"Stephen, I know you can't tell me an exact timeframe, but based on your experience, how much longer do you think this separation will last? How long 'til she comes back? How long until she pushes through the divorce?"
Although you're right, I can't give you an exact number, today I'm going to share the typical factors I consider when answering this question for a client or student.
Then, the next episode of the HHH Podcast will address two sides of the same coin. Should you keep going? Or is it time to finally move on? I'll share the most common reasons I give and have heard given for both.
So! Coming back to today...
If you keep doing the right things, how much longer until she comes back? Or at least how much longer until you're done?
Setting a Baseline:
What Is The Average Duration Of A Separation?
We don't have a whole lot of stats on marriage crisis duration, but the research I've been able to find, namely a DHHS survey from 2002 and census data from 2009, both indicate that an average separation lasts about a year, but that it is not uncommon for separations to last a long, LONG time.
- About 50% of separations last a year or longer.
- Census bureau data from 2009 says .8 to 1.1 years depending on ethnicity, and remember this would be US specific.
- I'd personally guess closer to that 14 month mark than the 10 month mark
Source: Number, Timing & Duration Of Marriages & Divorces 2009
Safe to say separations are almost always measured in months or years, and a 10-14 month average seems about right.
So with that number in mind, let's look at factors that influence it one way or another...
Factors That Affect Duration Of Separation
1. Which way is the separation currently going?
Still towards divorce?
If towards divorce, how adamant?
She is non-committal one way or another
Clear-cut decision, or more like a vague agreement that she's not leaving.
If not, for how long has she been not set on divorce? How far towards divorce did she go?
2. Is she living at home?
This is a pragmatic hurdle as much as anything else.
As we discuss in the separation roadmap, normal order of operations is there is a distinct separation period before divorce
If she's on the way out and you live together, it will take longer
Similarly, if she's on the way back and you live separately, it CAN take longer
3. How much have your actions influenced her momentum through separation?
This can go both ways.
Have you noticed that things slowed down, or perhaps even started improving a little bit, after you made certain changes in the way you navigated the relationship?
Or the inverse... Did things get worse when you were making mistakes?
Or, has her demeanor been consistent regardless of what you've done?
Although we still have to stay focused on what you can control, this question can help you determine how much influence you have over your wife's momentum through the separation.
4. Where's the trust at? Any signs that it's rebuilding?
One of the most encouraging things I can see in a separation is the rebuilding of trust.
Some examples of trust being rebuilt in the relationship:
- Vulnerable conversations
- Resolution of conflicts
- Asking for help
- Admitting personal weakness
Trust must come before love and romance in almost all separations, as we discuss in more depth over inside the 3+1 separation strategy.
5. On what level can you love her?
Most important question if she's on the way back.
- As a friend?
- Verbal affection?
- Physical affection?
- Outright courtship?
6. How comfortable is she?
Single most important question for the man in no man's land, or the man whose wife still wants divorce
A more comfortable wife has less motivation to change her present circumstance
One of the reasons that letting her go slows things down is it helps your wife feel comfortable
That means less motivation to do the hard work of divorce, but also less motivation to address her responsibility in the separation
Wife going through identity crisis doesn't push as hard against the marriage, but doesn't get help
Wife going through affair doesn't feel need to divorce, but she has her cake and eats it too, no reason to alter either relationship
Wife going through loss of love is more content to simply focus on her new "single" life, but may get used to being disconnected from the marriage
7. What are the potential infinite obstacles?
These are internal obstacles that prevent progress from being made until SHE addresses them. These personal obstacles can prevent her from making progress towards either divorce OR reconciliation.
Examples of issues that can turn into infinite obstacles:
- Childhood trauma
- Depression / identity crisis
- Just generally unmotivated / not doing well
- Personal history with divorce?
- This can include divorced parents, friends, other family
- Can also include previous marriage
An affair could classify as a similar type of obstacle, though different from the rest.
Disclaimer: I'm not a counselor and chances are, neither are you. Don't presume to medically diagnose your wife. The sole point of asking this question is to help you prepare realistically for your separation.
My personal observation is that when these things are present, things last longer. And in the separations that last a LONG time, usually at least a couple of these factors are present. So take that as you will.