I Need Specific Steps On Separation

Morning friend,

The temperature in Prescott dipped below freezing so I packed myself up and moved back to Sun City West yesterday. As lovely as it is in the mountains, my body likes to be in the warm not the cold. I may drive up there for some snow with my granddaughters and Thanksgiving, but I’m glad I have a warm place to hang out for now. 

Today’s Question: I need to separate from my husband soon. I've been receiving counsel for months, I've written a script for the conversation, and I have a counselor ready to facilitate, but I have many questions and feel unsure about what to say and what to do. 

I feel like I need a step-by-step instruction guide on “How to ask your husband for a therapeutic/healing separation and get it to happen now.” I want to do it in such a way that he understands the need and value and cooperates. Do you have how-to content somewhere that will give me the words and prepare me for possible responses?

Answer: I chose your question because you are making a common mistake that will keep you stuck and fearful of having this conversation around separation.

But before I share your mistake, I want to commend you for working with a counselor and taking the time to think through what you want to say and to even write it down. I also like that your counselor is willing to help you facilitate this tough conversation in the most constructive and ideally cooperative way. Kudos to you. You’ve done your part. 

The mistake that keeps you paralyzed is that you want to control his response. You say, “I want to ask, and get it to happen now.” You said, “I want to do it in such a way that he will understand the need and value and cooperate.” If you need a marital separation now, you already know that he’s not easily influenced by you or willing to cooperate. If you did have a spouse who listened and cooperated, you probably would not need a separation or need to have this conversation in the presence of a counselor. 

I am going to give you some things to think about before you initiate this conversation with him. You’re wise to prepare yourself for the possibility of a negative uncooperative response. 

First, separation from an unhealthy person always raises your danger level. What has been the history in your marriage when you don’t do what he wants? How do you see him behave once he feels threatened, abandoned, rejected, hurt or angry? If there has been any violence, threats of violence, or a history of suicidal threats or abuse, informing him of a separation and hoping for his understanding and cooperation is unlikely. If those red flags are there, it is not wise to inform him of your desire to separate until after you have left the home and are in a safe place, ideally where he cannot find or contact you. 

Second, have you already made copies of all important legal documents, tax records and gathered your own personal documents such as passport, birth certificate, school records, credit card information, medical records and other important papers that you may need? Have you separated out your finances or consulted with an attorney as to what your legal rights and responsibilities are if you separate? This information is crucial for you to have in your possession because once you tell him of your plans to separate, these things may be much harder to secure and he could be retaliatory.

Third, if you have minor children (you do not say you do), what are your concerns for their safety? How will you inform them? Are you hoping he will cooperate with your narrative with them? What if he undermines you and blames you to the children for breaking up your family? How will you handle that? Also, consult with a lawyer regarding your legal rights and responsibilities for visitation and custody agreements. Knowing all the challenges and obstacles that may be ahead of you help you be wise in making your next steps forward. It also helps you not to get so intimidated by his bravado of what he might do to you financially or legally if you already know those things are not within his power to do.

Fourth, what does separation look like to you? Him moving out? You moving out? You both sleeping in separate bedrooms? How will finances be handled? Children? Household responsibilities? If he is unwilling to leave the home, is it possible to have a safe, in-home separation? Is that an option? If so be clear on your boundaries and responsibilities and his.

Last, what is the purpose of the separation? You stated that you were looking for a healing/therapeutic separation. Therefore, I assume it is for him to wake him up to some destructive behaviors as well as to give you a chance to heal from some hurts you have endured in the marriage. 

If so, you can be direct and honest saying for example, “I still love you and want our marriage to work, but I can’t live with your addiction, or chronic porn use, or verbal abuse etc. I hope during our time apart, you will decide to work on yourself. But I have learned I can’t control you, I can only control me and I won’t live like this anymore. I’m willing to wait for a season to see if you choose to work on your problem, but I won’t continue to let myself live in this kind of marriage anymore.” 

This takes his response and future action steps and puts them clearly on him as his responsibility, not yours. Your responsibility is to be honest. Your responsibility is to be a good steward of you and your children. Your responsibility is to be a good helpmate to him by not enabling his own destructive behaviors to continue to do damage. However, you cannot take responsibility for his feelings, his reactions, his decisions, his life, or whether he understands, accepts, or is willing to cooperate with your new boundary. 

