Stressed Out by Separation? How to Soothe and Stabilize Strong Emotions

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We have all heard about the 50-percent divorce rate. But is there a separation rate?

If so, how could it possibly be calculated? Being “separated” can technically serve as a legal status but, for most folks, it’s in the eye of the beholder. That’s why “trial” separations are so common. Regardless of the distinctions, there is one common thread throughout all separations: strong emotions.

Why a Couple May Try Separation

As mentioned above, legal separation is an option. It’s usually a choice taken for financial reasons as a couple moves towards an inevitable divorce. Of course, even under these circumstances, strong emotions will be present.

In a far less formal sense, many couples opt to “take a break.” They may temporarily stop living together and set other boundaries during the separation period. There are sometimes clear and urgent reasons to separate (e.g. abuse, infidelity, etc.). In less dire situations, a separation is chosen in the name of relationship or personal goals like:

  • Create space for both partners to process emotions

  • Get a sense of what it’s like to live alone

  • Gain some useful distance (physical and emotional) from issues and problems

  • Feel the power of making a decision and enduring a shift

As you can see, separation can be a powerful tool for cohabitating partners to re-connect with who they are as individuals. This perspective can be very useful when seeking resolution for marital strife.

6 Ways to Soothe & Stabilize Strong Emotions During a Separation

1. Set Goals and Boundaries in Advance

What do you hope to accomplish — individually and as a couple — during the separation? Agree on goals beforehand. Set an agenda as to how and when you communicate. Will there be updates and meetings? Who must you tell about this? Ironically, the preparation for this break requires you both to step up and act as a loving and cooperative team.

2. Set Ground Rules

This may be called the “Ross & Rachel Rule” (referring to two main characters in the 90’s TV show “Friends”).

Do not leave things to chance. If you and your significant other are on a break, establish rules up front. You may be fine with seeing other people. If both of you are not fine with this, say something!

3. Maintain Communication (within ground rules)

Once communication guidelines are set, adhere to them. No stalking. No silent treatment. Respect the process and each other.

4. Control the Narrative With Others

A separation doesn’t automatically mean something is “wrong” with your relationship. Something needs work and space but you are free to frame it as you see fit. Nosy family and friends may (or may not) mean well but you have the right to control what they know.

5. Expect an Avalanche of Emotions

Like all major life changes (death, health issues, money woes, relocation, etc.), a separation ranks very high on the stress list. Don’t downplay what lies ahead. Practice self-care, find a support system (see #6), and allow yourself to feel what needs to be felt.

6. Seek Support

Make sure you have at least one person to confide in. Seriously consider getting help from an expert.

Counseling — Individual or Couples — as an Option

Therapy is often viewed as a step taken only when things feel out of control. In reality, however, couples try counseling before marriage and before big decisions and also, before they ponder any type of break. Each partner may choose to go the route of individual therapy. More likely, a couple will go together when the issue is: Should I stay or should I go? This choice helps both spouses prepare for strong emotions. Strategies are created and boundaries are set. When things feel rocky, it can be quite stabilizing to have a neutral, professional guide along for the ride.