We did everything possible to prevent getting divorced -- from intensive couples counseling to long weekend marital retreats guaranteed to save marriages.
When nothing worked -- as a last resort, we decided to separate. This was done with cautious optimism that both people would work on their "issues" and perhaps a divorce could be prevented.
Here's what went wrong! Maybe someone can benefit from these mistakes.
1) Since we were going to live apart, yet this was not an official filing for divorce, we did not want to upset the children by mentioning the "D" word. We explained, "Mom and Dad need some time apart just like you do when you fight with your siblings." We called the rental apartment during our separation "Our Time Out Home." All this did was confuse our kids and prolong pain! Like slowly peeling a bandage in the hopes of being gentle instead of ripping it off in one clean, quick pull.
2) We did not set firm ground rules regarding improvements. Exactly which changes should each person be expected to make? What if one spouse works very hard on "their problems" and the other does nothing?
3) Is this a complete separation? Would we be spending time with each other (like having date nights?) or was this supposed to be a 100% break to see what being alone felt like? Nothing was spelled out! Everyone has different definitions of what "Trial Separation" means.
4) Would we be seeing "Other People" during this separation? This was a subject never mentioned. That's a biggie, folks! Discuss this VERY carefully. Remember the episode from "Friends" where Ross and Rachel "take a break?" She thinks it's just a little down time while he ends up in the arms of another woman at a party. (Plus lots more!) Everyone needs to be clear on the terms of fidelity.
5) We did nothing different about our finances during the separation. Everything was still in joint accounts. This caused a huge issue when someone made purchases or went on a weekend getaway without consulting the other. When you're married, you may operate like this, but a separation opens up plenty of money woes. Have a detailed plan in place. Either separate accounts for each spouse with a reasonable amount of money divided up, or a joint shared account with agreed upon limits.
6) A separation with children is really an oxymoron! Our children wanted to see both of us. Of course they did! Every day. And since we never mentioned Divorce to them, we tried to accommodate that. But there is no real separation possible if you are constantly seeing one another to exchange the kids or discussing childrearing, discipline, school, allergies, and enrichment activities on the phone nightly. If you attempt this with children, you must have a custody schedule in place, just like you would need to for a divorce.
7) What do you tell others? Good luck if you are private people like we were. We didn't want to officially announce this to friends and family because then we would have to field lots of questions. Questions we didn't even know the answer to ourselves yet! This just made for a confusing mess of rumors and gossip. And the kids heard things before we had a chance to tell them ourselves. Don't do this! Probably best to inform those you are close with but ask for extreme discretion.
8) What happens at the end of the agreed upon separation? We never anticipated what occurred! One person wanted to live together again and attempt a full reconciliation and the other decided life was much happier living alone! Separation opens up a huge Pandora's box when the timeframe has elapsed and now a decision officially needs to be made!
Nobody wants a divorce to happen. A separation might seem like an easier route to embark on. It's my hope that this might prepare you before you choose this road.