Please take some time to discuss these five steps with your counselor and get clear that your goal is to speak the truth in love and your second goal is to get comfortable letting go of how he takes it. As you do that you will have greater courage moving forward. 

However, let me repeat, if you sense any danger to you no matter how loving your words may be, it’s best not to inform him of your intentions to separate until after you have already separated and are safe. Then you may choose to inform him via letter or messenger and not in person, even with a counselor present. 

Friend, when you have initiated a separation, how did you decide how to communicate your intentions?

17 Comments

  1. Ellen on October 27, 2022 at 9:13 am

    This was very helpful information. I also thought like this woman. I thought it would be fair to give him a warning. I told him I was serious about separation. Well, he took it as a threat. He left the house, was gone all day,came home drunk later that night and started throwing my stuff out of my room. Yelling and having a tantrum. My older kids were home, hiding in my son’s room, after a couple of hours of this, they called the police . We were advised to spend a night elsewhere because after they leave, this situations usually escalate. So we stayed with friends. I could sleep a wink. The next day, I came back and he wouldn’t look at me and honestly I was relieved. That is when I actually signed the petition for divorce. Now, I am visiting my kids in Ohio and have decided to serve him the petition soon. He doesn’t know, because he is in serious denial right now! This has been such a hard time in my life.

    • Ellen on October 27, 2022 at 9:15 am

      *I couldn’t sleep a wink.

    • Denice on October 27, 2022 at 12:51 pm

      Thank you for sharing your story. This is never a place that we wanted to be but I know that with the Lord we can heal and become stronger in Christ through all of this ❤️

    • Jean on October 28, 2022 at 12:34 pm

      I am also filing for divorce. Like you did with your separation, for some reason I feel the need to give him fair warning about the divorce. Just wondering, since letting him know beforehand and your separation went so badly, are you having him served with no notification? I am deciding if I need to let him know in person, with a phone call, by email/text, or just have him served?

  2. sherill on October 27, 2022 at 9:59 am

    I left 6 weeks ago…. This is THE hardest thing I’ve ever done. I could not even imagine how painful it was. The most important thing though is that you PRESS INTO Jesus every moment and remember that He has gone before you and made the way for you. Keep stepping forward, even when it seems contrary to what we’ve been taught to believe about marriage. Jesus KNOWS betrayal! His best friends went to sleep on him when He had expressed His need for their prayers. Extend that compassion that you have for your husband to yourself first!

    That being said… I was advised to not tell him where I was going. I still haven’t told him. Friends came and packed me up into a truck one morning after he left for work, and I left. Totally SURREAL. I was wracked with guilt and shame because I felt like he deserved to know what was going to happen, but everyone kept telling me to not say a word, so I didn’t. He texted me that afternoon to see if I wanted him to come pick me up from work. I didn’t answer. He showed up at my job to get me and I still don’t know what happened after that…. I can’t even think about that without feeling a trauma response. I left a letter for him. I have to trust him to Jesus. I pray that his eyes will be opened, like mine were, but I really don’t see that happening. “Hope-ium”

    Practically speaking, … You just can’t know how he’ll respond. And I don’t think you can be prepared for it either. You probably will need to think more about how will YOU respond once things are set in motion! I was really unprepared for the intensity of the emotional and physical reaction of knowing that he actually knew I was gone. I knew it would be tough, but again, I don’t think you can really know that until you go through it. And you WILL get through it!

    So, in the meantime, BABY STEPS. Don’t go borrowing trouble/stress by thinking too far down the road – it will only serve to confuse you even more. Jesus tells us to ask for “daily bread.” Just focus on the next task – literally. Sometimes for me that’s just until the next meal. Listen and watch for God to tell you when it’s time to make the next move. And REST in His faithfulness!

    YOU CAN DO THIS! You WILL do this – only with His strength!

    • Jean on October 28, 2022 at 11:33 am

      I absolutely love your comment about asking for our daily bread. I’ve never heard it put that way. That makesso much sense. I get overwhelmed when I look too far ahead and try to figure things out. Have been learning to take the next step.

  3. Ana Ruiz on October 27, 2022 at 12:25 pm

    Very helpful…seems overwhelming but I need to get started. Still trying to hold on to something that is gone…but I guess is because of my children that the least I can talk or do about it the less I care.

