Periods of separation in long-term relationships can be healing, illuminating, and even necessary—not just in relationships impacted by chronic sexual betrayal.
In my article 7 Key Components of a “Therapeutic” Separation Agreement, I outlined the fundamentals of a therapeutic separation agreement for couples who are living in two separate residences.
However, there are times when couples need or want to embark on a planned period of separation, but are not able to—or choose not to—live separately. In situations like these, in-house separation can provide many of the same benefits as traditional therapeutic separation.
A couple may opt for in-house separation because:
- They have minor children still living in the home and prefer to stay under the same roof to better coordinate and meet childcare needs.
- There are limited resources to pay for a second residence.
- The couple wants to have a very short-term period of separation (less than one month) and prefer to do so under the same roof, or because there are no viable options for alternative living arrangements.
Therapeutic separation—whether the couple lives separately or together—can be extremely beneficial for couples who:
- Are highly enmeshed (meaning they have poor boundaries).
- Are too emotionally dependent on one another and need to develop more autonomy and independence.
- Are emotionally or physically volatile, or have frequent, intense arguments that may escalate to verbal or physical raging.
A period of separation allows each member of the couple to experience the independence of living on their own, which includes greater self-reliance, self-responsibility, as well having an experience of what it feels like not to have your spouse part of your everyday routine and schedule.
When planning an in-house separation, consider how you would structure a roommate relationship.
For example, if you were living with a roommate, you would have clear agreements and be respectful about:
- Access to public areas of the home
- Who is responsible for cleaning shared space
- Where and how personal items are stored/kept
You would not expect a roommate to:
- Purchase your groceries
- Prepare your meals
- Wash your laundry
- Clean your private space (bathroom or bedroom, for example)
- Sleep in bed with you
In addition, most couples who commit to an in-house separation don’t eat meals together (at home or at a restaurant) or attend social functions together.
Since in-house separation involves changing routines that were once commonplace like sharing a closet or bathroom, you will need to discuss where each person will store their personal belongings, and create agreements and boundaries around access to private spaces (bedrooms and bathrooms, for example).
If you’re considering an in-house separation, spend some time reflecting on your day-to-day life and routine so that you can make alternate arrangements and agreements for how to manage tasks, events, and activities.
And finally, I highly recommend that you decide in advance how long your in-house separation will last, and stick to your agreement. Without a clear agreement, many couples are tempted to abandon their plan when it seems too difficult, or when feelings of affection, frustration, or fear arise—missing the opportunity to experience the many benefits of therapeutic separation.
Do you struggle with betrayal trauma triggers? Most betrayed partners do. If you’d like to learn a step-by-step system for working with your triggers so that you can feel more at ease and empowered in your day-to-day life, check out my home study or online course exclusively for betrayed partners here.
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© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2018)
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