Trial Separation Duration: For How Long Should It Last?

I sometimes hear from people who are considering a trial separation.  Sometimes, one spouse wants to separation much more than the other.  And the spouse who is reluctant about the separation wants to make it as short as is possible.  People seem to intuitively know that the longer a separation lasts, the less the chance of a reconciliation (I will talk about these statistics a bit later.)  However, at the same time, you want to give the separation a fair chance to work so that you will not end up divorced because you decided to rush a reconciliation.

So someone might ask: “what is the ideal duration of a trial separation?  My husband wants one.  I do not.  However, he is very insistent about this.  We have children and I do not want them to be without their father for a long period of time, so I suggested evaluating at the end of a month’s time to see if a reconciliation could be worked out.   I honestly felt that I was compromising and being accommodating. However, my husband said that he did not think that one month was long enough for any real changes to take place.  He wants to just leave things up in the air and just evaluate our progress as we go along.  This scares me.  My fear is that the separation will just linger on and on so that we will eventually end up with a divorce on our hands.  What is the ideal duration for a separation?  How long do most trial separations last?”

To answer this question as best as I could, I did a little research.  I found a clinical study out of Ohio State University which reported that most of the participants in their study had separations that lasted a year or less.  And just like you suspected, the longer that the separation lasted, the higher the chance for a divorce. Most couples who reconciled had their separation last for less than two years.  The couples who were separated the longest were the most likely to divorce. Very few couples who were separated for up to three years reconciled.  There were actually a few separations that lasted more than 10 years.  These couples had personal reasons not to divorce and so they just agreed to a very long-term or permanent separation.   This is probably not going to be ideal for most people, especially for those who are motivated to maintain their families and save their marriage.

One of the problems with long term separations is that there is a real danger of the couple becoming disconnected from one another while living apart.  In other words, if you are not running a household and raising children together, you are probably not communicating as much, which can be problematic because you can drift apart rather than coming together and eventually reconciling.

That is why many experts will recommend counseling BEFORE one partner moves out or at the very least during it.  That way, you are forced to communicate regularly during the separation and your counselor will probably help you to decide when it’s appropriate to attempt a reconciliation in order to help you avoid a separation which goes on for far too long.  I know that some husbands (and even wives) are resistant to counseling and in that case, you can at least agree to meet regularly to discuss things.  You could even get some self help resources to give you a guide map or sorts on what you can work on.

The statistics bear out my suspicions and most people’s intuition – the longer a separation lingers, the harder it can be to reconcile. That’s not to say that there aren’t some couples around who managed to reconcile with a long separation.  There are.  There are also couples who divorced and later remarried.  But I agree with you that the ideal separation duration is long enough to make meaningful change (or for a counselor to decide that enough change has taken place for your reconciliation to be successful) but certainly not so long that you have drifted apart and become like strangers.  I understand that your husband wants to “wait and see” as many do.  But I’d strongly urge you to suggest that you either seek regular counseling or meet regularly to work on the relationship so that you don’t turn around one day and realize that it’s been way too long since you had a meaningful conversation with your spouse and you don’t know what’s going on with him anymore.  This can happen very easily and it’s not good for your chances to reconcile.

From my own personal experience, the worst thing you can do is to just hope that it will be obvious when the separation should end and then just hope that things unfold from there.  That will often mean a separation that lingers on and, as a result, an eventual divorce.  My separation lasted for much longer than I wanted, but thankfully, it did not approach anything close to that two year time period that seems to be so dangerous for divorce.  The duration was partially my fault because early on I panicked, made a pest of myself, and as a result my husband avoided me. If I had understood basic human nature, I would have played the game much better and I believe that we would have reconciled sooner. You can read more at

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