Temporary Separation

Is separation ever acceptable in a marriage?

Question

My wife and I are really struggling with our marriage and we’re just about ready to call it quits. We’re both Christians and we know God hates divorce. But what about separation? Is there ever a time when separation is okay or even a good idea?

Answer

First, ask yourself what you want to accomplish by separating. Think of your children and extended family. How will they be affected?

Don’t kid yourself that a separation will help you really work on your marriage. Research tells us that most separations end in divorce—and as you said, God hates divorce. If your only purpose in separating is to get away from your spouse, then it’s not likely you’ll repair the relationship.

As we’ve been counseling couples over the past 15 years, we’ve discovered an approach to separation that many couples have found helpful. We ask them to design a personal contract that they both sign, which we call a Growth-Focused Separation Contract. The contract is time-limited (usually 3-4 months) and states they’re choosing to set aside this time to work on their personal growth and to learn how to love their spouse as Christ loves them. In these contracts, the parties often agree to see a counselor for individual and couple counseling, to attend church regularly, to find three same-sex friends to pray for them every day, and not to be emotionally or physically involved with any opposite sex person in any way.

While we only recommend separation as a “last resort,” we’ve found most couples who’ve agreed to this Growth-Focused approach have not only stayed together, but have gone on to develop a mutually satisfying marriage relationship.

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