When Separation is the Beginning of the End

Man and woman in the midst of trees, looking down and not facing each other

If you are considering separation or divorce, Dr. Gary Chapman recommends you not take the separation step without first spending time with a counselor, a pastor or a mature trusted friend — somebody who can help you assess the situation. Don't go it alone.

Dr. Chapman believes it's important to acknowledge that separation can be a positive step for couples in certain situations. Sometimes there's a crisis in a marriage; maybe there's some form of abuse, neglect, addiction or infidelity. In these situations, separation can be an act of love because the separating spouse is clarifying, "I love you too much to sit here and let you destroy me and hurt the kids. I can't be a part of what's happening here."

Don't lose hope in the midst of your separation, because reconciliation is always the ideal. The biblical pattern is to seek reconciliation, even if separation is necessary to start the hard work of healing.

But if reconciliation proves to be impossible and divorce is inevitable, Dr. Chapman again offers hope. When a Christian marriage ends in divorce, there's a tendency for one or both spouses to feel like a failure, to wrestle with God and His plans for their future. This is why Dr. Chapman counsels separated couples to do all they can before deciding to divorce. "If before you get to the divorce, you do everything possible in your mind to reconcile, you're going to be better able to live after the divorce because you will know in your heart that you made every effort." He's seen far too often that if a couple gives up too soon, they're usually going to feel more guilt after the divorce.

Regardless of whether you tried everything you could to avoid divorce or you feel that you gave up too soon, Dr. Chapman encourages couples to recognize that God is not done with you yet. There's hope in the fact that you still have life and God's forgiveness is real. It's important to acknowledge there were failures in the marriage on your part, but once you've confessed those to God, He forgives you. Remember that it takes two to reconcile in a marriage, and if your spouse is choosing divorce, then you have to acquiesce to that. Dr. Chapman recommends that you commit yourself to God anew, acknowledging that you're divorced but you're trusting Him to fulfill His plans for your life.

God is a Redeemer, and He has a way of taking our hurt, our guilt, our disappointment, even our failures, and He uses them in our lives as we move forward. We never know when we'll meet someone who's going through a situation similar to ours, and God will use us to be instruments of healing and hope for that other person. In the meantime, Dr. Chapman recommends (once again) that couples not go this road alone. He encourages believers to establish a daily quiet time of prayer and Bible reading, get involved in a healthy church and seek the support of a small group. With the same compassion and wisdom he offers when a couple first acknowledges their need to separate, Dr. Chapman kindly shares hope with the divorced individual facing the end of their marriage: "Let's see what God has for you in the future."

The Focus on the Family Help Center counselors are here to listen and pray with you, as well as provide initial guidance and resources to help you and your family thrive. Arrange to speak with a licensed Christian counselor at no cost by calling 1-855-771-HELP (4357) Monday through Friday between 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Mountain time.

Pam Woody is the marriage editor for Thriving FamilyDr. Gary Chapman is a family counselor, radio host, associate pastor and author of several books, including The Five Love Languages and One More Try.


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Portions of this series were taken from Hope for the Separated by Gary Chapman. © 2005 Gary Chapman. Used by permission of Moody Publishers. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2015 Focus on the Family.

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