BIRMINGHAM, AL—Both Marlene and Paul Hirsh reported Monday that the first four weeks of their trial separation have gone surprisingly well.
"I thought I'd really miss Paul, but I've been staying with my friend Lisa [Hoffmann], and we've been having a total blast shopping and drinking margaritas," Marlene said. "It was really a big step to do this, but so far, the separation has been working out just great."
Marlene said the couple split up temporarily on Nov. 2, after almost a year of mutual dissatisfaction with the marriage.
"Paul and I would argue, but the real problem was that we were both unhappy," Marlene said. "After a long talk, we decided that living apart for a couple of months would help us get our heads in the right place, and then we could re-commit to our marriage. I think it must be working, because our problems have hardly been bothering me at all lately."
Marlene and Paul rarely spent even a weekend away from each other after they were married in September 1999. However, both have reportedly made the most of the post-separation "me time."
"I feel great," Paul said. "I've been having a ball hanging out with the guys, working on my car, and just doing whatever the hell I want. And I can't remember when I've gotten this much exercise. I've even started playing basketball with the guys from work. I'm really going to miss that when Marlene and I get back together."
Marlene has been enjoying the relationship-strengthening period, as well.
"I've been taking a Pilates class, and Lisa and I have gone to a ton of movies," Marlene said. "All of a sudden, there's so much more to do than read in bed while Paul plays online Scrabble."
Both Paul and Marlene have successfully used the trial separation to reflect on the shortcomings of the marriage.
"I definitely have decided that, when we get back together, I need to spend more time by myself," Marlene said. "I never realized how much I'd let Paul's interests—or lack thereof—take over. Now, I can go anywhere I want without Paul grilling me. I go to the park just to hang out, and I'm joining a community theater group with my friend Neil. There's so much I want to explore before we get our marriage back on track."
Marlene and Paul both said the trial separation has been "liberating," and both expressed confidence that it will help them resolve their marital problems.
"We keep meaning to get together for lunch and talk about everything, but the date has been pushed back a few times," Paul said. "We call each other a couple times a week to see how things are going, if we're not too busy. But there's no way that the separation will work if we don't give each other a lot of space. Part of marriage is respecting your loved one's personal time."
"In fact, maybe giving each other even more space would help our marriage even more," Paul added. "I'm thinking of getting a leave of absence from work to go visit my brother in Alaska for a few months."
Marlene and Paul agreed that the trial separation is incomplete, and that more time apart is needed in order to really strengthen the marriage.
"Marlene is great, but her mood swings are a real downer," Paul said. "It's nice to know that I can leave the cap off the toothpaste or forget a few dirty dishes in the sink without someone tearing my head off. I'm certainly in no hurry to change that."
"I want to start a family someday, and Paul does, too—or at least he says he does," Marlene said. "Once you have kids, you don't have the time to go barhopping or take a weekend getaway to the Florida Keys. Paul and I need to get this stuff out of our systems if we're going to spend the rest of our lives raising children together."
Added Marlene: "Besides, things are going so well right now. Why cut the separation short?"
Marlene also said the trial separation has opened her eyes to Birmingham's dating scene and her own marketability.
"I thought that, as a divorced, 34-year-old woman, finding a date would be hard," she said. "Boy, was I wrong. A few days after Paul and I split up, Lisa took me to this club, and three cute guys hit on me. I told the cutest one about my situation with Paul, and he gave me his number and told me to call him if things don't work out."
Dr. Oliver Hall, author of Falling Apart, Staying Together, said trial separations, once viewed with skepticism, can be effective in rebuilding troubled relationships.
"Married couples shouldn't be afraid of a separation," Hall said. "Time apart can provide spouses with the space they need to explore their true feelings. Another plus is that a separation can give you the taste of freedom you need to force you to get the hell out of a dead-end marriage. Really, it's a win-win situation."