Recently a friend told me that he and his wife are having problems and are now having a trial separation. Whenever someone who’s been married for a while hears about somebody else calling it quits, it makes them pause and daydream and even get a little giddy. Not me but other people. I tend to take a more analytical approach.
Let’s start by looking at the phrase ‘trial separation’. The first word is ‘trial’. I know that can be interpreted as ‘attempt’ as in ‘trial and error’ but from my experience a ‘trial’ involves a judge and a prosecutor who know what they’re doing and have done it many times before. So in this case I would say ‘trial’ means ‘formality’. We already know the verdict.
The second word is ‘separation’ which was first made popular by the WonderBra corporation. It means to divide into two different and independent parts. When it refers to people, it means that these people are no longer together, geographically or otherwise, and the ‘otherwise’ is the big part. Because if you think about it, most couples are separated geographically most of the time. They go to work or play different sports or go shopping or take business trips or even holidays apart. Sometimes when they’re together geographically, they’re not really together. Like when they’re watching television or eating dinner without talking or just staring blankly off into space.
Every time any of those things happens, the couple is having a mini trial separation. Is that a bad thing? I say no. Most of us love our wives or husbands but once in a while when we come home we’re hoping they’re not there. Not forever but just for an hour or two so we can relax and kick back and come up with a credible explanation as to why the lid of the barbecue is in the neighbour’s tree. With these kinds of separations, we’re planning to get back together in the long run. In a trial separation, there is no long run and at least one of you is never planning to get back together.
Sometimes a couple will live together for a while before they get married. Like a rehearsal for being married. Whereas a trial separation is a rehearsal for being divorced. I’ve heard that odd things can happen in a trial separation. Like both people change their minds. The person who wanted it discovers they hate it while the person who didn’t want it has moved on. That’s because of a common mistake people make in relationships and in life – it’s called bluffing. In my opinion, bluffing does not work. It’s like good luck – it’s great when it happens but it shouldn’t be a big part of your plan. People who bluff almost always lose. Even in that song The Gambler, the poker expert who knew when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em, ended up bumming cigarettes on a train.
The advice I would give any married couple if I was ever asked which I haven’t been so far, is that you need to find that sweet spot for yourself that puts you between being a martyr and being a self-centred AH. (see an earlier blog). If you’re a martyr who stays in a one-sided relationship because you think it makes you saintly or God will reward you or you don’t deserve any better, you will hate yourself and never laugh or even smile at things that are really really funny. On the other hand if all you think about is yourself, that will eventually be your only friend and you will be denying your basic need to have social interaction and will end up very lonely and with an STD.
The trick is to be somewhere in the middle. Where the relationship works for your partner but also works for you. If you’ve got that, keep finding ways to make it work. If you don’t, get out and save yourself while they’re still enough of you to save.
I feel I should end with a joke so here’s one. Three Irishmen walked out of a bar. It could happen.