Four Common Mistakes Couples Make During Separation
1. Failure to set goals – Often couples do not focus on what they want to accomplish during a period of separation. Individual and relationship goals are not established. Without clear goals and shared responsibility, partners return to their relationship with the same expectations and behavior that have gotten them stuck repeatedly. A great way to avoid this pitfall is for each person in the relationship to work together to fill out a separation agreement. This document provides a starting point for couples to identify existing problems and what they want to work on while separated.
2. Failure to Work on Existing Destructive Communication Patterns – A primary oversight of separating couples is that conflict is not managed. Even though there may be more physical space, the conflicts continue and communication is strained. For these couples the initial goal of a separation is to manage the conflict. Without learning to manage conflict and improve communication, the effort remains on putting out the “fires” of anger and resentment that result from a couple’s inability to agree on necessary tasks like: finances, sharing children, household chores, meeting expressed needs, etc.
3. Trial Separation isn’t the only type – One type of separation does not fit all relationships. Often couples decide on a “trial separation”, where one partner leaves the home for a period of time with uncertainty about whether the couple will ever reunite. There are several different types of separations including: in house; brief; trial; pre-divorce; psychological and therapeutic that offer more choices to couples. Some of these do not involve a partner leaving the home, which is beneficial to children and finances.
4. Disengaged Partners Must Make a Commitment to Actively Participate – Couples that are already disengaged, fight passively and communicate poorly, will not necessarily improve with more physical space alone. They must learn newer ways of dealing with avoiding conflict, communicating and reinvesting in their relationship. Taking too much time and space from each other is the problem. Learning ways to connect with each other is the solution.
You can avoid these common mistakes by doing the following as part of your separation:
- Establishing goals of the separation for each person as well as the relationship that address specific problem issues in the relationship. Goals should be clear and measurable.
- Identify dysfunctional communication patterns and make a commitment to change them. (This may require the help of a counselor or coach)
- Review the various types of separations and choose the one that makes the most sense for your family and relationship situation.
- If you are the disengaged partner(s), you must decide to re-engage or the relationship will most likely not change. Even if a physical separation is taken, partners must agree to work on spending time together while learning how to deal with conflict, express feelings, wants, dissatisfaction, and solve problems with each other.
For more information:
A list of types of separations, how to structure a separation, manage conflict, restart communication and set goals, can be found in the book: Taking Space and the Couples Home Study Course and Workbook on my website www.separationadvice.net