks, each individual reacts very differently. In a bitter and negative relationship, there is no point in even trying for a trial separation because it might just not lead anywhere. But if there is hope and you still have love at the core, maybe just maybe you can breathe some life into it. Being away for a while can perhaps play a role in bringing you together.