5 Helpful Things to Know About a “Controlled Separation”

As couples consider the various options for changing the status of their marriage, a controlled separation is a tool some people are turning to. A controlled separation allows you and your spouse to take time apart and to come back together again and work things out before resorting to a divorce.

As the name suggests, a controlled separation is when you and your spouse agree on separating for a set period of time with certain rules in place. The hope is that, at a later point, you and your spouse will come together again and share your feelings so that your marriage grows from the time apart and becomes stronger so there is no need for a divorce. To understand more about a controlled separation, and if it is right for you, this article will discuss five helpful things you should know.

1. What is a controlled separation? 

A controlled separation is when you and your spouse decide to live separately from one another while still remaining married. The intention behind a controlled separation is to allow you and your spouse to acknowledge that your marriage is not working and to take time apart to reflect on it separately. Then eventually, you will come together again and remain married, having found new ways to be happy together. A controlled separation is something therapists are increasingly encouraging couples to consider before they decide definitively to divorce.

A controlled separation can act as a “trial” as to what a divorce would look like, or it can act as an incentive to appreciate your marriage and to reconcile. Neither is the right or wrong way to approach a controlled separation. But you want to be sure that you and your spouse are clear with each other on what your intentions are behind the controlled separation.

Another great advantage of a controlled separation

It allows you to distance yourself from one another and to cool down on your own time and on your own terms. This allows you to connect with yourself and your needs as you reflect on your marriage.  Without pressure from “the Other”, your stress levels will probably go down and you can better understand what you want for your future.

Something to keep in mind before starting your controlled separation is that you need to set boundaries and rules with your spouse. During your time apart, what will your financial situation be? What about seeing each other or others? What about intimacy? Will you two attend therapy sessions during this time? Will you let others in your lives know about your controlled separation?  Think of your needs and ask your spouse about theirs. And before you start your separation, write down the rules, or create a contract, so you both understand what is and is not allowed.

If you are pretty sure you want something more final than a temporary separation, cut to the chase and read, “A Legal Separation for a Woman: Pros and Cons” so you understand more.

2. What should you hope to gain in a controlled separation?

While there is no set answer to this, because every couple in a controlled separation is going through their own experience, there are certain things you should be aware of if you decide to try this path.

A controlled separation is not easy. There will be times you are angry, sad, lonely, and just about any other emotion you could possibly name. Apart from your spouse, it is important to focus on yourself and what is actually upsetting you, and to learn, is it your spouse or the marriage? Do you need to bring a better attitude to the relationship? Do you need to heal from earlier wounds in your life? Or, what parts of your spouse are you missing while you are apart? Are they real or did you make them up to comfort yourself? During your controlled separation, it’s a good time to invest in yourself and work with a therapist or divorce coach who can help you understand more about you and what your choices really are.

It may be useful to learn about the emotional stages of a separation so you are prepared for what you might face.

A major reason for a controlled separation is to give you distance and perspective on your relationship. Keeping a journal to log your emotions and thoughts during your time apart is a constructive way to keep track of how you are feeling. You may also see that your emotions are not linear, they ebb and flow, and as well, you may begin to uncover what to do with the messages your emotions are trying to tell you. This work is about personal development — helping you grow so you show up as a more fully formed adult in the relationship and in your world.

3. How long should a controlled separation last?

Ideally, you do not want your controlled separation to last more than six months. The longer you two spend apart, the harder it will be for you to get back together.  That being said, a controlled separation can take months to properly work. Most experts suggest three to six months for a controlled separation, so there is a sense of urgency and clarity on what you are working on. Some therapists recommend a 5-week controlled separation. So, knowing that you and your spouse are unique, consider what your baseline will be when deciding the terms of your time apart.

Do you worry that your marital separation will lead to a divorce? Check out this SAS article to understand more about your time apart.

4. What type of couples are good candidates for a controlled separation?

A controlled separation is a great tool for people who understand that there is a problem in their marriage and they want to fix it without getting a divorce. If your spouse respects your boundaries and is open to communicating their feelings with you, a controlled separation might be right. It is important that both you and your spouse are willing to take this seriously, however. It can’t just be one of you who is fully invested in this approach. You both need to commit to the rules and purpose of the controlled separation.

Another common situation in which a controlled separation is a good idea is when either you or your spouse is unwilling to compromise about getting a divorce. In situations like those, a controlled separation gives you both cooling off time and a vehicle to be more open and honest about whether or not your marriage can be fixed.

5. What type of couples are not good candidates for a controlled separation?

If your spouse is controlling – physically, emotionally, or financially – a controlled separation may not be in your best interest. If your spouse is one to go back on their word, or lie, a controlled separation, even with a contract in place, may not be right for you.

Learn what your other options are for improving your life and finding health and well-being again, check out “9 Reasons You Should Hire a Divorce Coach.”

Another thing to think about is if children are involved. If you have young children, they may be confused why one of their parents is moving out for a few months. Of course, talk to your children about it. Having kids does not mean you are not a good candidate for a controlled separation. It just may be one more thing to consider before deciding on what you want to do.


Controlled separations are becoming popular between couples going through a tough time and considering a divorce. Controlled separations are intended to give you some space and time to reflect, and try to find a solution for you to heal within your marriage. This article is an important starting point for thinking about your choices to improve your marriage or for changing the nature of your relationship. Before you jump into any one path or choose a particular approach, however, we suggest you learn about ALL your options at this point on the road.  Working with a professional, like a marriage therapist or Discernment Counselor can help you explore your choices as a couple; while speaking to a divorce coach, can help you gain perspective on what your choices are as a woman.


Alexa Valenzisi is a 3L student in Chicago who is committed to child law and education law. She aims to work in education law or family law after graduation. 

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*We support same-sex marriages. For the sake of simplicity in this article, however, we refer to your spouse as your “husband” or a “he.”

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  1. McCain Sarah on April 17, 2023 at 02:45

    Thanks for the article, so helpful!

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