Hope. It’s essential to life. Regardless of the issue at hand or the relationship in the balance, hope is the basic ingredient that keeps us moving forward. Even King Solomon knew that hope made a difference. He wrote in Proverbs 13:12, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.”
So where does that leave the separated couple or the husband and wife considering separation? Surely, nobody marries with a plan to separate or divorce. Nobody marries expecting to live with hope deferred.
Dr. Gary Chapman has been helping couples with troubled relationships for nearly 40 years. He’s been married to Karolyn for more than 45 years, he serves as a senior associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and he’s the author of the New York Times best-seller The Five Love Languages: The secret to love that lasts. Dr. Chapman has plenty of experience when it comes to marriage, and he’s seen lots of couples that started their journey with hope but ended up in his office because they lost it along the way.
During his 2014 broadcast interview at Focus on the Family, Dr. Chapman opened by clarifying:
I’m empathetic with the pain that brings you to the place where you feel like there’s no hope. You know, I think some are condemning of people who are at that point, maybe because they’ve never been there. But I know in my own marriage in the early years, what it feels like, that it’s not going to work out, that … we shouldn’t have gotten married, that we made a big mistake in the first place. And so, I’m very empathetic with that person.
At the same time, I would say to that person, “I’ve been working with couples at this juncture for over 35 years. And I’ve seen many people, including [in] my own marriage, who have come from that point of desperation to have the marriage they really wanted when they got married.” There is hope, and I often say to them in my office, “I can understand that you have no hope for your marriage. I can see that. I can feel that. But I have hope for your marriage. So, why don’t you go on my hope for a while, and let’s just see what can happen.”
It’s that combination of compassion and wisdom that keeps Dr. Chapman’s message relevant — across the generations — for couples in crisis. He readily acknowledges that when the state of a marriage is critical, it deserves intensive care.
Dr. Chapman understands how hard it can be for individuals to even articulate the words I am separated, and although separation is not death, Dr. Chapman acknowledges that the experience reflects the psalmist’s description of the valley of the shadow of death in Psalm 23:4. The pain and grief of separation are often similar to the experience of losing a loved one to death, but the shadow of death should not be equated with death itself. Separation may prove to be the rebirth of your marriage or it may be the beginning of the end. Either way, you can count on God to care for both of you along the way.
Rather than asking “Do you want to work on your marriage?” Dr. Chapman simply asks couples if they are willing to work on their marriage. A willingness to work toward reconciliation is a good place to start — regardless of where you end up.
Our core mission at Focus on the Family is to strengthen marriages, so we’re here to help families in whatever state they may find themselves. As we address the issue of separation as a necessary step for some couples in certain situations, we understand that separation is not inevitable for every struggling couple. We also understand that reconciliation is not always possible after a separation, so we want to offer help and hope for individuals endeavoring to move past divorce and into what God has for them in the days ahead.
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 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 Family. Dr. Gary Chapman is a family counselor, radio host, associate pastor and author of several books, including The Five Love Languages and One More Try.