Thinking About a Trial Separation? 10 Questions to Ask Yourself

While the words “trial separation” may not strike as much fear into the heart as “divorce,” the prospect is still difficult and worrisome for the spouse not wanting to separate. Is this really a trial period? Or is it just a stepping stone to an inevitable split?

Living apart can offer you some space if your marital conflicts have become too charged to handle objectively. It can also be a way to test the financial and emotional implications of divorce, while allowing you to reverse your decision if you’re able to work out your differences. But this is hardly a comfort to the spouse who did not initiate the separation. The truth is, many trial separations do lead to divorce, and the process can be terribly stressful for both parties.

If you take steps to define and structure your separation, it can help you avoid further emotional turmoil, as well as easing the anxieties of the non-initiating spouse. Here are 10 questions that may help you negotiate a trial separation.

  • Who is going to move out? When and where? (Bear in mind that during a trial separation, in many states, you are still legally married and the rules of property ownership remain the same.)
  • How and when will the moving-out spouse remove their things, and what will they take?
  • How and when can the moving-out spouse access the marital home?
  • How will the new residence be financed (rented or purchased)? What about furniture?
  • When and what are you going to tell your children, their teachers, your family, your friends?
  • Will you commit to counseling as a couple?
  • What are your arrangements to secure financial and legal advice? (I strongly recommend having both in place before any actions are taken, and I can refer you to a good attorney if needed. More about financial planning in a future post.)
  • Where are the children staying? Consider holidays, vacations, and other occasions when you may wish to take the children out of town.
  • Who will handle bill paying? What about jointly held credit cards and bank accounts?
  • How will you be communicating with each other and how often?
  • What is your time frame – the date on which you’ll evaluate the situation?

If you are experiencing, or have experienced a “trial separation”  – can you add to this list? What strategies worked or didn’t work?  What would you do differently?

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  1. OMG…your new site is amazing and resonates deeply with me. You will instill confidence and support for many women to move forward who are so afraid of the next step.

  2. I am currently getting ready for a trial separation. We’ve outlined the basics (with a little wiggle room for our schedules which vary much of the time) and divided our marital property and custody and all that in a paper which we will have notarized & will serve (with a few minor adjustments) as a legal agreement if & when we decide to proceed with either a legal separation, divorce or both (the idea being that we either move to reconcile, prolong hopes of reconciliation or we take the final step). This is not either of our first times at bat so to speak so we wanted to have our bases covered should things go further south. For the original trial separation agreement we’ve also included prescheduled date nights & both marital & individual counseling. Although I’m hopeful that our marriage will be successful in the end, it’s comforting to know that all disputes have been worked out ahead of time & that at least we tried everything we could before finally giving up.

  3. Hi. I am about to go through this. My husband says he wants to clear his head and wants a trial separation. He says he has no passion for anything except his children. It saddens me because I have stood by his side when he has been at his lowest. Yes he has cheated but he said it didn’t mean anything and he didn’t know why he did it. I am not refusing to beg him to stay with me. I do hope to work it out but living with him is hurtful b/c he barely talks to me. I feel so rejected.

    • Hi, glad you reached out –don’t deal with this alone! This post will give you a sense of control over the situation.

      I know that it is hard to feel rejected and to cope with the unfairness of it all. And there is a lot to be sad about. Yet, you show great courage by looking for resources to make you stronger.

      For a second, let’s look at the good news:
      • He is asking for a trial separation – not yet a divorce
      • He has expressed “passion” for the children – interesting word he chose – hopefully, implies he will keep them a priority and ease the process for them.

      Use this post as a guide for now. Set the boundaries you need. Perhaps print out my latest post “Thinking about Divorce – Fantasy vs. Reality” and share it with your husband.

      I would be very happy to speak with you, and help you create a great team. You are already on the right track.

    • It is so important to at least appear strong and somewhat normal for the kids. While is may be hard to keep to your self, other’s will muddy the waters unintentionally.
      I have been where you are, and now I am on the other side so to speak. It will be Ok – someday…

      • I do hope so. I haven’t conceded defeat with the ‘d’ word. My husband has a lot of issues that have nothing to do with me. He admitted this. He said he can’t give me what I deserve in terms of affection, attention, conversation because he is so unhappy with himself. He does see a counselor about his issues and I see one for my sanity. I also read ‘After the Affair’ and ‘Codependent no more’. Both were insightful. My main focus is to reinvent myself and to prepare for the worst. I want to stay positive but who knows if and when he will get himself together. I have to guard my heart as well and take care of my children. Everyday is a test for me just to keep it together.

  4. My marriage is going bad lately. I love my wife even though she cheated recently. But she says that she has felt unhappy since before our first child was born She says she needs to do things that will make her happy but everything she told me are things that we can do together or that i can support her in. She wants a trial separation, but I don’t. She thinks I am not happy and doesn’t feel she makes me happy but she does. It’s that she has had quite a few years to think about herself and I only found out about her cheating on me and all this this year. We don’t have our own home and if we separate I will be forced to move. I can’t handle watching my kids grow up like this. We have only had one therapy session and she doesn’t like the the therapist. I am indifferent because the therapist focused on her and not really me. I am happy in my life and there are things that would be nice to do for myself but they are not crucial or necessary for my happiness. I would really like to reconnect with my wife and do all these things that she wants together. She says I have done nothing wrong but she has stated before the things that I did. I don’t want to separate and want to work on our marriage through communication and therapy. I am truly afraid that if I do agree to separation, that this is what she wants to do move forward with divorce. I just don’t know if that is true or not. I am so confused and lost.

