Can Separation Be Healthy?

Recently a client came to me and shared that his wife asked for a separation because of the ongoing conflict between the two of them. He was reluctant to go along with it and threatened, “If you go forward with this separation, you might as well just file for divorce!”

He continued to share, “Now that we are separated, all of my fears have come true. She is making friends with both men and women and doesn’t want to go to counseling with the pastor. She wants her “space” and wants to be left alone to think about things. I say she is using the time to play around. How long should I wait for her? Should we be allowed to have friends of the opposite sex while we are still married?”

Many men and women make an unnecessary threat when one mate wants a separation to think things over. They let their fears run rampant and try to exert control in various ways, seldom with any productive impact. They threaten to get a divorce if their mate seeks a separation.

I have seen these fear-based threats backfire so many times. A temporary, time-limited separation can be a healthy process if conducted with clear and appropriate guidelines. But, both must adhere to those guidelines. Let’s consider what those might be.

Find Someone to Help Keep You Accountable

First, the separation should be done under the leadership of someone trustworthy, such as your pastor, to ensure that steps are taken to make the time apart productive and not divisive. A weekly check-in time should be done with this person to make certain you are using the time as effectively as possible.

Clarify Your Purpose for Separation

Second, it must be made clear that this is going to be a “therapeutic separation.” As such, everything about it is done for the purpose of ultimately restoring the marriage. While there may be a “time out” from one another, the “time out” is set up to strengthen weaknesses in the marriage so that you can come back together stronger than ever. Counsel should be sought, both individually and as a couple, to heal wounded areas. Books on communication and healthy conflict could be read and discussed to strengthen the relationship. Each party must take full responsibility for their failures in the marriage.

Protect the Sanctity of Your Marriage

Third, during the “therapeutic separation,” there should not be alone time with members of the opposite sex, for obvious reasons. It is simply too tempting to engage in quasi, or overtly, sexual behavior out of a need for attention and affection. Hedges of protection must be built around the marriage. It is very normal for the grass to look greener during times of intense conflict—don’t be swayed into thinking this is reality.

Seek God’s Wisdom

Finally, I believe a therapeutic separation can be a time to get alone with the Lord to determine His will in your life. It is a time to let go of your pride and ask for wisdom in the key areas needing attention. It is a time not to focus on how you have been wronged, rehearsing wounds perpetrated against you, but how you have been less than the Godly spouse you are supposed to be. Let the Lord minister to your needs and assist you in restoring your marriage, if possible. Pray together as a couple, seeking humility to be the best mate possible.

The apostle Paul encourages us: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4: 2-3)

Do you need help navigating separation?

The experienced therapists at the Marriage Recovery Center can help you and your mate navigate this difficult time in your marriage.  Contact the Client Care team today and they can help guide you to the right marriage counselor that best suits your needs.

Article originally published on March 30, 2006 on crosswalk.com