Q. My marriage is in trouble. We have been married for eight years and have two children. Over the years our marriage has become routine. Recently my husband suggested we separate in order to sort out our feelings. This shocked and upset me. He said he is uncomfortable at home and wants to leave temporarily. It seems to me that separating will only make things worse. Do separations help?
Separations do not help. A separation is more apt to lead to divorce than to reconciliation. It is a step away from the marriage and from working out the problems. I am dismayed by the number of couples I have seen in counseling who seek professional help only after they have separated. And some have separated repeatedly before seeking help. By then, the separation or separations have compounded both the pain and the distance between the couple. The problems are then more difficult to solve. Separations make things worse. Here are some reasons why separations don’t help:
1. We carry our problems with us. All husbands and wives struggle to meet their needs for both attachment and autonomy. Often this struggle stems from childhood experiences of feeling either abandoned or smothered. Usually in a marital relationship each partner focuses on one of these needs. One spouse pursues attachment and the other regularly avoids contact or seeks autonomy. Unless these issues are worked out in the marriage their individual issues will continue in future relationships.
2. Separation frightens the spouse needing attachment. Many of us have remnants of abandonment fears from childhood. When a separation takes place these abandonment fears are revived. Combined with the reality of an uncertain marital commitment this may lead to severe depression or anxiety.
3. A separation will also upset and threaten the children. There is no way to avoid this. Children know what’s going on and will be terrified by a parent leaving even temporarily.
4. Relatives and friends of the couple will learn of the problems and become involved. Though well intentioned, they often take sides, further escalating the problems.
There can be a number of reasons causing your husband to request a separation.
· Perhaps he really wants a divorce but believes it best to let you down easy.
· He may already be involved with someone else and may be in great inner turmoil about this. He may care about you and not want to lose you or his children, but the new relationship seems very exciting. With a separation he can remain involved, for a while, with both you and the other person.
· He has felt smothered in the marriage and unable to be himself. This has reached intolerable levels for him.
I recommend you as a couple see a Christian counselor before you decide whether to separate. It can save you a great deal of time, money and agony. And it may save your marriage. Often the current tension will diminish greatly in just a few sessions of marital therapy. If this occurs, your partner may quickly feel much more comfortable at home. The problems won't all be worked out, but the commitment to do so will have been made.
“Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8 NIV