Are Marital Separations Biblical?
- 2006 22 Apr
Dear Dr. David:
For many years I have appreciated the articles and advice given on Crosswalk.com -— until now. From the Q&A, the advice given on separation was neither “sound” nor “biblically” based. In fact, it is quite irresponsible. Although you are obviously an educated man, it is apparent from this article that you have missed what God has to say about marriage and commitment.
It is irresponsible that you would encourage, on any level, couples to separate, and to use that as a time for prayer -— PLEASE!!!. Albeit, it sounds great in theory, if you ever really talked with any couples at all, too often when one wants to leave there is someone waiting to fill the void, and my good doctor, it is not God!!! If couples were prone to praying for their marriages and families, then separation would not be a consideration. If, in fact, they prayed before they got married, prayed during their marriage, stayed in the Word of God to make sure they were on target with how they are to respond to each other, then they would not be embracing a worldview of how to handle this obvious lack of commitment.
Could a separation make things better? I dare say the stats on that would prove that to be minimal. When a spouse leaves, it would be only natural that the one left would feel less than secure. If my mate is genuinely concerned about my feeling secure in our relationship, then they aren’t going to leave. It is foolish to think anything less.
From my personal experience, my former husband left me countless times. Not once did it strengthen our marriage. He finally went to a “Christian” counselor. This man told him that God wanted him happy…not committed. My “happy” ex-husband has been married twice since me.
If you tell people what they want to hear, you will be accountable for that. Please understand God will not take it lightly when we misinform people or when our opinion becomes the replacement for what the Word of God says. Notably, there is not a single scripture in your advice column. --Paula
Thank you for writing on such a critical topic. In fact, I have received countless letters from people struggling with the issue of separation in marriage. Your opinion and concerns are well-founded.
I am saddened by your personal situation -— being abandoned countless times and then having your husband counseled to “be happy, not committed” -- this is foolish counsel. Our happiness ultimately comes from our obedience to God’s principles, and commitment to one’s spouse is certainly one of them.
Tragically, marital separations often happen after prolonged conflict, possibly even violence or infidelity. Few take such drastic steps lightly. The letters I receive suggest drugs, alcohol abuse or other acts of unfaithfulness have been brought into the sanctity of the marriage, defiling it. While separations can be dangerous, there are many who separate in a desperate attempt to purify their marriages once again.
The Scriptures offer few guidelines about marital separations; however there are some principles we should consider here. First, in a broader sense, we know from the Scriptures that God sees marriage as sacred, holy and permanent: “What God has joined together, let no man separate.” (Matthew 19: 5) And we know the importance of keeping marital vows: “When you make a vow to God, do not delay in keeping it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it.” (Eccl. 5: 4-5)
In regards to marital separations, the Apostle Paul says, “A wife must not separate from her husband, but if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband.” (I Corinthians 7: 10 - emphasis added) There is another Scripture verse that specifically addresses separation, and although the context is in reference to the conjugal relationship of husband and wife, the guidelines given are relevant to this conversation: “Do not refuse one another except perhaps by agreement for a season, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, lest Satan tempt you through lack of self-control" (1 Cor. 7:5 - emphasis added).
You are correct when you suggest that separations have the possibility of backfiring, creating insecurity and even opening the door to finding an inappropriate person. Like you, I have seen this happen far too many times. Due to these potential dangers, I suggested in my original column: “A temporary, time-limited separation can be a healthy process if conducted with clear and appropriate guidelines.” Here, again are the four steps to be taken if a couple is considering a “therapeutic separation” for their marriage:
• It should be done under leadership of someone trustworthy, such as your pastor, to ensure steps are taken to make the time apart productive, not divisive. The watchful eye of a godly professional can help suggest areas needing change to restore and purify the marriage.
• The ultimate purpose of a “therapeutic separation” is for the purpose of reconciliation and restoration of the marriage. It is a time to seek Godly counsel, to fast and pray, and to ask God for a change of heart. It is a time to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.” (Colossians 3: 16) It is a time to inspect your conscience —“take the plank out of your own eye…” (Matthew 7: 5)
• There should not be time alone with members of the opposite sex. Hedges of protection must be built in so as to not invite temptation in seeking comfort from someone else.
• Finally, this is a time to be alone with the Lord, seeking His face and guidance. From my previous article: “Let the Lord minister to your needs and assist you in restoring your marriage…..Pray together as a couple, seeking humility to be the best mate possible.”
Those that seek separation to find freedom to date or to avoid dealing with problems in the marriage do not fit into this model and will need to do serious soul-searching before taking any further steps. Paula, I closed my advice column with this scripture from the Apostle Paul: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4: 2-3)
Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David will address two questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to him at TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com
David Hawkins, Pd.D., has worked with couples and families to improve the quality of their lives by resolving personal issues for the last 30 years. He is the author of over 18 books, including Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage, Saying It So He'll Listen, and When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You. His newest book, When the Man in Your Life Can’t Commit, will be released in February, 2006. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.