    • Hi Tommy,

      My apologies for not responding sooner. I hear your sorrow and confusion. You stated so clearly how hard it is when your spouse has had time to think through and “live” with an idea that you are far behind and need time to catch up. Trial separations are very scary for the non initiating spouse.

      It is good that you started into some therapy. What is it that your wife doesn’t like about the therapist? How much of her dislike has to do with the focus being on her?

      Don’t be afraid to ask questions that you many not want to hear the answers to. If you like send me the questions first. If it isn’t too late please seek legal advice before moving out.

      Remaining calm and productive will lead you to a far better place and set the tone for the next step whatever that is.

      Confused and lost is the territory you are in, but don’t need to stay in. It is terribly hard and emotional, but you can gain strength and some sense of control – YOU CAN!

      Let me know how things are going,

  5. what is the normal length of a separation before it should be considered permanent? I just got the “I love you, but I’m not IN love with you” speech. I am assuming the separation will end in divorce

    • Well, hard to say as it would depend on your state’s divorce laws. I encourage you to attempt to set a time frame with your spouse where there is a conversation as to continue on with the separation for another pre determined amount of time, reconcile, or divorce. Living in limbo is very difficult, try your best to take care of yourself and focus on areas that you can grow. If you would like to discuss further please call. Deb

  6. Hi, I’ve been unhappy with my wife for at least the last two out of the five years we have been married. We have two young children, 3yrs and 6 Mos. She has always put herself before anyone else in the house including our kids. In fact, I was extremely hesitant to have a second child. I have expressed that I do not wish to have more. Her cold and selfish attitude has reached into every aspect of our marriage. She blames me for everything (i.e.the house is a mess, there’s nothing to eat despite the pantry being fully stocked, her constant cranky mood, lack of sex, etc.). We only have sex maybe once every couple of months if that. We are both 26. I don’t know of anyone other couple our age that has such a dry sex life. I’m so miserable that I don’t know what to do with myself. I have been playing out the idea of a separation in my head but the idea of losing my kids terrifies me out of pulling the trigger. I don’t want to live like this but none of this behavior is new, it’s just gotten worse over the years. I bend over backwards to make her life easier and make her happy but there’s never any reciprocation. I’ve addressed all of these things with her many times but it never seems to change. Where do I go from here? Do I stand up and say enough and move out? Or do I stick it out so I can watch my boys grow up?

    • I just saw a fabulous quote today. “You cannot change your destination overnight, but you can change your direction overnight” by Jim Rohn. You have a lot going on and a ton of responsibilities. It is impressive that you see this.

      Where do you go from here, is a big question. Consider that it is your relationship that is making your unhappy, not your wife. Your wife’s contribution or lack of to the relationship is clearly an issue. I understand you have addressed these issues in the past without results. How would you say you have been addressing this? Fighting it, accepting it, enabling it, ignoring it, OR… Have you been, exploring, adjusting, setting standards and boundaries, and inquiring?

      You have two small boys and want to remain in their lives as much as possible. Yet, you must remain “YOU” – you don’t want to end a marriage until you are absolutely certain it can’t be save and “YOU” will be lost completely. this is not easy and going to take some work – but well worth it!

      Your current approach isn’t making an impact – a different direction is required. Work on the relationship not your wife. Every situation is different, but in general, describe what a “perfect” relationship looks like you, who do you need to be to offer it, and what do you need from your partner. You will need to understand the same of your wife. You will need to set some strong boundaries – deal breakers and time lines, that you may need adjust as you come discover limitations your wife/relationship may have. No one, or relationship is perfect. Happy to discuss and strategize with you. Deb

  7. I am going through a separation right now. It’s been just over two weeks. She initiated it and because we had to move and didn’t have a home for our family dog I moved to my dads house for the time being. We have 2 kids and have been married allot 9 years! It seems like she is giving me mixed signals. She asks me for stuff, I tell her I’ll always be there but she really doesn’t repricate anything I do for her. I tell her oblige her and once in a while she tells me she loves me too but she usually responds with silence. Idk what to do… I’m trying to stay strong for the girls but she doesn’t want to work on the marriage. She admitted she needs counseling but is not ready to go. She says she is confused and doesn’t really know what she wants. I have told her how I feel and I even tried to set guidelines to the separation but she won’t commit to any timeline. I feel so lost at times because my youngest daughter is asking question on when I will come home because she misses me. We haven’t told the kids yet and I’ve told her we need to but she never wants to agree on a time to do it. Idk I’m so confused…. Any advice would help.

    • I am seeing a very common theme – A spouse initiates separation but resists defining steps, goals or time lines; leaving the non-initiator in a state of limbo.
      Some questions I would ask you are:
      1. What can you control in this situation?
      2. What steps can you take, on your own, to provide structure for you and your children?
      3. When your spouse refuses to work on the marriage where does this leave you?
      4. How can you create a sense of standards for yourself and set boundaries with your spouse to sustain those standards?
      5. What are you most afraid of and if you weren’t afraid what steps would you take?

      These are very challenging questions – and I don’t expect you have answers straight away, but consider them, give them thought.
      I suggest you begin to explore the separation/divorce guidelines in your state – begin gathering information.
      Always happy to speak with you directly. Deb

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