I am blown away by the wonderful response so far to our LIVE Conquer Conference. So far, we have over 150 women registered for this amazing event on October 14th and 15th, 2016. You will not want to miss it. For more information or to register, click here.
Also, this past week I ventured into Facebook Live and we had a great response. I will be doing another 30 minute Q&A tonight at 7:30 pm ET. I will be answering the question, “How do you say No to a manipulator?” I’ll be sharing for about 5-10 minutes and the rest of the time you can ask your questions LIVE.
Hope to see you there. To get there simply to go my Facebook Fan Page.
Question: How do I decide if I should remain separated from my husband biblically? How long should you stay separated? I will need to make a decision about whether to accept employment in another state very quickly. I feel like I am hanging by a thread emotionally and mentally and about to break.
Answer: You left many details out of your question that would have helped me give you a better answer.
For example, you don’t indicate why you separated or how long you have been separated, or if your husband has addressed the issues that caused the separation to begin with. But you did say you are hanging on by a thread and mentally you feel that you are about to break. That tells me that the stress of it all is taking its toll on you. That is a huge warning bell to pay attention. So the first question I want you to ask yourself is where is all this stress coming from? Is it residue from your destructive marriage? Is it due to the separation? Is it from the pressure to reconcile? Or, is it stressing you out just to make this huge decision?
For the sake of all who are reading this blog who may be separated for a variety of reasons or thinking about separating, let me give you some general guidelines. These will help you decide whether it’s time to work together on the marriage living in the same house, or continued separation is warranted.
First, I want to be clear that I believe marriage is a covenant relationship and separation is not to be entered into lightly. Separating from one’s spouse is a difficult decision and if done, should be initiated after efforts to resolve the situation in other ways have repeatedly failed or you are in danger.
First, separation in marriage is warranted when the marriage has become unsafe for you. (Tweet that)
It’s important to note that you may be physically safe (no physical abuse has happened) but you are unsafe emotionally, mentally, spiritually, sexually, and/ or economically. In most cases your lack of safety has been directly caused by the deceit, irresponsibility, unfaithfulness, and/or the verbal and mental abuse of your spouse.
In special circumstances, safety issues could also be related to or caused by illness – mental or physical. Nonetheless, for you and/or your children’s safety, you still may need to separate.
For example, if your spouse had a brain tumor that made him paranoid or violent, separation might be appropriate, even though the cause is beyond his control.
If he was bipolar and refused medication and continued to rack up large debt on the credit cards while manic, you may need to physically and financially separate from him in order to keep financial and emotional stability for the family.
As I’ve written in previous articles, safety and sanity are important values to God and I do not believe God values the sanctity of marriage more than the safety and sanity of the people in it. If you are in danger of being physically harmed, your health is chronically compromised, your mental health is deteriorating, your stress levels are through the roof, you are overreacting and not able to calm your own emotions down, being sexually abused, or financially powerless to stop huge debt from accumulating due to the foolish actions of your spouse, then separation may be warranted.
The second reason separation may be necessary is to send a very clear message to a spouse that his (or her) patterns of behavior in the marriage are grossly unbiblical and damaging to you and your children. Separation is done after numerous attempts to talk about “what’s wrong” has been discounted, minimized, or ignored and you can’t continue to live together as if his behavior and attitudes are acceptable. Separation can be a means to wake your spouse up to the destructiveness and sinfulness of his own ways. For more information on reasons for separation and the Biblical support behind it, click here.
But your question is really about how long should you stay separated and how do you know when is it time to reconcile?
Many pastors and/counselors put an arbitrary number on the maximum amount of time a couple should stay separated. I’ve often heard three months as some magical number. I believe their rational for this thinking is that the longer a couple is separated, the more likely the marriage will end up in divorce and there may be a smidgen of truth in that thinking.
However, the alternative is to put people back together before any real repentance or change has taken place in their hearts, health or marriage. I do not see the wisdom in going back to repeating the same old cycle and doing so completely negates the reason for the separation to begin with.
Therefore here are the criteria that you should look for that may tell you it’s time to end the separation.
1. The most important benchmark to look for is this. Has there been any evidence of repentance and change? Not words or promises of change but real change. For example, if there was financial mismanagement, has he caught up on filing his income taxes, paid past bills, gone to a financial counselor, made his financial dealings clear to you, and made a plan for future fiscal responsibility?
If there has been disrespect, verbal battering, belittling, sarcasm, and controlling behaviors, has that stopped? Is there a more respectful interchange when the two of you need to communicate? How is he with the children Does he take responsibility and admit that his behaviors were hurtful and is he learning to express his thoughts and feeling in more constructive ways? Are you “seeing” this change while you are separated? If not, why would you expect any changes if you move back together?
Two terms I use is old history (how the marriage was before separation) and new history (evidences of change). For example, do you see some new humility where there once was pride? Is there a willingness to hear feedback and self correct where before there was blindness? Is there a desire to grow and effort made towards that end where before there was minimizing and blame shifting? If there is no new history (don’t confuse charm and promises with genuine change), there is no change. Getting back together will result in the same relationship dynamics you had before separation. Is that what you want?
2. Have you done your own work? There is no perfect marriage and there are also things you must do and learn in order to grow through this separation. It might be you need to learn to stop being so passive and learn to speak up for yourself more. It might mean you need to take a more active role in being responsible for the financial health of your marriage instead of assuming your husband has everything covered. It might mean working on building your own CORE strength so that you are more God-centered and less husband or marriage centered as a person.
It also might mean are you learning to take better care of your own needs. Your body, your mental health and your spiritual well-being. Have you grown stronger as a person without becoming hard hearted towards the possibility of reconciliation?
The purpose of separation is for your safety and healing and reconciliation. But true reconciliation will never happen until there is recognition that something was wrong coupled with a change of mind and heart as evidenced by specific action steps.
3. How long? There is no perfect timetable for separation or when separation should end but here are some general criteria. If there is no evidence of change, then reconciliation is foolish. If there is some evidence of change, that is where it gets harder to discern. How much change is enough change before you move back together? Here are three benchmarks:
a. When change has been consistent over a period of time – at least three to six months.
b. When the old history patterns creeps back into your interactions, you see evidence of him catching himself and self-correcting. For example, if he is getting verbally aggressive, he might stop himself and say, “I shouldn’t have said it that way. I’m sorry.”
c. When you give him feedback on unacceptable behaviors such as, “You’re getting loud and scaring me,” he listens to you, doesn’t argue, mock or ignore you. Instead, he respects and trusts your feelings and modifies his behavior.
We cannot know the future. Therefore, we make the best decision based on evidence we see before us. Most women I work with desire reconciliation and would give their husband the benefit of the doubt when they see consistent movement forward. Later on, reconciliation looked like foolishness when he reverted back to his old ways. Yet, the alternative is to live in fear and “what if’s” which is not walking by faith.
So the tension we face when deciding whether or not reconcile is this. Is his change real and is he committed to sustain it?If you discern that it is and he wants that change for himself and not just to get you back, then it may be time to reconcile and see how things go.
However, if you’re still hesitant or uncomfortable with reconciling even with evidence of real change, you may have to come to accept that however he changes, his past behavior been so damaging to you and/or your children that even if he changes, the marriage cannot be saved because you will never be able to trust him.
Friend: If you separated from your spouse, how long did you separate and when did you know it was time to end the separation? What criteria did you use?
This post was originally published on ChristianCounseling.com. Working for over 30 years with couples attempting to recover from serious marital sin, I have often heard one of them say, “Why can’t you just forgive and forget?” or “You’re holding onto the past? Can’t we start with a clean slate?” or, “God says that we’re to…
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