Should You Consider a Marriage Separation?

One of the questions I’m asked frequently is, “Can a marital separation ever save a marriage?”

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.

Couples in this situation often plan to use the separation period to “let the dust settle,” reflect on the marriage, and work on individual and joint issues in counseling. Both spouses agree not to date anyone else and to focus on improving communication and exploring how to improve their relationship.

For these couples, the 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.

In other cases, one spouse 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. . 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, is chronically unfaithful, or shows continual disrespect towards the mate and refuses to go to counseling.

Sometimes the best thing the spouse can do is to decide to separate and hope 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 spouse then has to stand firm and say, “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 if the partner is finally motivated enough to enter counseling and work on changing

Of course, there are no guarantees in a marital 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.

–Written by Nancy Wasson, Ph.D.


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  1. Dear Nancy

    Thank you for your featured article on the Space issue which was troubling me for past 5 weeks now. You are right in that we smother ed each other for 19 years. she would pick my clothes most of the time and was the kindest man to her all our lives. we never disrespected each other until last year my my closest family members assaulted our son last and this spiral led my wife downwards and I was thinking on how to punish my family for what they did. I lost focus on my wife’s feeling s on this to a point she became depressed taking anti-depressant which caused her to lose her sex drive. if we were intimate , she did her duty as a wife to a point she felt like i was forcing myself on her. About 5 weeks she exploded and said the most nastiest things that hurt me emotionally. My 17 year son stated dad that is not our mother we know something has happened to her. Its been 5 week now that she is sleeping with my 15 old daughter.

    I have read you book many times over ” when you spouse says i don’t love you anymore” and thanks for your download of overcoming control conflict. Every time I ask her what’s wrong she always give the same answer she doesn’t know whats happening to her. she has lost tremendous amount of weight and is in denial that she is depressed. I have been hopsitalised for depression myself over the things she did – BUT with much prayer in Christ I am taking care of myself.

    How long should I wait before starts speaking to me or what should I do in the mean time besides being kind and patient. she has become cold and I have become a punching bag for her depressed state. Family and friends say that i don’t deserve this treatment as I have never given her a reason to do this to me.These are some of the things she has done after good and blessed 19 years :

    1.She taken her wedding rings off and kept it away without telling me until I noticed , when confronted she said she don’t intend wearing it again.

    2. deleted me from blackberry chat , why I went to hospital

    3. Denied the kids a fathers dad gift , when my son asked her why – she didn’t feel like. My son response was mom you don’t have to feel we must feel.
    4. Does petty things if am using the car to drop her at work , about a week she sits at the back seat.

    I did visit a psychiatrist and physiologist both said she doing these things out of anger.

    I know she wants her space and independence but I also told her we are also interdependent in a marriage. she is refusing all help until a few days ago she did confide she needs all the help she needs and they must recommend a good counselor and not the ones I have seen. Is this pride ?

    Please advise me on how to approach it as I know deep down the love and values are there but its covered with depresses state. Also at child hood she and sister were sexually abused would this rear its ugly head now?

    I really enjoy reading and sharing you emails and I have also sent your email to friends as well.

    Kind Regards
    Phillip – SA

    1. Phillip,

      My wife Nancy and I can understand how difficult your marriage situation is. We’d recommend that you consult with a marriage coach who can advise you on the best course of action for your particular situation. You may want to consider finding one locally if your community has one nearby. Or as an alternate approach, you can find a number of good counselors and coaches online. For more information, check out our blog post Tips for Finding Marriage Counseling and Coaching Advice Worldwide at

      All the best,
      Lee Hefner

  2. I agree with the basic premise that separation is (in many instances) the marriage saver… to me, it was indeed the only option I had. Yes, I left and assured my wife that it was strictly temporary and divorce was not on the table… AT ALL. Her views expressed were negatively centered–“IF YOU LEAVE, IT’S OVER!” It is my deepest desire to save our marriage, and for both of us to learn from the horrid experience of being enmeshed in conflict after conflict… argument after argument. Hopefully, she will realize that the move was best for both of us–in other words I hope that she sees this as a wakeup call and not a hang up call.

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