Is divorce the only option for those who endure the unhappiness of a failing marriage?
I don’t believe it is. While obtaining a divorce is relatively easy, it almost always becomes an emotional bombshell — far more painful and complicated than most imagine. It often shatters self-confidence and leads to guilt, anger and insecurity. Socially, it complicates interpersonal relationships — especially when children are involved. Financially, it’s almost always a lose-lose arrangement.
Don’t be fooled. Divorce is never an easy solution to a troubled marriage. But if divorce is difficult for marriage partners, it’s far worse for children caught in the middle. If you doubt this, read Judith S. Wallerstein’s landmark book, “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study.”
I recognize that in some cases marital separation is necessary — especially where a pattern of abuse exists. Physical abuse is an obvious cause, but I’ve seen a need for separation in relation to substance abuse, severe financial irresponsibility, unending emotional and/or verbal abuse, psychological breakdown and abrogation of marital commitments.
Sometimes separation is necessary to cause a mate to recognize his or her destructive behavior. Once separated, however, the main threat to saving the marriage is often the sense of relief and health felt by the abused partner. The possibility of reconciliation is more unlikely when one feels free from the oppression of the relationship.
I’ve learned that it takes wisdom to discern the whole truth about the condition of a marriage. Each case has its own circumstances and degree of severity. In most situations, meetings with both parties separately and together are essential. But this takes time—something those in crisis don’t feel they have.
Marital demise usually involves extended patterns of neglect and alienation– intertwined with self-deception and selfish behavior. This fact, along with the high levels of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion, makes the road to reconciliation difficult.
Counselors must be aware of patterns of deceit and selfishness that often color individual perspectives on failing marriages. Seeking the truth requires time, patience and wisdom. When Couples are in a crisis mode, they often expect help and answers immediately. Sometimes crisis intervention must come first. Yet counselors must not be drawn into hasty reactions or conclusions based on the desperate state of a marriage.
When martial separation becomes necessary, I prefer to apply a structured separation involving at least seven key components.
- A specific purpose statement for the separation related to the problems in the marriage. This could also include a signed covenant committing to a process of hope and restoration.
- A set of specific and measurable goals.
- A time frame that does not allow for indefinite separation.
- A study on of forgiveness and reconciliation.
- Reading “Hope for the Separated” by Gary Chapman
- Built-in accountability with Church leaders and/or a counselor/mentor.
- A small support team to pray for the marriage and offer tangible help.
See also: Forgiveness and Reconciliation