Physical Separation vs In Home Separation: Which is Better for Reconciling?

While many people fear living apart will end their marriage, physical separation has benefits for reconciling that living together as-if separated doesn’t.

separated at home not helpful for reconciling
Acting as if you are separated while living together increases relationship distance.

When people behave as if they are separated while living together, they are actually still sharing the same space. The separation is actually an emotional separation. This is accomplished by avoidance and intentional suppression of positive emotions.

In addition, people who live together and behave as if they are separated often have poor marital boundaries that result in feelings of anger and resentment that further deteriorate their relationship.

Contrast this with an actual physical separation. If people mutually agree to have a physical separation, they can continue to have friendly interaction and better boundaries. All of the negative time together is eliminated while the time seeing each other can be positive. Not knowing what the other person is doing also creates a helpful anxiety for reconciling that can’t happen when you are living with someone.

A few months of this can lead to a total rebuilding of the relationship that could never be accomplished if a couple are living together and intentionally distancing.

Considering yourself to be separated while living together prevents the building of love and attraction and leads to letting go with less remorse. It is a good option for someone who wants to help their spouse to let go of the relationship. If you recognize that divorce really is the best choice for your situation, then living together while behaving as if you are separated may be your best choice.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of a so called in-home separation and an actual physical separation.

Living together while acting as if you are separated:

  1. Weakens emotional connection,
  2. Prevents in-love feelings,
  3. Fosters relational hopelessness,
  4. Is more economical,
  5. Provides temporary stability for children,
  6. Leads to letting go and divorce.

Physical separation (living in different homes):

  1. Removes negative time together,
  2. Creates the opportunity for positive connection,
  3. Can restore relational hopefulness,
  4. Is more costly,
  5. Creates temporary instability for children,
  6. Can result in reconciliation, if used in a positive way.

Which you decide to do may depend on your priorities, but be sure to look at long term outcomes. For example, if you prioritize stability for children, you may want to live together while acting as if you are separated. But, as that is more likely to lead to divorce, you increase the long term chances of a broken home.

The same is true if you prioritize financial costs. Will you save more by staying together? Yes, if you are intending to divorce anyhow. But, if you are wanting to reconcile it may be much more costly to stay together in the short term because it is more likely to lead to divorce.

If your priority is to reconcile, then you are far better off with an actual physical separation. Of course you will also need to use good relationship skills before, during, and after the separation to rebuild and maintain your relationship. If you are going to behave badly, both types of separation lead to divorce.

Fighting your spouse about separation will make reconciling far less likely than using the separation as an opportunity for rebuilding.

It is not possible to fight your way to a better relationship. People who like to say they will fight for their relationship have the wrong idea. We need to love for our relationship–not fight for it. Read your Bible regularly to catch these well ingrained lies. Opposing your spouse will never bring closeness, even if your spouse wants to separate or divorce.

Why separate in the first place?

There are two main reasons for separating:

  1. Transitioning to divorce, and
  2. Improving a marriage that would otherwise continue to deteriorate.

Continuing to live together in a relationship that is getting worse, despite all other efforts, will result in ending the marriage. In such a situation, the sooner the separation happens, the less damage will be done and the easier it will be to reconcile.

The difference in what is achieved with separation depends on a few factors:

  1. How well people get along before separating,
  2. The boundaries used during separation,
  3. The use of good connection skills while separated, and
  4. One or both spouses becoming more desirable for their partner.

The greater the conflict before and during the separation the less likely separation is to result in reconciling. Separation itself does not create a risk of divorce. It is the continued conflict in a deteriorating relationship, as well as poor boundaries, that do that. That occurs whether you are living together or not.

When you first met your spouse, you were living separately. That is one thing that helped your relationship to grow to the point that you wanted to get married. The other was how you behaved at that time.

If you have done all you can to improve your relationship and it is still failing, how can preventing separation be helpful except to further convince your spouse that your marriage is over?

How relationships build during a separation

Relationships are built the same way, whether people are single, married, living together, or living apart. In a new relationship, people are not living together. Virtually every contact they have, whether in person or by text, is positive. With nearly 100% of their interaction positive, their relationship builds quickly. 

Likewise, couples who are physically separated have far less time together, but can build their relationships quickly by making sure that the time is positive using good connection skills. The percentage of quality time is the important variable for building a relationship–not the total time.

People who get together only a couple of times a week can have a much better relationship than people who live together every day–provided their time together is very positive. Living together actually makes relationships worse because of the added neutral or negative time.

That is why people should not marry until their relationship is fully developed. It is also why people must fully rebuild their marriage before living together again.

