- Assignments. Since the goal is to make progress on the issues plaguing the marriage, it would be important to make sure the work continues during the time of separation. It could be useful for the couple to agree on a weekly assignment for each partner to be working on, with regular times to share progress with one another. The assignments could be as simple as reflective journaling on the origins of certain phobias, learning to reword statements into positive language with “I” statements or daily practice of improvements in specific social skills. Each partner should be focusing on his or her own assignments, rather than looking for improvement in the other spouse.
- Forgiveness. It would be useful for both partners to develop a forgiveness list to help them intentionally deal with and let go of past hurts and wrongs so they can approach their future together with a clean slate. The lists would not be for sharing with the spouse (though a few might apply), but for the purpose of ridding oneself of grudges and resentments that have built up over time. In addition, each partner could work on listing the things for which they need to ASK forgiveness from their spouse, again, as a way to let go of the past and begin forward movement.
- Counseling. I strongly urge ongoing counseling during any such time of separation, whether with a pastor or another professional counselor. The counselor needs to be informed of the goals for the separation, and would likely make suggestions of issues to work on, as well as when such sessions should be on an individual basis, and when couple sessions would be more useful.
- Together time. Make arrangements to have at least one weekly date night, doing things together that you both enjoy as you start to rebuild the foundation of your marriage. Include in your joint schedule some time each week to pray together for your marriage and your family. (In fact, it would not hurt to enlist a few trusted prayer warriors to also stand with you in prayer.) Instead of depending on electronic communications, find a way to schedule more face to face time to make sure the fullest communication is used (which includes facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, eye contact, etc.). Perhaps also take time to write one another love letters you can send via snail mail. This is a time of wooing one another all over again…finding a way to start the relationship fresh, and just as these kinds of things were important when you first met, they will again be important as you move toward rebuilding the broken relationship.
- Make time for appropriate physical affection. This may be limited to mere hand holding at some points, but to cut off physical contact during a time of separation is begging for trouble and temptation. Make sure the need for physical affection is met by the appropriate person—the spouse—in appropriate timing and with proper respect for one another.
- Limit the time frame. Establish at the start a plan for reintegration and the end of separation. It should not be so much a trial separation, as a separation with trial reunitings. Perhaps setting a 30 day limit could be a good place to start. Time could be added if needed, but regularly trying to get back together should be part of the plan from the beginning. The reuniting can be doing in gradual steps, such as spending weekends together first, then adding additional time as progress is made.
- Accountability. Make a plan to address accountability for the work each is to be doing toward reconciliation. It might be helpful for this to take place in the presence of the counselor, but it needs to happen. Each partner needs to know he or she is expected to be making effort for their marriage, and both partners need to know their spouse is really trying.
- Renewing commitment. Just as you said your vows when you got married, it could be important to celebrate a renewal of your commitment in some tangible way. Find ways to determine and to express what commitment you are making to your spouse as you move toward reconciliation. It can be a special time marking the new birth of your marriage.
- Be honest. None of these steps will be of any benefit to you, if you are not honest with one another, with yourself, with your counselor and with God. Making statements you don’t really mean or plans you don’t expect to follow only compounds the problems. Self deception about your part in the breakup or about your purpose in the separation are also detrimental. It may be tough to do, but taking a long hard look in the mirror can mean the difference between failure and success.
- Question the separation. Be sure to question together the necessity of a separation. Could the goals be achieved without such a drastic step? Could being in the same house and separate rooms be less dramatic? Together, weigh honestly the pros and cons of a separation, and the risks you are taking by choosing that path. Review with your counselor the goals you have, and seek input from him or her.
Wednesday, August 3, 2016
The End of Separation... as a blog topic!
To close this collection of blogs on separation, I would like to make some final suggestions for ways to plan to make a separation successful toward reconciliation. Again, there is no particular order to these items, and they are based on my opinions and observations, rather than particular research elsewhere.
Well, thus endeth the separation blogs! I hope they contain something useful for those of you contemplating or in the midst of separation. I also hope they answer the question for the individuals who asked me about separation in the first place. I have known a number of couples who found ways to tough out the difficult times in their marriages, and as a result, found a deeper and more loving relationship on the other side. It can be done, if both parties are willing to do what it takes to make the marriage work. Sadly, all too often, one spouse decides not to try any longer, which moves the marriage rapidly toward divorce. But a couple willing to do what it takes, to spend what it takes, to make the changes in themselves it takes, and to settle for nothing less can end up with a marriage they never imagined possible. That is what I hope for any of you wrestling with the idea of separation.