SOURCE: Leslie Vernick
Today’s Question: Can separation help reconcile a marriage? If you are physically separated, how could the marriage be worked on?
For the past year, my husband has just ignored me, stonewalled me, refused to get counseling or fix the marriage. Basically, he is living like a bachelor, comes and goes as he pleases and acts like he has no wife and kids. I have told him repeatedly that I cannot live this way anymore and that we both need to change and work on those things that keep causing issues in our marriage.
After refusing to move out for so long, he has now decided to move out. Even with all that he has done (lying, deceit, treating the kids and me very badly, anger issues, control issues, emotional affair issues), I still love him as my husband and wish that we can reconcile and fix everything but the condition is that behaviors must change and he refuses to take accountability for his actions.
I know that I brought my own baggage too into the marriage but at least I admit them and I am seeing a therapist to fix my own insecurities. Based on our marriage history, he is the type to try and sweep things under the rug until the point that it gets forgotten because everyday life takes over. He is also the type that when he is angry with someone, he can harbor that anger for a very long time and I know that I have hurt him a lot with things I have said and I know that he is very angry with me.
So if he moves out now, how can there be opportunities to fix the marriage? Can a separation really be a catalyst to repairing a marriage? All the advice I have gotten from Christians and non-Christians is to just let him go and move on with my life and let the kids grow up without such a bad father figure.
But for me, it doesn’t sit well with me to just cut all ties without trying to salvage the marriage. I just feel so crazy sometimes because I don’t know what to do. One minute I think it’s okay to let him go and then I feel such heartache and despair the next minute at the thought of him leaving us. Help.
Answer: You are not alone. There are so many women struggling with the very same feelings and questions that you have expressed.
Your first question was “can separation help reconcile a marriage?” And the answer is that it definitely can sometimes. Your next question was how? If you are physically apart, how does separation help?
Initiating a physical separation is a tough decision for most women to make. It feels very scary to finally draw a line in the sand and say, “I will not live this way any longer.” Separation is a strong boundary that can function as a splash of cold water that wakes up a destructive individual to the consequences of his sin. But your bigger question is how can you work on the marriage if you are living apart.
There are lots of ways to do this starting with his ability to accept your “no more” and respecting your boundary of separation without whining and manipulating. He can also show you he’s working on changing his ways by being honest with you, by taking good care of you financially even while separated and showing his children that he’s more patient and loving than in the past.
I’m sure the two of you have some marriage problems to work on, but his deceit, anger, abuse of your children and emotional affairs are not a statement about the marriage. They are a statement about his character and his own emotional and spiritual maturity. He needs to recognize he has a problem and he needs help before one bit of authentic change will occur.
A person cannot change something he does not see or will not admit. Marital separation affords the opportunity for your husband to take a good hard look at himself and the reason you left the marriage. No guarantees he will do it, but separation can function like a whiff of strong ammonia – meant to jolt him into consciousness.
I think it’s great that you want to salvage your marriage. But you cannot do it alone. It takes two to truly reconcile a broken marriage. From what you wrote, your husband has no interest in talking about things or working on himself to change. In fact, from what you wrote, he is the one leaving. Why? Because he wants to do what he wants to do and live how he wants to live with no responsibility and no flack from you. That’s not realistic or healthy. And despite your great grief and ambivalence around letting him go, you cannot hold someone a prisoner who doesn’t want to be with you.
If he was willing to stay with you, it sounds like his terms are that you have to agree to sweep everything under the rug and pretend everything is fine, even as he lies, cheats, and hurts the kids. That’s a pretty high price to pay for you and your children. Do you think that what is best for you? For him? Your marriage? Or for your children? I don’t think it is.
I’m glad you said that you were in individual therapy. It’s time for you to work on you. To get strong and healthy and less dependent on him so that you are not as afraid of losing him.
A healthy relationship is made up of two separate, healthy individuals who are perfectly capable of taking good care of their own selves while they demonstrate genuine love for each other.
It sounds like you have been overly dependent on him and that has given him a lot of power over you to treat you any way he wants knowing that you’d be too afraid to leave. Now is your time for you all to grow into full adulthood. That means that you are not afraid to be alone or take care of yourself and your children and you are capable of doing so. That doesn’t mean you don’t still want to be married or don’t work towards reconciliation when a relationship has been broken. However, now you are not seeking reconciliation just because you are too afraid or not capable of being alone or taking care of yourself.