Marital strife can occur at the worst times and may include many problems such as financial stress, adultery, failed communication and even annoying habits.  Depending on the problem and strength of the marriage, most couples can work to overcome such issues.

But, faced with a problem that is more than one or both spouses can endure, a marriage could be destroyed.  It may feel like the decision to end your marriage is the only option and to initiate it, a separation is eminent. 

Take the time to consider all of your options.  Don't rush into a decision for the sake of resolution, but don't ignore the problem once the shock or primary issues lessen.  

Maintaining a happy marriage takes work and so will a separtion and/or divorce.  You will need to determine what's best for you.  But know, at certain times in life, there are no easy answers to complicated problems.

Staying together isn't worth a lifetime of unhappiness

Couples married for many years may face such a crossroads more than one time throughout their marriage.  While the marriage may seem successful based on the many hardships it has endured while remaining in-tact, it may in fact have been the wrong choice to save it.  

A successful marriage can be misinterpreted for one that has lasted years despite consistent discord and problems.  However, such a marriage may deplete an individual of his/her own success and happiness.  This can be a detriment to one or both spouses.  The more unhappy either spouse becomes, the more difficult the relationship is to endure.  It becomes a dependency for cohabitating as opposed to a loving institution that adds to a person's life instead of subtracting.

Don't give up a great marriage when faced with occasional hardships

Conversely, the ability to sustain problems in a marriage represents a mature outlook of what it means to love and respect one another despite difficult situations and issues.  Most often these feelings of mutual respect deflect such obstacles from affecting the marriage.  However, a marriage is that of two human beings.  They make mistakes and are not perfect. 

Forgiveness in marriage is essential for it's existence.  Nearly every marriage in history encounters some problem, obstacle or set back that presents the possibility of total destruction.  Forgiveness is a leading defender when faced with such obstacles.

Only you and your spouse know when difficult times, issues or apathy have become too much for either to continue on the marriage journey.  

Really get to know your relationship and spouse

The key to knowing if you are simply facing a difficult obstacle that your love can sustain or are part of a toxic relationship is to first know yourself and your spouse.

Know your individual and mutual goals and desires.   Consider how you both have changed, grown apart and/or grown together since you met.  Then, think forward 10, 20, 30 years with your spouse. 

Does your marriage seem to be trending in a positive direction?  If not, what is missing or wrong? 

Here we go again...

Acknowledge if the current obstacle is an uncommon occurrence or reflects on-going struggles and repetitive problems.  Often, a serious problem will also highlight the other common negative issues you face as a couple.  This may make the immediate issue seem like the "end-all" of the relationship and while it may be, it 's possible it could represent the "end-all" of your bad relationship, a red flag that indicates you and your spouse need to be proactive in solving your marital problems.

Separation may improve your relationship

Perhaps this is an issue that may require marriage counseling or time apart.   If this an isolated incident that is not strong enough to destroy your marriage, but has initially shocked you into considering divorce, give it some time.  You both must be patient with one another and yourselves until you decide to either reconcile, separate indefinitely or separate to dissolve your union of matrimony.

These decisions can only come about with sincere interest to remedy your unhappiness with or without each other.  It requires asking yourself and your spouse the hard questions and being prepared for effective answers.  Either way, you will be faced with difficult times ahead.

When making the decision to separate you should consider the following:

 Considerations

  • Is the purpose of the separation to provide a distance from each other until the marriage can be mended with the help of therapy or marriage counseling?
  • Will the primary reason for the separation be to live in separate residences or parts of the home until the divorce has been finalized and a divorce settlement including permanent occupancy of the marital home and equitable distribution has been reached?
  • Are you separating to determine if this is in everyone's best interest to dissolve the marriage or to reconcile?
  • Have you considered support, custody and living arrangements during the separation to include the possibility of a legal separation to define such terms?
  • Will the separation cause more problems for you and your family (financial, children, lifestyle) or would some sacrifices as a result of the separation be better for you and your family now and/or in the future?

While these are the initial questions you should consider prior to making such a decision, there may be many more that will be specific to your situation.

Choose your separation goals

  1. Separate as a beginning stage to divorce.
  2. Separate to determine possibility of reconciliation.
  3. Separate with reconciliation as a goal.

Individual therapy and family counseling is recommended for all three separation goals, inclusive of marriage counseling for goals two and three.  Co-parents would benefit a great deal from counseling if the marital relationship has suffered significant communication and trust issues. 

In addition to therapy for your separation goals, it's a good idea to use resources like the DMK 2020 Hubby Wifey University and Marriage Workshop.  There are also numerous books that can guide you and your spouse through marriage problems. 

If you commit to an option that supports reconciliation, you should set a reasonable expectation of marital improvements and have a plan to address the specific issues of concern.  Counseling, retreats and workshops can keep the lines of communication open, positive and productive during and after the separation period.

If a separation for reconciliation is helpful, agree to a specific amount of time to remain separated before reevaluating the marriage and your mutual goals.  The time frame can be modified if both parties are in agreement, but it's good to agree on mutual expectations in advance.  

It's also best to have an agreement regarding each other's moral and legal obligations to the marriage regarding extra-marital relations, financial support and obligations.   Time apart can change one or both spouse's expectations and goals.  

A legal separation agreement may be considered.  Each state has different laws regarding legal formality of separation agreements and if a separation is required to proceed with a divorce.   

Legal advice regarding your separation would be helpful prior to either spouse moving.   A legal expert can advise you and your spouse of the state requirements for separation, if any and provide information on establishing a separation agreement so that you can initiate a divorce if your reconciliation fails and you have established the required period of time to satisfy the separation requirement to do so.  

You can remain legally separated indefinitely, but will be unable to remarry until the marriage is dissolved.

Read, Differences Between Divorce and Legal Separation for more information on legal separtion and divorce.

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