I was listening to a counselor* speak on the benefits of separation. He said one of the things a separation will give you is perspective on whether or not you want to continue the relationship. Like… what is the effect on you emotionally and physically being apart from your spouse?
As I listened, I remembered feeling absolutely free and so light I literally danced around the house for days after we separated… so much so I actually felt guilty for feeling so liberated. That feeling went on for years after the marriage was over. I woke up daily just praising God for delivering me. It was more profound than my salvation experience (which was a pretty radical thing). Many years out of the marriage I still felt that way… ongoing relief and deep gratefulness to God for delivering me.
Life beyond an abusive or dysfunctional marriage is not easy by any stretch of the imagination, but my one big regret has been staying in the awful stress too long. Obviously this is not the same for everyone. We went through various stages trying to make the marriage work… well, at least it appeared ‘we’ were. It’s sometimes hard to accept what is! Most of us have this idea planted in our minds by ‘religion’, not God, that we have to stay in a marriage ’til death’ a.k.a. till it nearly kills us. However, we can’t make someone else change, and it’s wrong for us to try to push change onto someone who is not willing. In a mutually loving relationship both parties need to step aside, figure out how their actions and attitude are harming the other, and make adjustments in order for it to work.
Stepping away to gain perspective on things is the first move toward reconciliation in many cases. The reality of what is going on starts to become more obvious once you are out of the daily stress and you can look at yourself and your situation from a fresh perspective. Many marriages can be restored, many cannot. Sometimes the best end result is not obvious. Stepping away for a time can also bring us to our knees before God and allow for two people to mutually work harder to reconnect with God’s help. God is faithful in His ability to heal and reconcile repentant hearts.
- The first thing to do is work on your relationship with God. If you have been looking for a man to fill what only God can fill, it won’t work.
- The second step is to take a good look at yourself to see where you are wounded and work on getting that healed. Recognizing the symptoms of abuse and our own weaknesses goes along way to getting our feet back under us.
- Let your spouse take their own personal inventory. You will soon see if there is genuine repentance. If you have to search to find it, it’s not there.
- Work on establishing some clear boundaries for yourself on what is and isn’t ok during a period of separation. If your spouse disrespects these boundaries, that behavior speaks for itself as well.
- Find separate counselors to work on your issues initially. Reuniting should not be the first priority. In so many cases, a toxic person can be very adept at hoodwinking counselors. Take your time, there is no need to rush a healing process for the sake of appearances. It likely took years to get to this stage of dysfunction and it will also take time to heal.
Couples can come back together in some cases. Not every bad marriage ends in divorce, but there should not be pressure to ‘forgive’ too soon and restore too fast without there being consistent and ongoing evidence of lasting change. True forgiveness is not about letting the other person off the hook, it’s about letting them off your hook so you are not harboring ill feelings toward them. They are still responsible for dealing with their issues and correcting their behavior and attitude. Learning to trust again after being violated and mistreated can take years. Trust is regained progressively as a result of clear and ongoing evidence of change.
*Leslie Vernick and Patrick Doyle are both exceptional counselors who have opened the eyes of many on issues surrounding relationship breakdown. Seek them out on youtube and elsewhere (books etc) for more information. There are several of their videos posted on our facebook page.