Relationships Spouses & Partners Marital Problems Could a Trial Separation Actually Save Your Marriage? By Amy Morin, LCSW, Editor-in-Chief Updated on December 13, 2020 Fact checked Verywell Mind content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication. Learn more. by Adah Chung Fact checked by Adah Chung LinkedIn Adah Chung is a fact checker, writer, researcher, and occupational therapist. Learn about our editorial process Print Image Source / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents What It Is Potential Benefits Potential Risks How to Make It Work Have you ever wondered if a trial separation might be just what you and your partner need to improve your relationship? If so, you’re not alone. Some couples who are struggling (perhaps even thinking about divorce) agree to a trial separation. They hope that spending some time apart might help them come back together in a healthier way. Or if they’re considering divorce, they feel a trial separation could give them a little insight into what it would be like to live apart before making the decision. But many people argue that spending time apart is bound to break down an already strained relationship. Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Divorce What Is a Trial Separation? A trial separation is different from a legal separation. When couples get legally separated, there are lawyers involved in determining how money is divided or how custody is arranged. In a trial separation, it’s up to the couple to create an informal agreement together. In addition, most couples: Live apart during a trial separation.Decide how to pay the bills and split the money in any way they see fit.Decide where children and pets will reside, if applicable. Work together on determining who will manage the assets. For some, a trial separation may be a stepping stone toward divorce. For others, it can be a cooling-off period that allows them to work on issues without the emotional intensity they experience while living together. Potential Benefits Separating on a trial basis could have some benefits for your relationship. These benefits may include: You have time to work on yourself. Whether you want to improve your frustration tolerance, or you want to address a substance abuse problem, you might find you’re better able to work on yourself when your partner isn’t living in the same home. You can work on your responses to your partner. You might exhibit behaviors that bring out the worst in your partner. Nagging, lecturing, or belittling them may be a huge source of conflict. Living apart could give you the chance to learn how to stop doing these things. You might appreciate your partner more. It’s easy to take someone for granted when you’re together all the time. You might recognize how much your partner means to you when you aren’t together as much. You get a chance to cool down. If you’re really upset about something your partner did (like have an affair or lie to you), being apart can give you a chance to calm down and heal a bit before you try to work on your issues. You get a glimpse of what life would be like apart. You might daydream about the freedom of being single at times. Or you may have questioned what life would be like if you were divorced. A trial separation gives you a little insight into what life without your partner in the home is actually like. Ways to Strengthen a Marriage and Avoid Divorce Potential Risks Trial separations can do more harm than good in some cases. Here are the potential risks: You might grow apart. You might discover that you start building a life more conducive to being single, which could make reunification even more difficult.It’s not a good way to let someone down gently. If you’re positive you want a divorce, don’t use a trial separation as a way to ease your partner into the transition more gently. It’ll just prolong their pain, and they may end up doing a lot of hard work for nothing.Problems might not get resolved. If you’re struggling with specific issues, like trust or money, being apart can make it even more difficult to address these issues.Your situation will become more public. You might not yet be ready to talk about the strain in your relationship. But friends and family members may have a lot of questions about why you’re living apart.Kids may be confused. A trial separation can be tough on kids who don’t understand what’s going on. They may think you’re divorcing (or that you got divorced), and being away from one parent is likely to be difficult for them. How to Make a Trial Separation Work for You If you want to make a trial separation effective, it’s important to take steps that will give your relationship a real chance. Here are some things you may want to do: Seek professional help. A couples counselor or another qualified third party can give you objective information about how to improve your relationship. Just make sure you are willing to work on yourself (rather than simply trying to fix your partner). Be clear on your expectations. Talk about what you think the separation will look like. Will you still go on dates? Will you attend events with extended family together? What will you share with family and friends? Talking about these issues ahead of time can prevent a lot of problems. Decide when and how to communicate. It’s important to be on the same page about communication. Will you call every day? Do you plan to talk a couple of times each week? Will you text throughout the day? Discuss this ahead of time to determine what frequency is likely to be best for this stage of your relationship. Talk openly about money. Living separately means you may need to divide up the money differently. Who will be responsible for each bill? Will you maintain a joint bank account? Will you help one another financially? Discuss how you can work together to manage your financial situation to prevent hurting one another with money when you’re apart. Establish goals. Talk about how you hope a trial separation can help you. Do you hope to heal an old wound? Are you hopeful that being apart will help improve your communication or your intimacy? Discuss your goals openly with one another. A Word From Verywell If you’re thinking of a trial separation, it may be a good idea to talk to a professional first. A counselor might be able to help you create a plan (before one of you actually moves out) that can help make your trial separation effective. If you’ve already separated, reach out for help as soon as you can. If your partner refuses to see a therapist, see one on your own. Talking to someone can still be beneficial even if your partner doesn’t attend. Does Marriage Counseling Work? 1 Source Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Crabtree SA, Harris SM. The Lived Experience of Ambiguous Marital Separation: A Phenomenological Study. J Marital Fam Ther. 2020;46:385-398. doi:10.1111/jmft.12419 Additional Reading Muntigl P. Resistance in couples counselling: Sequences of talk that disrupt progressivity and promote disaffiliation. J Pragmat. 2013;49(1):18-37. doi:10.1016/j.pragma.2013.01.003 By Amy Morin, LCSW, Editor-in-Chief Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk, "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for Relationships Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.