Love is a top priority when thinking about entering into a long-term committed relationship. In fact, 88 percent of Americans report that love is the most important reason to consider getting married. We want to feel loved by, and be in love with, our partner.
Relationships are faced with more pressure than ever before. In addition to the long-standing stress of things like finances, life transitions and family dynamics, couples are also faced with challenges of emotional bonding and keeping intimacy alive.
We look to our partners for comfort, reassurance, and closeness and feel hurt when we are not experiencing that kind of connection in our relationship. Partners can find themselves stuck in unhealthy patterns of disconnect and, over time, start thinking that they are no longer meant to be together.
Separation Before Divorce
The American Psychological Association (APA) estimates that the divorce rate has remained steady, between 40 and 50 percent for couples in the United States. Some reports are starting to show that the trend of divorce may be on the decline, which could be attributed to factors such as:
- People waiting until they are older to get married
- Couples choosing to live together rather than marry
- Increase in couples participating in counseling together
As couples find their relationship is in distress, they may come to assume that things are over and cannot be healed or repaired. However, it may be reasonable and beneficial for couples to consider separation while discerning what step to take next in their marriage.
Deciding on a Trial Separation
Trial separation can be an option for couples who are struggling in their relationship but unsure if divorce is the right next step to take. When partners are not getting along, they may choose to live in separate locations as they attempt to work through challenges they are experiencing within themselves and within the relationship.
Some people consider a trial separation to be a move of “one foot out of the door” and a stepping stone to divorce or the ultimate end of the relationship. Each couple is different and there are a variety of reasons for entering a trial separation. Divorce is not inevitable for these couples.
In fact, relationship counseling can be of significant benefit during this time when partners are living apart and can be somewhat removed from the unhealthy patterns they experienced with each other while living together.
How to Ask Your Partner for Counseling While Separated
You may wonder if there is ever a good time to approach your partner about counseling to see if he or she will go with you. The reality is, the time is best to ask when you believe that counseling could help your relationship. When you are separated, yet still believe that couples counseling could be of benefit to your relationship, the reward of asking your partner to participate in counseling may outweigh the risk.
So, how do you ask your partner? Keep in mind that it is most often fear that stops people from entering the counseling process. You or your partner may fear experiencing more emotional pain in the process or being perceived as the “bad guy” or the “broken one.”
Take time to reflect on your own fears about the process of counseling and what your partner may fear in getting started. Allow space for both of you to talk openly about the concerns and, if possible, make an effort to research counselors together to find someone you both feel you may be comfortable with.
Finding Your Counselor
There are many counselors and other clinicians who state that they work with couples but are not adequately trained in this specialized work, so it will be helpful for you to do a little bit of research before selecting a counselor for your unique situation. One primary factor to consider is the counselor’s training specifically related to marriage and relationship counseling. You will want to know that the counselor you choose will be able to understand the delicate status of the relationship while being able to help you calm and navigate the waters of relationship healing and repair.
Don’t be afraid to contact a few different counselors in your area and ask questions about the services they offer. When talking with a counselor, questions you may want to ask include:
- What is your training in relationship counseling?
- How long have you been working with couples?
- Do you work exclusively with marriage and relationships?
- Do you feel comfortable working with couples who are separated?
- What can we expect as we begin counseling with you?
Taking time to ask a counselor questions like these can allow you to gain a better understanding of their specialized training, their experience in working with couples and how they may be able to help you and your partner during this challenging time.
What Separation Counseling Can Offer
Marriage specialist Dana Vince, MA, LPC/MHSP, suggests that there are plenty of benefits a couple can experience in counseling while separated. Just as for couples who are still living together, she shares, “Counseling can help you understand the patterns that occurred that led to this place, how to gain clarity and grow from the experience so that old patterns are not repeated.”
Ms. Vince states that for high-conflict couples, in particular, separation can help to de-escalate the conflict, allowing the relationship counseling to serve as a safe space to begin processing what is happening in their dynamic. She shares, “Counseling can also help bring clarity and peace to difficult decision making about the relationship.”
If you and your partner are currently separated, relationship counseling may offer you some of the following:
- Space to deescalate existing conflict
- Time to gain understanding about what may have led to disconnection
- Safe space to see and hear how the conflict is impacting each partner
- Trusted guidance to navigate difficult decision making about the relationship
- Space to process challenging emotions around the steps to take next
- Create a sense of hope for reconnection
- Professional help to heal and repair the relationship
- Guidance to manage a smooth transition back into the home
- Help reconciled couples continue to build a solid, healthy relationship
Couples who are separated, or approaching a place of separation, are undoubtedly in distress. The emotions of each partner are likely running high while hopes for change and improvement run low.
Couples counseling can offer you and your partner adequate space and time critically needed to determine what steps to take next in your relationship. Healing and repair may be an option with the help of a trained marriage counselor.
By Jodi Clarke, MA, LPC/MHSP