Things to Consider Before You Separate

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Would you recommend separation for married couples who feel that they’ve come to the end of their rope? For years our marriage has been tormented by destructive behavior and deep hurt. Under the circumstances, I wonder if it might be best to live apart for a while. But I worry about how this might affect our children.

We’re so glad you’ve reached out to ask. Marital separation shouldn’t be taken lightly. And you’re right: It would have a huge impact on your children. For that reason alone, it’s worth taking as much time as you need to re-examine your motives — especially when there’s so much at stake. You don’t want to separate unless you absolutely have to.

Marital separation should be used mainly as a way to heal a hurting marriage. In other words, “separation is not necessarily the beginning of the end,” writes Gary Chapman in One More Try. Instead, separation can be an opportunity for struggling couples to get wise care and input from experts.

Three scenarios when separation might make sense

“While reconciliation is God’s desire for struggling couples, there are all sorts of situations that can bring a marriage to the crisis point. Whether it’s suffering physical or verbal abuse, living with an alcoholic or discovering that your spouse has been unfaithful, there are times when separation can be an act of love for a couple in distress.” ~ Separation As an Act of Love

In our view, there are three instances when separation can be a reasonable option:

  • When one spouse has become apathetic and unrepentant about behaviors that threaten the marriage. In such instances, the other spouse — the one who genuinely cares about the marriage and wants to save it — may decide to move out of the house for a while as a way of creating a crisis, a wake-up call to repentance. But that should happen only after the spouse who suggests the separation has searched their own heart and honestly evaluated their motives and flaws.
  • When separation is entered into purposefully, for therapeutic reasons, and with a positive goal in mind. This type of separation is a temporary “time out.” It gives spouses a chance to step away from each other so they can work on personal issues and build new skills for resolving conflict. But the goal is always to come back together again. Ideally, separation should involve therapy and take place under the guidance of a professional counselor for both partners. (It might even be a good idea to attend a marriage intensive. Focus on the Family’s Hope Restored: A Marriage Intensive Experience holds these programs on a regular basis.)

Check your motives before separating

If you’re thinking about separation for any of the above reasons, we’d advise you to move ahead cautiously — and only after prayer and wise input from a pastor, a professional marriage therapist, and your most trusted friends.

On the other hand, if you’re not sure about your reasons for taking this step — or if you think you’re simply looking for a way to escape your problems or avoid conflict — we’d urge you to stop and think again.

How do you know whether your motives are legitimate? Ask yourself some pointed questions:

  • How much effort have you actually put into reversing the pain and harm that have defined your marriage to this point?
  • How much of your married life has been devoted to therapy, professional counsel, and a serious attempt to overcome your difficulties? 50%? 20%? None at all? (It’s possible that you haven’t been trying as hard as you think you have.)
  • Do you feel that the relationship is worth saving?
  • Have you talked things over with your pastor or the leadership of your church?

If you just don’t feel happy about being married anymore, make time to re-examine your initial expectations. Did you think that marriage, in and of itself, could bring you happiness? If so, it’s time to get rid of unrealistic expectations. “We have to stop asking of marriage what God never designed it to give — perfect happiness, conflict-free living, and idolatrous obsession,” says author Gary Thomas.

Or, if you’re annoyed or frustrated with your spouse, try taking a closer look at yourself. Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live with you? Remember, from a Christian perspective, marriage is based on commitment and self-sacrifice. That’s not always easy. It means hanging in there when everything seems to tell you to give up.

Choose hope

Would you let us help you sort all this out? Call us for a free over-the-phone consultation. Our licensed or pastoral counselors would be happy to talk with you. They’ll give you solid advice and practical ideas (especially as you consider the effects of this season on your children). And they can point you to experienced therapists in your area for ongoing support.


If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

Before the Last Resort: 3 Simple Questions to Rescue Your Marriage

One More Try

Holding on to Hope During Separation

Hope for Every Marriage

The Meaning of Marriage

Getting Unstuck in Your Relationships

Healing the Hurt in Your Marriage

The Emotionally Destructive Marriage: How to Find Your Voice and Reclaim Your Hope

How We Love: Discover Your Love Style, Enhance Your Marriage

Marital Challenges (resource list)

Hope Restored® marriage intensives

Before You Divorce

Love and Respect

Copyright © 2015, 2020, Focus on the Family.

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