making up after a fight

How To Rebuild Your Marriage While You Are Separated

Marital separation (living in different homes), can be a good opportunity for rebuilding your relationship. It can also result in ending your relationship if not done in a good way.

correctly managing a marital separation
Marital separation can be a time of healing and reinvigorating a relationship if done in a good way

When you are separated, it’s easy to be overly focused on ending the separation. This is natural because you miss your spouse and just want to be together again.

However, what you need to focus on is not how quickly you get back together, but how strongly you build your relationship.

While separation is a good opportunity to rebuild your relationship, people who end their separation too soon often have not rebuilt enough to prevent another separation. That’s not good because each separation you have is more likely to result in divorce.

Do it once, do it right, and stay together for life. This should be your motto for rebuilding your marriage during a separation.

As I’ve said elsewhere, physical separation creates conditions for rebuilding that you can’t have if you live together while behaving as-if you are separated.

Marital separations are better than the alternative

Many people are afraid to separate, for fear that they won’t get back together. What they often fail to consider is what will happen if they don’t separate and just keep going the way they are. Both therapists and relationship coaches encourage separations when continuing to live together would just result in more damage.

A marital separation should be no more scary than when you first dated your spouse. You weren’t living together then, were you? And yet your relationship built so well that your spouse fell in love and wanted to marry you. There is nothing about living together that further builds a relationship.

A good way to think of it is…

Relationship building happens while living apart, maintenance happens while living together.

People who marry too soon or live together too soon often prevent creating an even better relationship, or have too flimsy of a base that soon collapses. Never live together while your relationship is still building. Let it peak and stabilize, then live together and maintain that level.

Marital separations can help people to emotionally reconnect

The most important way separations help is by decreasing the amount of negative or neutral time that a couple spends together. When neutral or negative time together far outweighs positive time together, the relationship stalls and love fades.

Because you are not living together when you are separated, it is easier to make most of the time together positive and to get the emotional connection growing again. Of course if you behave badly while separated, you will have mostly negative time and it will result in ending your marriage.

Total time together is not the key factor for relationship building. The key factor is having positive time together. When spending more time together means increasing negative and neutral time, your relationship will stop growing and get worse. Only add more time to your interactions when your spouse actually enjoys having more interaction with you (whether face to face or texting).

The best time to stop an interaction is before your spouse stops enjoying it. Better to have an hour too little together than to have one minute too long. That last minute determines how much your spouse looks forward to seeing you again.

How to have a healthy marital separation

Separations that are most helpful for reconciling combine:

The boundaries make sure that your spouse does not end up getting everything that he or she could want while still being separated. Otherwise, your spouse will quite honestly say that being separated is better than living together again. He or she will have the best of both worlds–having a part-time marriage while being able to live a single lifestyle the rest of the time.

Not having boundaries while being separated is like not having boundaries before marriage. Many single people with poor boundaries end up with a partner who will not marry because there is no further benefit in it for them. They have all the benefit of being married without having to give up being single.

Beware the false belief that if you give your spouse everything he or she wants, that will lead to marital recommitment. People only commit in order to keep something that they could not otherwise.

Dating as a single person is a time when you get to sample some of the features of the product (your partner), while not being able to keep it indefinitely or have additional features enabled unless you buy it (commit to marry). Separation is the same way if you want to make the sale (i.e. reconcile).

People do not value what they get for free. If you give away all you have, you will find that you are left with nothing.

Be valuable, be better than the competition, be exclusive, and be secure and you will have a spouse who never wants to give you up.

Here are some do’s and don’ts for reconciling while separated

Don’t: Try to live together while acting as-if you are separated

I have an article/podcast that goes into detail on this. To make a long story short, the intentional distancing, loss of attraction, and low percentage of positive time together prevent reconciling. Living together while acting as-if you are separated is primarily helpful for emotionally letting go.

Many spouses who don’t want to reconcile will choose this option to more easily bring an end to your marriage.

Do: Separate when other attempts to make your relationship better are not working

The better your relationship is before separating, the more helpful separation is going to be for rebuilding. If you have tried other methods to improve your relationship and they haven’t helped, then use separation to re-create the conditions you first had with your spouse before marriage.

Many marriages have been saved by separations done at the right time, in the right way.

If you wait until your spouse has no more interest in your relationship, it is still possible to reconcile, but much harder and less likely.

Separations do not damage marriages–the lack of positive interaction is what does it.

Don’t: Having no boundaries while separated

If you and your spouse have both agreed to separate in order to rebuild your marriage, boundaries are mainly about limiting time together and rebuilding emotional intimacy before having physical intimacy. It is starting over what you did when you first met.