  4. Denice on October 27, 2022 at 12:50 pm

    I’ve been in a destructive marriage for so long. We have separated multiple times (he would leave usually due to his frustration of me and my “failings” to be the wife and mother he expected) but about 6 weeks ago I asked him to leave. I cannot do this anymore. It’s been 24 years. It’s not fair to my children. It never has been. I have failed my kids by not showing them how to keep good boundaries. My husband agreed to leave but of course this is taking time. He has major back injuries and does not work. He has no income so he doesn’t have any resources to move out. This is frustrating for me because he has a toxic person who enables him and provides for his drinking alcohol all of the time. Literally this person is like an ATM machine. I am ready now more than ever to heal and grow and be healthy and to help my last two kids who are in the house heal and grow as well. I pray that my husband repents and heals but that is not my main focus nor my responsibility. For so long I accepted all of the blame for his choices and behavior. I am grateful that God showed me years ago that none of my husbands abuse towards himself or us has ever been my fault. I am only responsible for me and my walk with God.

    • Sil on October 27, 2022 at 2:27 pm

      I left an separated from my ex and its been almost a year. We even signed divorce papers. I still talk to him and have prayed to see a change in him. He tells me that I should remarry him and move back in with him, but I am honestly terrified of going back because I don’t want to go back to the verbal abuse and our old way of being. He tells me he has changed and for the most part has acted respectful to me, but I still feel there is more for him to change/ grow and there is more healing I need to do. He has told me if I don’t go back, remarry him and move back in, that I am not serious about our reconciliation and that I am just hurting our daughter. He tells me if I don’t make a move soon he will move on with his life.
      I know I am not ready even though its almost been a year (10 months) since our separation/ divorce, but it doesn’t feel that long to me and I feel I still need time to figure things out, but I am scared of making the wrong choice for him, for me and especially for my daughter.
      If anyone has any advice. If not, prayers for courage and discernment are very much appreciated.

      • R on October 27, 2022 at 9:51 pm

        He is making demands of you. This shows that he has not changed. If he were truly repentant for the harm he has caused you, he would give you as much time as you need to heal. You will place yourself and your child in danger if you return.

        • Sil on November 1, 2022 at 1:25 pm

          Thank you R for your reply. It helps to see things from an outside perspective and sometimes I feel like the people closest to me are too involved to be neutral about my situation. Again, thank you.

      • Yolanda on October 28, 2022 at 12:48 am

        Sil, he is still manipulating you. I’m sorry to say this, but it doesn’t seem like he’s ever gonna change. STAY AWAY!

      • Eva on October 28, 2022 at 5:52 pm

        Hi Sil,

        I agree with R. He is manipulating and trying to coerce you back. A truly repentant and changed person does not do that.
        It seems that although you are separated/divorced, he still is trying to control you because you are still dealing with him since you have a daughter together.

        Allow yourself time to heal. It’s only been 10 month. It takes years depending on the length and severity of abuse you have suffered, and still suffering. Also, healing isn’t linear. It’s a rollercoaster ride, it’s up and down, but overall it is a steady moving forward and healing. More like a crockpot than a microwave. It takes time, but the end result is a sweet full aroma and flavour. There is a lot you still will have to work through. It gets better with time.
        I felt guilty, as though I had torn the family apart, and abandoned our marriage, and sinned against the Lord. I came to realize that although we left, he had destroyed those relationships by his own behaviour.
        Even though I left an abusive and oppressive husband after 26 1/2 years 2 1/2 years ago, he is still trying to control me all the while claiming he has changed, and I am not giving him a chance to prove it.
        Very early on, I have limited conversations to emails only (records). When he writes to me, I can read them at my choice of time. I can re-read and analyze them, and I answer them in my time, and treat them as business letters. No emotions, courteous but just sticking to the facts.
        I have tried to have a division of assets for at least 1 1/2 year now. It is the last vestige of power and control. Mediation failed, now it’s through my lawyer – we finally might get somewhere. Although he is still trying to derail me, maybe he is realizing that I mean business. I am sticking with my boundaries – which is very hard to do.
        My hope was to eventually reconcile (being civil, and able to be in each other’s presents), and possibly restore our marriage. It doesn’t look like this is possible.
        In the meantime I had counseling, and I am attending DivorceCare for the third time. It has been empowering, encouraging, and healing.
        The Lord has blessed me in so many ways, and confirmed that I had indeed made the right choice. And when doubts assail me, he has given me prayer warriors, and godly friends who uphold me.

