Find Hope When You're Separated
- Whitney Hopler Live It Editor
- 2006 5 May
When you’re separated from your spouse, you may think it’s the beginning of the end for your marriage. But despite the pain you feel, there’s hope. You and your estranged spouse stand at a crossroads between divorce and reconciliation – and God wants to lead you down the road to healing.
Here’s how you can find hope when you’re separated:
Decide to work on your marriage. Although you may be so discouraged that you don’t feel like working to improve your marriage anymore, don’t give up. Remember the dreams you had on your wedding day, the vows you made, and the values in which you believe. Know that trying to reconcile is definitely worthwhile, no matter what has happened. Trust that God has many blessings in store for both you and your spouse in the future if you’re willing to work on your marriage. Ask God to give you the courage to choose to do so, and the strength you’ll need along the way.
Analyze what went wrong. If you are the one who left, try to identify your reasons for leaving and list them on paper. If you are the one who was left behind, try to identify the reasons your spouse left, and list them. Then, no matter which position you’re in, consider which of the listed reasons could be corrected if you or your spouse chose to do so.
Be positive. Honestly acknowledge your negative feelings, but don’t let them control you. Instead, ask God to help you consistently choose to embrace positive attitudes and actions. Realize that your spouse won’t want to return if you make your time together depressing. Try to see the good in yourself, your spouse, and the world around you, and focus on that much more than on what’s bad.
Refuse to have an affair. Don’t begin a romantic relationship with anyone else while you’re still separated from your spouse. Remember that your goal is reconciliation, and dating another person places you on the road toward divorce. Spend your time and energy working on your relationship with your spouse rather than someone else. If you’ve already begun an affair, break it off immediately, realizing that doing so is best not only for you, but also for the person with whom you’ve been having an affair. Understand that divorce doesn’t lead to happiness; your greatest chance for real and lasting happiness lies in doing what’s right rather than following your changing emotions.
Understand how you’ve contributed to your marriage’s failure. Realize that failed marriages are the result of the sins and weaknesses of both partners. Even if you’re not the one who left, know that you surely made some mistakes from which you can learn. Even if your spouse is having an affair, understand that an outside person didn’t cause your marital struggles. Rather, your marriage eroded to the point that it became vulnerable to an affair. Don’t play the blame game; realize you can’t control other people, but you can choose to make changes to how you live yourself. Think and pray about how your attitudes and actions contributed to your marriage’s failure, so you’ll know what issues to focus on as you work to reconcile.
Move slowly to complete legal separation papers. Avoid the time and expense of drawing up legal papers if you can. Remember that your goal is reconciliation rather than divorce.
Treat your estranged spouse with dignity and respect. Understand that fighting with your spouse, insulting him or her, or trying to get revenge will only place you on the road to divorce rather than reconciliation. Remember that God created both you and your spouse in His image, and that He loves you both deeply. Ask God to help you treat your spouse with true respect as you deal with challenges together.
Use the time for self-development. Realize that the time you have apart from your spouse is a valuable period to reflect on your life. Ask God to show you your personal assets and liabilities and help you excel in your strengths and grow in your weaknesses. Ask Him to clarify the thought, feeling, and behavior patterns that have caused you problems in the past, and to help you overcome them. Ask God to guide you to take positive steps toward growing into the person He wants you to become.
Know that, despite all that’s happened, God hasn’t given up on you – and He never will. Understand that He has great purposes for your life. Accept the fact that you can’t change the past, but do all you can to learn from it. Consider starting a new paid job, volunteer work, or taking a class that interests you. Use these new experiences to discover more about yourself.
Build a closer relationship with God. Understand that failing to love your spouse the way God intends means that you’ve failed in your love for God Himself. Confess all your known sin to God, repent of it, and accept God’s forgiveness. Learn to communicate better with God through prayer that involves not just talking to Him, but also listening to Him. Every day, choose a chapter of the Bible to read, and ask God to help you understand what He’s saying to you personally through the text. Mark passages that stand out to you as read.
