It is never a good idea for a married couple to separate, with one exception.

The One Reason to Separate

Based on my experience working with thousands of couples through Family Dynamics Institute, I see only one valid reason for a married couple to separate. If a person puts others in the family in danger, separation must occur. At that point, separation isn’t an option, it’s survival. Several years ago a lady told me that her husband got drunk every Friday night and while intoxicated regularly tried to kill her. On one occasion he tried to ignite her hair with a gas burner on the stove. When I asked her why she continued to live with such a dangerous man, she replied that her church leaders told her the only reason for separation or divorce was if her husband committed adultery. They reasoned that because his sin consisted only of drunkenness and attempted murder, but no sexual infidelity, he didn’t give her “Biblical right” to leave him. I urged her to take her children and get away from her sin-sick husband until he found healing from his alcoholism and anger, and that it might be to her spiritual advantage to find another church led by spiritual people with a grain of common sense.

Safety means more than physical security. Some spouses (men and women) suffer from repeated emotional beatings or live in a marriage that causes them serious spiritual vulnerability. They need to flee for protection just as strongly as those experiencing physical abuse.

Reasons NOT to Separate

If a couple considers separation for any other reason than listed above, I recommend that they not separate. Why? Because almost immediately each spouse – or at least one – experiences relief.

They’re not fighting, not hurling or dodging criticisms. There is no sarcasm, no disrespect, and for the first time in a long while, no walking on tension grenades with eggshell detonators. In short, they have something that many times is impossible to overcome; they have a sense of peace.

What they fail to realize is that many times when that “peace” hits, the desire to work on their marriage quickly dissipates. “Hey, I’m finally happy. Not totally happy, but I’m not in constant misery anymore. Why should I try to put together a marriage that caused such agony? I’d rather just stay where I am.”

Please believe me when I tell you that our work in helping couples solve their problems and salvage their marriages becomes far more challenging when they move to different dwellings. If those dwellings are far apart, it gets even worse. For example, when she goes home to her parents and he continues to live in the city where they were together, resolving issues becomes more of a wishful thought than a workable option.

Perhaps the words of Paul have as much practical meaning as theological importance. Could it be that when he told husbands and wives not to separate or divorce, he considered more than law but also addressed the practicality of reconciliation? “A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.” (1 Corinthians 7:10-11) Yes, you read that right; Paul tells us not to separate and then goes on to tell us what to do if we do separate. Interesting, isn’t it? It appears that he envisions times when a couple cannot live together, as suggested in the first section of this article. However, unless the continued sin of one spouse prevents reconciliation of the marriage (1 Corinthians 7:15, Matthew 19:9), God’s ideal is that we work out our problems and sustain our marriages.

What If My Spouse Wants to Separate?

The spouse who wants to separate usually does so for one of three reasons: