Relationships can crumble for any number of reasons. Sometimes it’s due to stress and abuse, other times it’s because another partner has entered the picture.
And in some cases, it’s just that two people who care about one another very much have grown apart romantically and don’t work as spouses anymore.
In normal circumstances, it’s best if the two parties live apart for a while as a trial separation, as this gives them the space and opportunity to determine whether they do, in fact, want to end their marriage.
The Gottman Institute says a trial separation can be a double-edged sword that has benefits and risks, and that it is best to seek couples counseling during the period to have someone guide the process.
But what happens when one person moving out isn’t an option? What if there are mitigating circumstances that prevent them from having separate living spaces, such as financial strife, or children who need both of them nearby?
One option is an in-house trial separation.
This may seem like an awkward situation, but it can actually work really well for everyone involved.
An in-house separation gives each partner the ability to have more freedom and autonomy, while still ensuring that both parties are safe and housed, and children are taken care of.
Of course, this type of trial separation only works if the two partners are on relatively good terms. If there has been non-stop fighting, abuse, or other types of cruelty, it’s best to actually move out.
If you’re still pretty okay with one another, this situation may help you sort things out individually, as well as together, so you can determine how best to proceed from here on in.
But how do you embark on a trial separation while living together? Here are five of the most important things to do.
Speak to a certified relationship counselor about this issue. Why? Because they have the training and experience to help you approach an in-house trial separation in the best way possible. You may want to try speaking to someone via RelationshipHero.com for practical advice that is tailored to your exact circumstances.
1. Separate your sleeping spaces.
Your first step is to sort out your own sleeping spaces. If you’ve been sharing a bed for years but you’re not going to be intimate anymore, you’ll need to find alternative options.
This is a lot easier to do if you’re in a big house rather than a small flat, of course, but the latter is still doable too. For example, if you have an apartment, you can transform the dining room into another sleeping space, with a heavy curtain around it for privacy.
If you do live in a house but bedrooms are limited (or filled with children), then one partner can make their sleeping space downstairs in the basement or up in the attic, while the other keeps the bedroom.
I know one couple that transformed the master bedroom into a space for their two children to share, and then each parent took a small child’s bedroom for their own.
In another situation, the parents split the house into two separate apartments, but left the adjoining door unlocked at all times so their daughter could move freely between both living spaces.
Work with what you have to ensure that both of you have private space to yourselves, and please respect one another’s space. It will be a bit awkward at first, but you’ll soon get into the habit of things.
2. Only be responsible for your own expenses.
A trial separation isn’t just about space, of course – it’s about experiencing what it would be like to live lives apart from each other. That means separate finances.
If you two have been sharing bank accounts and credit cards, make separating those things a priority.
You can still keep those accounts open, especially if your mortgage/rent payments and utilities come out of them. Simply agree to each transfer a set amount of money into this joint account on a monthly basis to cover these costs, but have your own accounts for everything else.
Treat this relationship as a type of housemate rather than a personal partnership, and you’ll get the idea.
Separate bank accounts and credit cards are the first step. Next is dividing expenses.
For example, if you’ve been doing grocery shopping together and now you’ll be taking care of your own food, then set aside the amount of money that you need for your own food. Do your grocery shopping separately, and prepare your own meals.
Sure, there can be exceptions to this, such as if one of you is heading out and the other asks to pick up some milk or bread or whatnot, such as with housemates.
Additionally, if you’ve been buying essentials for each other like socks, underwear, personal care items, etc. then it’s time to be responsible for buying your own, rather than theirs.
This may take some adjusting to, especially if one partner has been much more responsible for feeding and clothing the family than the other.
Make lists as needed, especially if you’re taking care of children’s expenses equally. For instance, one parent might take care of the kids’ food and clothing needs, while the other takes care of paying for extracurricular classes and the gas it takes to drive them there.
Just make sure that things are balanced and equal so you don’t argue or get resentful about being taken advantage of.
If one spouse makes significantly more money than the other, there may be some room for negotiation. They may be willing to take on more financial expenses if the other partner does more housework, for example.
Negotiate and compromise as needed to make sure things are divided fairly.
3. Divide chores, and take care of your own responsibilities.
A trial separation in the same house will only work – and only provide real benefit – if you each take responsibility for your own lives.
