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updated 8/30/2011 9:28:35 AM ET 2011-08-30T13:28:35

On TODAY Tuesday, therapist M. Gary Neuman said a trial separation can sometimes salvage a marriage that’s on the rocks, because it provides time for growth and reflection. Do you think taking time out from a troubled relationship can actually save it?

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Video: Couple says splitting up saved their marriage

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    >>> morning on "today's" relationships, splitting up to save a marriage. with the divorce rate at nearly 50% there's no doubt that fixing a broken marriage is not easy. but nbc's peter alexander has the story of one couple who found an unexpected way to stay together.

    >> beautiful day .

    >> it is a beautiful day .

    >> yeah.

    >> reporter: jenen and mark are sounding an alarm of sorts. their story is for anyone with a relationship in trouble. on scenic san juan island in washington state the earnhardts '35-year marriage was basically dead.

    >> i thought he was pompous. i did not like him at all.

    >> reporter: they began as teenage sweethearts in love, building a home, raising a family, traveling together. over time their relationship was on the path of divorce.

    >> it sounds a little strong but i would say it was almost toxic.

    >> reporter: mark would escape to the golf course and jenen would shop with friends.

    >> you initiated separation, right?

    >> yes. i said, you know, this isn't work for either of us. it's time for a break.

    >> reporter: jenen kept the house, mark moved to this condo. the earnhardts were well aware for most couples separation is a dress rehearsal for divorce. it seemed counter intuitive but could separating actually save a marriage?

    >> taking a vacation from your marriage can work.

    >> reporter: allison cohen is a marriage therapist in los angeles .

    >> it can re-energize you. and when you have that energy you can bring it back to the relationship and really make the commitment work.

    >> reporter: was would it work for jenen and mark?

    >> hey, what's going on?

    >> reporter: at first during their split they only spoke about selling their home and logistics of breaking up. then something happened. they began to communicate for the first time in years.

    >> so we would write each other a letter, we liked that because you can actually take the time to say things the way you want to and not speak out in anger or in frustration.

    >> it was just a relief to not be stressed and just mad and angry all the time.

    >> reporter: eventually this husband and wife began courting each other.

    >> when you showed up at the house with a bottle of wine, you started dating again, right?

    >> yeah, yeah. i was looking at her differently. looking at the positive things.

    >> and it was a great feeling. it was like coming home again.

    >> reporter: while jenen and mark warn separation can be risky, after three months they got back together and say their marriage is now on solid ground. your love is carved in concrete.

    >> i know. forever.

    >> reporter: the earnhardts share their insight in "marriage works," a self-published guide to a happy marriage that recently got a attention of the " wall street journal ." when you look at your wife, what do you see now?

    >> my best friend , you know. i think that's what we have become.

    >> reporter: proving separation can make the heart grow fonder. for "today," peter alexander , nbc news, washington.

    >> and marriage therapist gary newman has helped couples through trial separations. he's the author of "connect to love, the keys to transforming your relationship." good morning.

    >> good morning.

    >> this is unorthodox. you call this trial separation the hail mary pass of professional counselors. can it really work?

    >> it can work. but it's usually done when people are xas berated. there's so much anger at being around each other they can't see anything but the problems going on. so the concept of separating and really use that time to work on yourself is really the key.

    >> and theory also that kind of reinvigorates the relationship like the couple we saw in the piece, it adds novelty to the relationship.

    >> if you separate and work on yourself. you have to confront yourself. a lot of these situations something has really hurt the other person. so they have to consider what have i done to sabotage my relationship.

    >> you basically say don't try this at home without a concrete plan. the first thing you say is most people need to be in some form of therapy during any trial separation .

    >> otherwise, you're just going nowhere . remember, a lot of things happen poorly during a separation. there has to be a plan. and the guide of a counselor or somebody who is keeping you honest in that relationship is the idea that we're going to work back to each other and, after that break, it is refreshing to re- introduce yourself a better me and a better you.

    >> your second piece of advice seems like a biggie. don't date during this trial separation .

    >> yes. nothing -- that's going to be terrible. if you date somebody new or go back to somebody with whom you've cheated, that's pretty much dead. nothing can compare to something new, especially a relationship that's been fledgling and been a problem. you have to really keep yourself isolated and say, how am i becoming a better person?

    >> and for this to work, you have to have a designated time period . but how long?

    >> it can be anywhere from two weeks to two months. but there's got to be some time period . if you just have some indefinite, we'll separate and see what happens, i know what's going to happen, you're going to get divorced. you have to have a plan moving in that direction.

    >> a lot of folks experience in marriages the time where distance really grows. it seems counter intuitive to think that a separation could actually bridge that distance. what's your view? why do marriages -- why do people grow apart as marriage goes on?

    >> believe it or not, life comes at us very fast. we can be so busy with kids and work and we can think we're living together but we're living parallel lives. people don't take the time to be together the way they need to be.

    >> we want to leave on a high note . tips for how people can bring their marriages together without the extraordinary step of a trial separation . you say one thing you've got to spend more than 30 minutes together just alone each day.

    >> research shows those people are much happier. uninterrupted time. get rid of the blackberries and the cell phone. woman once told me her husband was cheating with fruits, apple and blackberry. number two --

    >> mine, but not a good thing to experience in your marriage.

    >> number two, the date night. once a week for two hour, don't talk about three things, money, work, or kids. people say, what are we going to talk about? talk about what you're reading, talk about your life , what you saw on "today," today.com. mix it up. be creative. not just the same old stress.

    >> all right. gary newman , who we should mention is spending his 24 th anniversary with us today. so you know this. thank you. good to see you.

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