We build our relationships before living together; we maintain them after lifting together. Never count on living together to bring any further improvement.

Failing to separate soon enough and ending a separation too soon are two major reasons that couples fail to reconcile.

Another thing to keep in mind is that relationships are not built or rebuilt by talking about problems as that increases the amount of negative time spent together. You are not going to attract anyone if you have a fondness for talking about relationship problems. On the other hand, being desirable and using validation skills will work wonders.

“I want to find a spouse who enjoys talking about problems.”–Said by No One.

Why doesn’t the positive time principle work for people who are “separated” and living together?

When you are separated while living together, nearly 100% of the time you see each other is either neutral or negative. Not only does this not give any forward momentum to the relationship, it doesn’t even stop the damage. Even if you can get in one positive hour out of twenty, that is only 5% positive time and 95% negative or neutral.

Contrast that with one good hour per week when you have no other time together. That is 100% positive time spent together.

A common mistake in reconciling illustrates this point.

Often when one spouse learns another wants out, he or she starts to spend a LOT of time at home with the other spouse–far more than the other spouse wants. While the percentage of time together goes up, the percentage of positive time together goes down and the relationship gets worse.

To build a relationship, it is usually necessary to reduce the time spent together and instead increase the quality of contact. These are the same variables that help someone fall in love when they are single or are with an affair partner.

How about dating others while you are separated?

If people not only live together, but also date others, their relationship ends very quickly. How likely is it that a man who can live with his wife and date other women is going to want to stop that behavior? How likely is it that a man who continues to live with a wife who dates other men is going to be seen as an attractive man? They are both not likely.

You can’t attract someone by doing unattractive things.

If you are really nice to allow your spouse to date others, you will get appreciation. Nice men and women are liked, but not loved.

At best, all you will get with poor boundaries is friendship.

The nice man or woman will lose to the desirable man or woman every time. There is a big difference between being nice and being desirable. If you don’t know what it is, then you need to learn.

Open marriages have been tried for thousands of years and have never worked. There is nothing modern about unfaithfulness–just better marketing. You will not be able to achieve a faithful and committed relationship by accepting or participating in unfaithful behavior.

Some people ask me if they should date others while separated. The answer is, not if you want to reconcile. This is why I only coach people who are faithful to their spouse. It simply wouldn’t work otherwise.

Physical separation, combined with good boundaries can take away your spouse’s desire to divorce.

If you are not living together and have good separation boundaries, your spouse will get to experience the losses that come with divorce. If you are doing a good job of being desirable and helping your spouse to enjoy interacting with you, that loss will stimulate new feelings of desire for you. I have helped many people to prevent divorce that way.

If your spouse can have all the benefits of being married, while also having all the benefits of being single, your spouse will not reconcile with you. If anything, your spouse will wish he or she separated or divorced you long ago.

If you are living together, you will not be able to use most of the separation boundaries. In addition, using separation boundaries while living together will just make your spouse want to end your marriage even more. Don’t try to use separation boundaries if you are still living together.

What matters most in separation for reconciling.

7 Key variables for making a separation go well are:

  1. Being on the same page about the need to separate,
  2. Being friendly and cooperative during the separation process,
  3. Having good separation boundaries if your spouse wants to divorce,
  4. Not having a trial separation if your spouse does not want to reconcile,
  5. Working on yourself to become more desirable,
  6. Helping your spouse to enjoy interactions with you,
  7. Helping your spouse to feel that divorcing means the end of your relationship rather than a continued friendship.

Having a time limited trial separation with a spouse who is not interested in improving your relationship does not promote reconciling. There are some limited uses for trial separations if your spouse wants to improve your relationship. The bottom line is that trial separations cannot create the feelings of loss necessary to reconcile with a spouse who does not want to.

I have a detailed article on trial separations on my website if you want to learn more about the pros and cons of using one.

Separated while living together makes reconciling less likely.

Separated while living together is just another way to say you have decided to live as roommates. Changing the definition from “roommates” to “separated” makes some people feel more comfortable cheating on their spouse or living a single lifestyle. There is nothing about being roommates, intentionally avoiding each other, or being unfaithful that is ever going to rebuild your marriage.

The only benefits of living together while pretending to be separated are for the person who wants to be independent while still having child care or financial support. Because the relationship will eventually fail this way, it is not really protecting the children. It is just giving them bad role models.

If you are separated while living together, you just need to ask yourself one question–is your relationship improving? If it isn’t, then it may be time to use an actual physical separation before your relationship gets to the point of no return. If you would like help re-attracting and re-connecting with your spouse, I would be happy to help.

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