If you’ve been doing your separated partner’s laundry for them for the past decade, then they’ll need to start doing that for themselves.
Get your own hampers or laundry bags, and create a set chore schedule so you’re not going to fight over the washer and dryer.
In fact, create a schedule so that you’re not going to have conflicts over any shared spaces.
For example, if you’re cooking your own meals and eating separately rather than together, then determine when you’d like to have the kitchen free to prepare things.
One of you may like to do batch cooking on a Sunday so you have casseroles and soups to eat over the course of the week, for example.
Meanwhile, the other may like to have free reign in the kitchen from 7-8 a.m. for smoothies and omelettes.
Of course, if you two don’t have much conflict and are absolutely okay sharing cooking spaces, then that’s cool too. Some people prefer to cook and eat separately during trial separations because it gives them an idea of how life will feel like apart.
But if you have small children who would get very upset at not eating dinner with their parents, then that’s something to take into consideration.
Once again, all of these tips are just suggestions. It’s up to you two to determine what you’re comfortable with and what is practical.
4. Establish respectful personal boundaries.
Whether you’d like to allot certain hours of the week to alone time, undisturbed parent/child bonding, or working from home, it’s important for both of you to set specific boundaries.
More importantly, it’s vital to respect those boundaries because a trial separation while living together can mean the lines become blurred all too easily.
For example, you can have signs to hang on your bedroom doors that signal that you’re not to be disturbed unless the house is on fire or someone is literally dying.
Similarly, if there are new romantic interests in the picture, be honest about what you are and aren’t comfortable with as far as presence in the shared space goes.
If you’re both okay with physical intimacy with others in the house, then cool: keep it to your own sleeping spaces and try not to be overt about it in shared space, especially if small children are still getting used to the idea of you two being apart.
Alternatively, if you’d prefer to keep your romantic matters private, then it’s probably best to spend time with your new partner(s) at their place(s), rather than yours.
The more courtesy and respect you and your separated spouse show one another, the more comfortable this trial separation will be. It’ll also provide a lot of clarity to determine how the rest of your lives will unfold, either together or apart.
5. Check in with one another regularly.
A trial separation where spouses live apart can mean little in the way of communication for extended periods of time.
But when you’re living in the same house as a separated couple, communication should still be frequent. And by communication, we don’t just mean polite small-talk, but actual discussions.
Don’t wait for tensions or whatnot to build up and create anger or resentment. Talk to each other on a regular basis to figure out what’s working for you two, and what isn’t.
Reassess and renegotiate as needed until you find a flow that’s ideal for everyone involved.
You’ll also need to work together to determine what and how you’ll tell your extended families and social circles about your current status.
For example, some explanations may be in order if you want to spend holidays apart, or if you’ll need separate sleeping arrangements when visiting together.
Alternatively, if you’d prefer to keep these details quiet while you two are trying to sort your lives out, that’s absolutely okay too. The parameters of your relationship are nobody else’s business unless you choose to share those details.
This is between the two of you, and your children (if you have them). You can let everyone else know what’s going on if and when the time comes to make those details public.
Ultimately, these are just some suggestions for an in-house trial separation. Each and every relationship is different, and you may decide that you’d like to do some of the things on this list but not others.
You may even have a dynamic that is completely different from everything mentioned here.
This trial separation may lead to you discovering that you two actually do want to stay together as a couple, especially if there are kids involved. If that’s the case, then great! You can adapt what you’ve learned “apart” and make things stronger when you’re back together.
Alternatively, you may find that while you’re not comfortable being part of a romantic couple anymore, you two are the best of friends and want to continue a life-long domestic partnership. Maybe you’ll have an open relationship or go polyamorous, or you’ll divorce and keep living together as siblings/platonic life partners.
There are as many different ways to have relationships as there are partnerships on this planet. Be honest with one another, and try to work together to determine what will work best for everyone involved.
Most importantly, don’t let anyone else dictate what is and is not a valid way to have any kind of relationship.
Your life, your love, your rules.
Need more advice on how to make a trial separation work while living together? Or think that relationship counselling might help? Chat online to a relationship expert from Relationship Hero who can help you figure things out.
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