Trial separations

It’s common to worry that trial separations are simply a step towards breaking up, or that they won’t actually make anything better. While this is totally understandable, trial separations can sometimes be an effective way to  really think about your relationship and begin to understand why you’ve been having difficulties and what you want to happen now. 

That's because sometimes, when it feels like you’ve exhausted all of your options and aren’t sure where to turn, the best thing can be to take a step back and get a little perspective. 

Do trial separations work?

A trial separation tends to be most useful when things are so complicated and so entrenched that it’s hard to work out what would help anymore. 

When you’ve been arguing for a long time, it can be easy to get into the same patterns of behaviour. . You may find that every attempt to address things simply leads to more conflict, or that you’ve simply ended up avoiding talking about anything, finding it easier to maintain an awkward and often painful truce. 

A trial separation can help you to focus on these patterns and think about what each of you has contributed to the issues from more of a distance. . Sometimes, just having the time and space to de-stress is enough to help you start to think about things differently by seeing other opportunities and perspectives that could help to manage what's been happening better. 

And of course, they can also be a way of understanding what it would be like to separate on a permanent basis. . Experiencing what it would be like if you didn’t work through the things that aren’t working with your partner can sometimes be a strong motivator for finding a way to work on the relationship together.

How to make a trial separation work

Trial separations are rarely a simple process. There’s a lot of potential for feelings to be hurt, and usually a whole range of practical considerations to work through.

What’s really important is to set very clear boundaries about what the trial separation is going to involve and why you’re doing it. Trial separations aren’t simply about spending less time together and seeing if it makes things better. It’s about taking a different approach – giving yourself a chance to look at your relationship while taking the time and space to gain a better view. 

It’ll be important to think about things like... 

How long you’ll separate for  

We tend to suggest three to six months as a reasonable amount if you’ve been together for a while, but this will depend entirely on what you think will work best as partners. It’s common for someone to have different ideas on things like this, so it’s important to be open to meeting in the middle if necessary. 

Why you’re doing it 

One of the biggest issues with trial separations is a sense of uncertainty about where it’s all going. While at first you might feel you just need to get away, it’s important you’re thinking of this as a shared journey with a shared goal. You need to be clear on what the point of the separation is and that you’re going to be working towards this together. 

How often you’ll meet

We recommend meeting regularly to discuss how you’re getting on and talk about the problems that lead to the separation in the first place. You may want a little time before starting to do this, but it is important that you make this a part of the process going forward as this will be crucial to making any changes. 

Practical arrangements

If you live together, you’ll need to come to a decision on who’ll be moving out without anyone feeling like it’s been forced on them. You’ll also need to talk about things like finances (including details like joint accounts, bills and so on) so that there are no misunderstandings, as these can easily create further conflict. 

Arrangements with children

If you have children, it’s important to figure out a schedule for visiting. You’ll also need to think about what you’ll tell them about what’s happening. This will depend partly on how old they are, but as a rule, it’s usually better to be open and honest about this sort of thing – even young children can usually pick up on more than we might assume. It’s so easy to overlook something that might actually be super important to a child like “what will happen to my hamster or “will I have to change schools and lose my friends” 

How to start a trial separation

Of course, it’s easy to say all of the above, but having these kinds of conversations i can be very tricky. 

We’d recommend relationship counselling as a first port of call. This can be a really useful way of making sure that both of you are clear on what the process is going to involve and why you’re doing it and what you want to achieve from it. Your counsellor will have guided people through this before and because they will have no ‘agenda’ about you staying together or ending your , they’re uniquely placed to give each of you individual and joint time to think about where all this is going. They can help you continue to communicate in an open and positive way and keep you focused on the shared goal of working through things together.  

How we can help

If you’re looking for support with your relationships, we can help. We offer a range of ways to speak with a trained relationship expert including ongoing counselling, 30 minute web and phone chats, and one session therapy.

Find out which service is right for you


How you can help

Have you found this advice helpful? Make a donation to help us reach more people and continue supporting the nation’s relationships:


Can't afford to donate? We understand. Instead, we ask that you leave us a 5 star review on Trustpilot.

Leave a review


Join our newsletter to get relationship advice and guidance straight to your inbox