The Benefits of Couples Therapy While Separated

male and female sitting across from a therapist in her office

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Love is a top priority when thinking about entering into a long-term committed relationship. In fact, 88% 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% for couples in the United States.

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.

Divorce May Be on the Decline

Divorce rates seem to be going down due to:

  • Couples choosing to live together rather than marry
  • Increase in couples participating in counseling together
  • People waiting until they are older to get married

Choosing a Trial Separation

A 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 Suggest Counseling

You may wonder if there is ever a good time to approach your partner about counseling to see if they will go with you. The reality is, the best time to ask is 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 perhaps 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 always adequately trained in this specialized work, so it will be helpful for you to do some 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.

Questions to Ask a Counselor:

  • Do you feel comfortable working with couples who are separated?
  • Do you work exclusively with marriage and relationships?
  • How long have you been working with couples?
  • What can we expect as we begin counseling with you?
  • What is your training in relationship counseling?

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.

Benefits of Separation Counseling

Marriage counselor 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:

  • Guidance to manage a smooth transition back into the home
  • Opportunities to de-escalate existing conflict
  • Professional help to heal and repair the relationship
  • Reconciliation to build a solid, healthy relationship
  • Safe space to see and hear how the conflict is impacting each partner
  • A sense of hope for reconnection
  • Space to process challenging emotions around the steps to take next
  • Time to gain understanding about what may have led to a disconnection
  • Trusted guidance to navigate difficult decision-making about the relationship

A Word From Verywell

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.

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Article Sources
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  6. Schofield MJ, Mumford N, Jurkovic D, Jurkovic I, Bickerdike A. Short and long-term effectiveness of couple counselling: a study protocolBMC Public Health. 2012;12:735. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-735

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