Ask God to help you obey Him in whatever He calls you to do, such as forgiving people, like your estranged spouse, who have hurt you. Make time to thank God and praise Him for all He’s doing in your life; express your praise in song as well as in spoken words. Find a church family and become involved in it through worship and a small group so you can build meaningful relationships with people who can help you through this challenging time in your life. Take advantage of church classes and counseling.
Develop a healthier relationship with your estranged spouse. No matter who you feel was most at fault in your marriage, decide to take the initiative yourself to build a better relationship with your estranged spouse. Be willing to admit your wrongs and ask forgiveness. If your spouse is willing to confess and repent of his or her wrongs, you must be willing to forgive.
Remember that God’s will is for your marriage to be healed, but He won’t force your spouse to respond to you because He has given everyone free will. Still, if you pray, God will motivate your spouse to work toward reconciliation. Know that, if your spouse ignores God’s efforts to reach him or her, you will still have a clear conscience knowing that you did all you could to reconcile.
Don’t set a deadline for your spouse to return, because you want him or her to return through a genuine choice rather than through coercion. Be patient and loving as you wait for however long it takes. Understand that love isn’t a feeling – it’s an action. Choose to act in loving ways toward your spouse – making his or her best interests a priority in your life – and over time you will start to feel love toward him or her.
Ask God to help you be patient, kind, humble, and unselfish. Ask Him to help you avoid envy and keeping score of past wrongs. Ask God to help you grow to trust your spouse more, and to become a person of greater integrity yourself. Know that God offers you real hope, no matter what ultimately happens to your marriage, because your ultimate fulfillment is based in your relationship with Him.
Use tough love to confront tough issues. Understand that you shouldn’t permit certain behaviors in your marriage, such as physical abuse, sexual unfaithfulness, sexual abuse of children, alcoholism, or drug addiction. Know that, since love is always concerned with the well-being of the other person, you must confront your spouse if he or she is engaging in any unacceptable behaviors. First, share your concerns privately with your spouse. If he or she doesn’t respond, bring two or three trusted friends to go with you to confront your spouse. If there’s still no progress, get a pastor or other staff member from your church involved. Urge your spouse to take constructive action through counseling. Set healthy boundaries for your spouse as he or she pursues change.
Deal with loneliness. Take the initiative to get out into the world and meet new people through new activities while you’re separated. Use your talents to contribute to the world, and build new friendships (without dating). Take your focus off yourself and serve others, knowing that your life will enriched as you do.
Deal with bitterness. Don’t repress your anger, because it will lead to bitterness that will poison your soul. Pursue healing by confessing your anger to God and regularly relying on His strength to help you forgive yourself, your spouse, and other people.
Seek support for your marriage if you reconcile. If you and your spouse both decide to move back in together and pursue a better marriage, take advantage of resources that can help boost your marriage’s health, such as books, tapes, seminars, classes, and retreats. Also, find a couple who has a good marriage and ask them how they obtained it. You might also consider finding a couple who is willing to mentor you and your spouse for a specified period of time.
Deal with reality if your spouse demands a divorce. Accept the fact that there is little to be gained by contesting a divorce if your spouse demands one. If you’ve done all you can on your end to reconcile, be at peace that God won’t hold you responsible for your estranged spouse’s choice. Be honest with your children about the fact that a divorce will occur. Do all you can to express your love for your children. Make sure your children have consistent rules and routines to give them security. Invite the non-resident parent to be as actively involved in your children’s lives as possible. Don’t hesitate to ask friends and family members to help you with anything you need as a single parent. Give yourself at least two years to heal before pursuing any remarriage, and give careful discernment to whether or not God is even calling you to remarry. Ask God to help you leave the past behind and move into the future with confidence in His good plans for you.
Adapted from Hope for the Separated: Wounded Marriages Can Be Healed, copyright 2005, 1996, and 1982 by Gary Chapman. Published by Moody Publishers, Chicago, Ill., www.moodypublishers.com.
Gary Chapman is the author of the best-selling The Five Love Languages, which has been translated into more than 32 languages. He is the director of Marriage and Family Life Consultants, Inc., and travels the world presenting seminars. His radio program airs on more than 100 stations. For more information, visit www.garychapman.org.