Separation does not work

I’d like to thank a recent visitor to this blog for prompting me to write this post.

When a relationship crisis strikes, the marital environment can get pretty toxic. It can become difficult for the spouses to suffer each other’s company. There may be tension, arguments, the “silent” treatment, and even fights. I have personally experienced all of these things. None of them is pretty. Given such circumstances, it might seem logical for the spouses to separate from one another. It’s likely that most well-meaning family and friends would advise this, and indeed many so-called marriage “professionals” would advise this as well.

Many of you know that I am a Marriage Fitness practitioner. Core to the concepts and practices of this program is to avoid separation insofar as is possible. I feel so strongly about the benefit of what I’ve learned from the program and how to deal with my own unwilling separation from my wife that I feel compelled to duplicate the link to their website again, right here, in most clear (and perhaps obnoxious?) fashion. Please, please, please make this website your first stop if you are dealing with separation.

Click here to visit the official Marriage Fitness website.

Just do it. It will saver your marriage. So please, just do it: go there and check it out. Remember folks, I’m not a huckster. I just really believe in this program and will stand by it 100%. I personally know of situations involving separation — or worse — that have totally turned around because of the positive impact this program has had on the marital situation, despite obstinacy, affairs, separation, etc. But I digress…

Separation is a terrible, terrible idea. It accomplishes nothing. It puts physical distance and emotional space between yourself and your spouse, and all that distance and space will do is to further erode your connection with your spouse. Feel your relationship is distressed now? Well guess what — separation will make it worse. A lot worse. If your spouse wants to disconnect from you, then that will happen in a hurry if you separate. If your spouse wants to have an affair, then that will quickly follow the separation. If your spouse is having an affair, then that affair will almost certainly escalate if he or she leaves. (There is a silver lining to this, though: the affair could very likely blow up a lot sooner as a result.) If your spouse is thinking about divorce, it becomes a whole lot more likely that this will happen if you separate. If your intention is to reconcile your marriage, then separation complicates everything and achieves nothing.

Yes, you should ignore the well-meaning friends and the credentialed “marriage” counselors who would advise separation. They clearly do not have the best interests of your marriage in their hearts.

Now, don’t get me wrong: you cannot force your spouse to stay with you, but you should do everything within your power to try to prevent an impending separation. This does not mean that you should plead, threaten, or bargain. Words are useless at this point. You will need to show your spouse that you want him or her to stay through your actions. You will need to make positive changes in the marital environment, through both working on yourself — the aspects of your behavior and person that led to the marriage breakdown — and through learning and employing the best possible relationship skills and habits. This is really the only way to stop a separation.

The problem is that sometimes even this doesn’t work. You can do everything right, and still your spouse ends up determined to leave. In fact, it often appears that it is because of these changes that your spouse decides to separate. Please don’t let this confuse you if this happens. What you’re seeing is nothing other than a fairly potent form of pushback. It’s typically a sign that you are rewriting the story your spouse has been telling him- or herself, and that story could be months or even years old. It most certainly will be old enough for your spouse to thoroughly believe it. So it comes as quite a surprise to an obstinate spouse to see you suddenly change for the better. Your rewriting of that story challenges everything he or she believes to be true about your marriage, and that’s a difficult place to be. The human ego seeks desperately to preserve itself at all costs, and it doesn’t take well to existential shocks that truly and experientially define its boundaries and definitions.

So what do you do if you’ve done everything right and your spouse still wants to separate? Well, you might just have to accept that separation is a temporary station on the journey to reconciliation. It happens that way sometimes, and it has happened that way for me as well. You don’t want to participate in, encourage, or facilitate that separation in any way, if you can help it. Make it clear that it is not your desire that he or she separates, but that you have no control over your spouse’s choices and have done and are doing your best to understand your spouse’s feelings and concerns. You also absolutely must make it clear that your spouse will always be welcome in the marital house without any judgment or conditions whatsoever. This is very important, because your spouse will need to come home at some point. If there’s an affair, the affair will end. If it’s obstinacy, that ice will melt. If it’s divorce proceedings, your well-directed efforts will likely bring those proceedings to a halt.

If you unwillingly end up with a spouse that separates, don’t fret it too hard. It’s still possible to pursue reconciliation despite the separation. You can reach out to your spouse in virtually all the ways that you could if he or she were still at home. (See the Marriage Fitness website for resources on how to do this — they have a whole program that is oriented around this and other kinds of difficult situations!) It may likely take longer to get to reconciliation, but you can still get there nonetheless.

This perhaps another question open: what if you were the person to separate? Maybe life at home was too painful or too difficult, and you felt like you simply had to get out to make the situation more bearable. The answer is simple: if you really want to reconcile your marriage, then you have to return home. You have to move back in. And you’ve got to do it now. Not tomorrow or the next week, but now.

Separation hurts, it’s painful, and it’s ultimately pretty useless. If it’s happening to you, don’t despair, because you can turn things around. If it is looming over your situation, don’t freak out, because you can change the momentum. Please make sure that you check the resources page on this website for links to helpful, marriage-friendly sources of information, inspiration, and guidance.

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