Christian counselors generally agree that you should physically separate yourself from your spouse if you or your children are being exploited or victimized or enduring ongoing verbal abuse or emotional cruelty. You should not tolerate an environment where physical, emotional and sexual abuse is occurring. When there is not a direct threat, however, Rob Jackson believes that separation should be the exception rather than the rule. He suggests that some women tend to minimize their husband's behavior and not recognize it as abusive. He recommends that those women go with their hearts if they feel that their husband's actions are not cherishing and have made their home unsafe.
Separation that does occur should be therapeutic, not in anger, Rob says. He compares therapeutic separation to the fire lines that firefighters often set to stop blazes. By intentionally burning a controlled area, they can remove the threat of a disastrous wildfire. Similarly, instead of having a problem flare up and destroy a relationship, a brief therapeutic separation can create an environment for recovery that will hopefully keep the couple from having to go through a permanent separation later.1
This process should be mediated by a pastor or counselor who establishes goals for what the couple will try to achieve during their time apart. The first phase of the separation involves 30 days with no contact between the husband and wife. Any arrangements for finances or care for children should be negotiated up front so that communication can be limited strictly to emergencies. This experience shows couples what divorce feels like. Rob notices that couples going through problems often only have a pseudo-divorce. One of the partners gets kicked out of the house but then the two still have sex occasionally, have long phone calls and other kinds of on-again, off-again contact, making recovery difficult. Total separation, however, forces the spouse with the addiction to see what losing his or her partner completely would be like.
During this time, the husband and wife will spend time working on individual issues with a counselor. Over the next 30 days, the couple will start including a joint counseling session once a week. They will also add in a date night once a week where they spend time being civil towards each other. By the seventh or eighth week, the couple should start addressing what kind of minimal changes will have to occur for when they come back together — no infidelity, no cybersex, and so forth.
In the last phase, the couple moves back in together, maintaining a period of joint counseling and beginning to tackle long-term issues such as communication and financial management.