If you are separating because your spouse wants to end your marriage, then you will need to use more separation boundaries. Done in conjunction with becoming more desirable, these can re-interest your spouse in your marriage.

Becoming more desirable without having boundaries leads to indefinite separation or amicable divorce. This is because you will have made it much more appealing to live apart than to live together.

Do: Be relaxed and friendly

People who can’t be relaxed and friendly don’t do well when they are single and they don’t do well when they are married, either. There is no way to argue or reason your way to a better relationship. Also, looking miserable may make your spouse feel sorry for you, but will make you even less desirable. You need to use the same skills someone else would use to have a relationship with your spouse.

Don’t: Ending your marital separation too soon

Your marriage stops growing the moment you move in together. If your spouse wants to live together and work on your relationship, the separation has motivated your spouse. If you then immediately live together, that motivation will be gone. Continue the separation until your relationship is positive and stable for at least three months for maximum benefit.

If your relationship is still growing or has not had time to stabilize, there is no good reason to live together.

Failing to separate soon enough and ending a separation too soon are the two biggest mistakes when it comes to separations and reconciling.

Do: Help your spouse to enjoy contact with you

To build your relationship, you need to have less contact, but make it positive. Don’t talk about problems during your contact time. Try to arrange practical things so that business talk can be minimized. If you need to keep solving financial or childcare issues, it will sour your contact with your spouse.

Marriage counseling, which is problem focused, is not a good idea while separated as it is not positive. I would only consider marriage counseling if you otherwise would have no positive contact. Marriage counselors promote amicable divorce, not reconciling. Don’t be eager to get your spouse to go to marriage counseling.

One minute of positive contact beats one hour of negative marriage counseling!

Don’t: Separating and having no contact

There are only two situations when having no contact is going to be helpful:

  1. You stress out your spouse when you do have contact, or
  2. your spouse is fearful of losing you.

No contact is better than bad contact, but won’t fix your marriage. End contact only until you can stop pressuring and start validating.

If your spouse is fearful of losing you, the lack of contact can motivate your spouse to work on your relationship. If you have a secure spouse or are stressing out your spouse, the lack of contact will help your spouse to enjoy being without you even more.

Using good connection skills and limited contact builds relationships. Negative contact or too much contact damages relationships.

Don’t: Having the wrong expectations about marital separation

The wrong expectations cause impatience, frustration, negative interactions, and giving up. Some people start out well, but start behaving badly if things aren’t fixed in one month. The time it takes to reconcile can take as long as it does to get married in the first place, depending on your level of disconnection.

Some wrong expectations are:

  • Reconciling will happen quickly,
  • Reconciling will happen easily,
  • Reconciling happens by talking about problems,
  • Your spouse will want to reconcile before your relationship is improved.

Reconciling is not likely to happen in less than six months, though you should see steady improvement in your relationship. It will take just as much work as it took before you were married. And, it will build the same way as it would for singles, by having good times together.

Expecting a spouse to want to reconcile before a relationship is rebuilt is like, as a single person, expecting someone to want to marry you before you have built a relationship with them.

To reconcile successfully you need to get out of the mindset of fixing or convincing and instead have the single mindset of gradually growing together through positive interaction.

Do: Be in agreement with separating

If you are in disagreement with the separation:

  • You will have more negative interaction,
  • Your spouse will use distancing behavior,
  • You will have less contact following the separation,
  • You are more likely to divorce.

We can’t build a relationship with someone if we are far ahead of them emotionally. We must hold back on our feelings and join them at their level. Then, through positive interaction we build the relationship until they get to the point where we are.

Although it may seem like moving in the wrong direction, you will need to be on the same page as your spouse in order to be able to build your relationship.

Your choices are to keep trying to convince or to connect with agreement and empathy. Which one do you think stands a better chance of helping your spouse to enjoy interacting with you again?

Two main skills needed for reconciling while separated

As you can see from the do’s and don’ts, you need to have connection skills that help your spouse to enjoy talking with you again. You also need to have the correct boundaries and implement them so that your spouse won’t stay indefinitely separated or divorce feeling reassured that you will continue to remain friends.

The Horror stories you hear about separation mainly stem from the poor use of these skills. Marital separation, done well, does not signal the end of a relationship. In fact, it may be the only way to save your relationship and is far less risky than just living together and continuing to damage your relationship.

Preventing separation does not prevent divorce. Being a desirable partner your spouse would lose by divorcing is what prevents divorce.

You can learn to be such a valuable partner from my books or even more easily by opting for the Re-Connections Coaching Package. Choose the level of help that fits the amount of time you have to turn things around.

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