        All this to say, hang in there. Trust the Lord, for he is good. He will carry you through. And trust yourself – trust your judgments. Take the time that is needed for you to heal and grow, and for your daughter to do the same. If you rush this, you will end up doing the same “song and dance” you have always done.
        Depending on her age, there is DivorceCare for Kids.

        The Lord’s blessing and healing to you.

        Love in Christ,
        Eva

  5. Michelle M on October 27, 2022 at 1:08 pm

    I recently separated from my husband and moved out of the house without letting him know I was going to. My husband was verbally, emotionally and financially abusive. There was also some physical abuse. A couple of months before I left I saw my husband get to a place where I could tell that he was done with me. He also decided to stop counseling g indefinitely. I had concerns about what he would do next.
    This is such a hard decision to make and I don’t think there is a perfect way to do it. Preparing (as much as possible) and praying for guidance is so important . I prayed for an opportunity to leave when he was gone because I wasn’t sure how he would respond. The Lord orchestrated is so that he happened to leave the day I decided to get my things and go, it all happened so fast .
    The Lord truly guided me through this, but I also started preparing, as much as I could,) a few weeks before. There wasn’t a lot I could get because he hid everything important from me.
    After he came home and saw that I left, he could care less, but he was mad that I took money out of our joint baking account. The next day he changed the locks on our house and would not allow me to get the rest of my property. .
    When decide if to do this you have to do a what is safest for yourself. Remember you are taking to an unreasonable and irrational person. I believe women, in these situations want to do the kindest and most considerate thing to the abuser, , but God gives us boundaries to apply with the wicked, like, do t throw your pearl before swine, and do not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler, Don’t answer a fool according to his folly lest you be like him. Answer a fool according to his folly lest he be wise in his own eyes. Keep praying and seeking the Lord for help and guidance. Don’t be surprised by the fiery trials. They will come.
    Also, know that however he responds it’s not your fault. These boundaries will continue to reveal what is already in his heart. Try not to tell yourself things like, “if I only said this, or did it this way, it may have gone better.” His behavior is not your fault, but we do have to watch over our hearts for temptations to sin through these things.it’s not going to be perfect, but God is greater and He will perfect His power in our weaknesses .
    I’m praying for everyone going through this. It is so exhausting, and destructive. God is our redeemer and heavier. He will use this for our good in ways we won’t expect. Keep looking to Jesus . ❤️🙏🏻

    • Mary on October 27, 2022 at 8:31 pm

      Thank You Michelle…..you summed it up….I can not express to women how important it is to cover yourself and your children especially financially before you give even a hint that you are leaving. By leaving you take away their control and it sets up a boundary that triggers a fight or flight response in them. By the grace of God through family and friends I am looking at my 3rd yr surviving divorce from a 26-30 yr toxic relationship from an emotionally abusive husband. I let it go to the point that when I broke, I did not cover myself as well as I could have and was willing to agree to less than I should have in order to get away from him. Please please please turn your focus on yourself and the children and take steps to set yourself up as well as possible and leave before confronting him. Any and all paperwork is sooo important. Especially tax information and any legal documents. You can always send him anything you dont need or throw it away but there is no guarantee you will be able to get anything once you leave the house.
      It will be the hardest thing you have ever done but God is so for you and he is right there walking through the days and nights that seem to be confusing and long. There is light at the end of the tunnel and your health, sanity and safety are worth it. This is the rest of your life………..be for yourself as much as Christ is for you! God Bless

  6. Rebecca on October 27, 2022 at 2:19 pm

    There is excellent advice here. I followed many of the same suggestions when separating, but my narrative made so much sense to me that I didn’t even consider that he would balk and refuse to cooperate. It is so important to be prepared for a variety of reactions and have options in mind as is outlined in detail in the blog.

  7. Blessed on October 28, 2022 at 5:19 am

    I made plans to leave my husband in December of 2019. I made the mistake of telling him. If/when there is a next time, I will NOT give him a warning and I will just leave and there will likely be no chance of reconciliation. I am just done, but, since I am mostly safe (physically) and have learned to not absorb his verbal blows when they come, I am staying until I feel God telling me to leave. I frequently consider avenues for separation in the event I need to get out quikcly.

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