Separation between couples is often a misunderstood area, due to the lack of legal guidelines and the ease with which it can be carried out, especially in the UK. It is fraught with many pitfalls, if certain clear objectives are not laid down or ultimately met.
The most basic rule of any separation is to give the couple space and time in their relationship to decide on future action, particularly in saving the marriage etc., without undue influence from each other. However, in most cases, separation inevitably leads to divorce because that main objective was ignored or not acted upon.
Furthermore, once separated, some people are apt to see it as a new freedom and opportunity for them to start new liaisons/affairs with other parties, which then complicate the situation and make finding a solution to the marital problems much harder. This is then likely to change the whole nature of the separation into a more final phase before the actual divorce, as very few struggling relationships recover from this added pressure.
The rules of separation should involve six key ones:
First, the break should have a specific time attached to it, so that it does not just drag on without any conclusion. The time should ideally be between three and six months so that a sense of urgency and sincerity is retained, especially where children are involved. The longer the separation continues, as people settle into their new routine, the harder it is to get back to the old life, which makes the time allowed for a conclusion very important. Any separation that drags on will gradually turn into two new and separate lifestyles. So three months is the ideal maximum for a conclusion of some sort.
Second, separation does not have to be agreed to by both parties. One party can suggest it, with a main reason for that break, but he/she should also be the one to leave the household. This is usually a fraught and anxious time for the party who might not favour a separation, hence why there should be no ambiguities about it and the actual separation should be brisk. Most important, there should be clear agreement about the care and welfare of any children involved during this period.
Third, there should be encouragement of communication between the parties, with regular times to meet - either with or without a counsellor - so that progress can be made towards reconciliation. This is usually the worst time as parties are likely to blame each other and recount past behaviour rather than finding solutions to steer a better course together. There is usually very little listening as couples jostle for position and emphasise their 'victim' perspectives. However, separation can be a useful time to step back from what has gone before and try to understand the other party and their concerns without duress. If that person is doing the same too, a better understanding of the underlying problems and how they can be sorted is likely to be reached with much less acrimony.
Fourth, there should be clear agreement about what happens to the finances during this period, with equal sharing of resources and children adequately taken care of. Running two households, or living on one's own, is likely to be more expensive than sharing with another. This item needs crucial agreement before the separation takes place so that the person left with the children, in particular, does not bear the brunt of any financial burden that might ensue.
Fifth, how the parties physically treat each other at this time, especially in an intimate way, is also important. Again, it should be a clear agreement as to the amount of intimacy between the couple during the separation. It is perhaps better not to engage in sexual interaction while separated mainly because it tends to cloud the issues and do not move the decision along briskly enough, especially if one person is still getting what they want without having to sort out any issues. By keeping the separation period at a more platonic level, solutions can be reached much quicker and a proper relationship resume when all parties are happy with the outcome.
Sixth, a separation is likely to be more successful in its objectives if it is regarded as such: a clear break from the usual home routine to give the parties time to sort out intractable differences and key problems between them. Once it is treated as a continuation of the relationship, or as a time for both parties to act like single people, not much can be achieved from that. There will simply be more of the same behaviour without any conclusion, and divorce is then likely to follow.
©Elaine Sihera (Ms CYPRAH) 2012
Emotional Health and People Management Consultant
"Happiness is a state of being. We are the ones who decide whether we wish to be happy or not, by the script we use inside our heads."