The Lived Experience of Ambiguous Marital Separation: A Phenomenological Study

Sarah A. Crabtree, Steven M. Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Researchers have long treated marital separation as a linear transition that inevitably leads to divorce. Popular sources suggest that some couples separate without clarity about how the separation will end, often to assess whether to divorce or stay married. However, to date, we could not locate any empirical research on this kind of ambiguous separation. With a sample of 20 currently separated persons from around the United States, this study employed a hermeneutic phenomenological design to inquire about the experience of separating from one's spouse when the separation was initiated without clarity about how it would end. Six essential themes emerged: (a) our relationship feels ambiguous, (b) separation is a private experience, (c) separation is a lonely experience, (d) benefits to separating, (e) separation is not sustainable, and (f) the outcome is unclear. The article concludes with a discussion of and implications for the study findings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)385-398
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of marital and family therapy
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1 2020

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'The Lived Experience of Ambiguous Marital Separation: A Phenomenological Study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this