It is possible that what brought you to consider a trial separation is a long and careful process. It is also possible that this is an emotional impulse -- the equivalent of wanting to slam the door on your spouse ("Now, I've had it!"). Even if you're acting out of sheer frustration and anger, it makes sense to put some thought into defining the terms of the trial separation if you want to maximize the chances that it can be a healing process that possibly leads to a reconciliation.
This may seem like a paradox: You're separating because you can't get along, so how can you define guidelines? Well, if you can't do it on your own, you need to find help to do so. Remember:
- The more ambiguity there is, the more likely you are to experience conflicts during the separation.
- If you find it difficult it is to discuss issues upfront, it is likely that you will find it even more difficult to do so when these issues surface during the separation.
So what we're talking about here is making the process safer by proactively creating guidelines. Here are 5 specific steps to address.
1. How long a separation will this be?
You may not feel able to set an end date; then you could decide on re-evaluating the situation after 3 weeks (or 3 months).
2. How much will you be in touch during this time?
Will you communicate once a day, or once a week, or once a month? By phone, texting, or email? Will you only communicate in a formal setting (e.g. joint counseling session)?
3. Define each person's responsibilities:
Clearly decide how you will deal with any joint financial responsibilities (e.g. mortgage), or other joint responsibilities (e.g. a pet).
If children are involved, you need to create a clear structure in terms of which parent does what, and deal upfront with financial issues and other upcoming decisions.
4. Deal with dating issues:
Is it a separation where people are allowed to date others, or not? It may feel simpler to finesse the issue, but doing so is not likely to build trust.
5. Face the emotional issues
If the separation is only a temporary reprieve from the problems you're facing as a couple, chances are you're going to find the same problems once you get back together. So you need to use this time productively, to face the issues that are making it had for the two of you to function as a couple.
Chances are you will need some form of counseling, as individuals or as a couple. Why? If the problems of living as a couple are so drastic that you need to separate, chances are you need help to deal with them.
See also: Marriage counseling