Why You Should Separate Before Divorce


    5 Min Read


    If you are unhappy in your marriage it can feel like the only option, maybe the best option, is divorce. You may actually have moments of imagining how much happier you would be if you could just break free of your marriage. And you may wonder if it’s really necessary to go through the process of separating before divorcing.

    Why not just cut to the chase, get the divorce and be done with things? Why prolong things by having a prolonged separation before getting the divorce process started?


    These can be natural feelings, especially if things have gotten really bad in your marriage. But before you contact a divorce lawyer and have papers drawn up, there are some things to consider.

    Benefits To Separating Before Divorce

    Even if you feel certain that divorce is inevitable, there can be a lot of value in in making separation the first step.

    Some partners who feel particularly ready to be done with their marriage – like those who want to start a new relationship, are having an affair, or dealing with abuse – may feel like separation is an unnecessary step that offers false hope to the other partner.


    Although separation can serve as a cooling off period and allow for the possibility of reconciliation, it can actually do much more than that as well. Below are some of the benefits to separating before divorce that you should consider before making your final decision.

    • Financial Stability. Marriage is complicated which means divorce is too, especially when it comes to finances. When you divorce there is a lot to consider from a financial standpoint, particularly if one spouse brings in most of the household income. There are also considerations regarding taxes, health insurance, and credit just to name a few. Rushing into things can mean that partners need to make drastic financial changes that can be damaging if not handled correctly.
    • Adequate Time to Prepare. It likely took time to decide to get married and then plan your wedding. Why should it take less time when it comes to divorce? Divorce can be messy and there are many things to consider when ending the life you shared together. Separating before you actually divorce can allow you each to prepare and make sure things go as smoothly as possible.
    • Less Trauma for Children. If there are children involved both separation and divorce will be painful. But separating first can provide them with bit of a buffer to the emotional trauma of facing the idea that the family as they know it is ending forever. And no matter how amicable you think your divorce will be, when it’s done in the heat of the moment without the proper planning and cooling off, it’s very likely to get ugly – especially when it comes to the kids. You can spare them some of that trauma by taking things slowly through a separation.
    • Time to Untangle Your Feelings. Even if you feel like your marriage has been over for years divorce brings up a lot of complicated feelings. You may think that all you will feel is relief, but that’s simply not true. Trying a separation before you divorce will allow each of you to evaluate and untangle your feelings about your marriage, ending it, and what your future holds. It’s a good idea during this time to consider counseling as well. Marriage counseling while you're separated can help you both resolve the problems and feelings that got you to this point. It may or may not lead to reconciliation, but at minimum it can help you each make a fresh start and be a better partner when you enter a new relationship. It can also help ensure you and your soon-to-be-ex have the most stable and healthy relationship possible and if there are children involved this is crucial.
    • Minimizes regret. Rushing into anything can lead to regret. Divorce is no different. There are always a percentage of couples who end up feeling like divorce was a mistake. Of course, regretting your divorce once it’s all said and done means you have gone through time, expense, and an emotional roller-coaster that could have possibly been avoided if you had separated first.

    If all these aren’t enough reasons to consider separating before making the final decision to divorce, there is one more to consider.


    The Biggest Reason To Try Separation Before Divorce

    If you have made up your mind that divorce is the end goal you may not want to hear this, but the biggest reason to separate before you divorce is to give yourself enough space to see if there is a chance for your marriage to survive and even improve.

    When you are in the thick of marital problems it can be hard to see any light at the end of the tunnel. Better to just get out, right? Dr. Kurt will tell you not so fast.

    I've seen a lot of bad marriages in my nearly 20 years of counseling, but none of them have I ever thought was hopeless. And I've seen some pretty amazing transformations too for those who put in the effort. I believe separating before divorce is always a really good idea. I even teach people how to make it like a trial divorce, since I think you should experience as close as possible what you're choosing to do before you do it. Not seeing your kids for days on end can be a real eye opener, losing that person you have an ongoing conversation with can be more difficult than you can imagine, being alone in an apartment really, really sucks...the list can go on and on. I've heard a lot in divorce counseling. There are a lot of things about separation that can bring the vision of life without him or her back to the reality that divorce isn't the fix-all that people want to believe - and it can create some motivation to try harder."

    Many couples fall down the rabbit hole of letting life take over their relationship and losing sight of the love they shared. It may seem like the love is gone, there’s no intimacy, and all you ever do is argue. Life is too short, why would you want to continue this?

    Or, along the same lines but not so dire, things just have lost their luster and there’s nothing exciting anymore. Maybe you’re no longer attracted to your spouse and there doesn’t seem to be anything to look forward to in your relationship. Why not just move on and find someone else to make you happy?

    The answer to both these questions is because relationships are cyclical and giving up your marriage means losing a lot.


    Many of the strongest, longest-lived relationships have survived very similar scenarios. The difference is that they took the time to unbury their feelings and rediscover what brought them together in the first place.

    It’s not a certainty, but it is possible that your relationship can be saved, and you could decide it’s worth saving. Making the effort to separate before divorcing can help you see that. And if not, you have done your due diligence and can feel more comfortable that you’re making the right decision.

    Dos And Don’ts While You’re Separated

    All that being said, if you do make the decision to separate before you divorce there are some things to keep in mind. Separation isn’t like suddenly being single, nor is it like being in a happy marriage. This means it can be complicated and there are certain considerations that need to be made.

    These dos and don’ts can help guide you.


    • Do maintain communication.
    • Do set boundaries with your partner.
    • Do sit down and agree upon “rules” for being separated.
    • Do try to maintain an open and friendly approach when interacting with your spouse.
    • Do seek counseling as a couple and/or individually.
    • Do set realistic expectations about what you’re hoping to achieve.
    • Do set up a timeline for your separation.
    • Do spend time considering deeply why you have been thinking about divorce. The reasons may be different than you initially thought.
    • Do have dates with your spouse before you decide the separation isn’t working.


    • Don’t date or initiate other romantic relationships.
    • Don’t have sex with your spouse while you’re separated – it makes it harder to see things clearly.
    • Don’t cut yourself off from your spouse or use the silent treatment to make a point.
    • Don’t mess around with the finances or change things without agreement first.
    • Don’t ever badmouth your spouse to your children.
    • Don’t engage in behaviors that would naturally harm your marriage or make divorce more complicated, like shutting the local bar down every night or hanging out with an ex.
    • Don’t date, initiate romantic relationships, or have sex with anyone else. It bears repeating.

    Adhering to these dos and don’ts while you’re going through a separation will help you more clearly be able to determine what the best next steps will be.

    It’s entirely possible – even if you’re not sure what you want – that separating before going straight to divorce will mean that the space will allow you and your spouse to see why trying to stay together is what you both want and the best choice for you as a couple.

    But if staying together isn’t the cards for you, making separation the step you take before divorcing can help the process go as smoothly as can be expected. And when it comes to divorce, to have it go smoothly is about the best you can hope for.


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