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Is a Period ofSeparation OK for a Struggling Marriage?

Jeff:
We have what I would call a tougher question on this week’s podcast, and that is, is a period of separation okay for a struggling marriage? We got asked this, actually, so this is real life question, by the way, too. We’re not pulling this from thin air, this is from our Facebook group. A guy in the group said, “Can we support a period of separation from a marriage that is really struggling?” Now, I’m interested to hear Jeremy’s thoughts. I think I’ll start with couple qualifiers. I think, first, we have to realize that, man, this is such a deeply complex issue that you have to descend into the particulars.

Jeremy:
Yeah.

Jeff:
I think this is a real tough conversation, and almost unhelpful or unnecessary at the 30,000 foot level. Now, of course, the scripture does have a 30,000 foot level value system that will impose down on us, but just like any Christian ethical question that’s really tough, then you have to descend that into the particulars, which is a phrase I think I’ve heard from the Jesuits. I love that phrase, descending into the particulars.

Jeremy:
Yeah.

Jeff:
And you have to. You have to, because if you only stay up there, then sometimes it can be kind of more like a club that isn’t helpful in one way or the other. And then one other nuance I would say, too, is… I just know stories all across the board that… First of all, the one I would say, too, is separation for any type of abuse, you know, verbal, emotional-

Jeremy:
Yeah.

Jeff:
… and certainly domestic and physical, is necessary, right? There is no calling, in my opinion… There is no theological implication for you to stay in that, right? For your soul to just kind of be corroded and abused. There’s judgment on that man, and that can play out a bunch of different ways, but I do think getting out of that situation is first. And then, two, I would say, I also, though, have heard of a million different situations across the board, where I’ve heard of a separation, not because of abuse or anything, but that just was really, really helpful, because, and another way to put it is like, yeah, their soul was almost being corroded by the toxicness of the relationship, and the communication problems, and just it was so bad that it was corroding the imageness of each person, and then, sadly, might’ve led to divorce, even though that’s not God’s ideal and design. But I also know another story of a couple, I think they were separated for like 15 years, that’s insane! But she had a commitment of, I’m not going to divorce, right?

Jeremy:
Wow.

Jeff:
It’s okay to separate, but I’m going to pray for the redemption of my husband. I’m going to pray for him to come back home, and I’m going to pray for healing. And that took a decade and a half, and she leaned into that, because she understood, I think, the vision of scripture for covenant. And so there’s so many particulars, is what I’m saying, and I think you really have to [inaudible 00:02:37] on that. But, Jeremy, there is an overarching point, I think, that’s really helpful, we have to keep in mind, which is general sin, general hardship, that’s kind of different than the things I just said, and how do we keep that in mind?

Jeremy:
Yeah, so it’s obviously really, really difficult to, like Jeff’s saying, over-generalize, but I think that we know that God hates divorce. We know that God wants us to build these teams. We know how destructive divorce is. And so, oftentimes, if a couple is trying to preserve their marriage, and as a way of doing that, they lean into a period of separation in order to heal the marriage, then I think there’s a lot of positiveness to that, right?

Jeff:
Yeah.

Jeremy:
So it is good to do that before you’ve completely given up all hope, and are heading straight towards divorce. So I think that that’s when I’m personally in favor of a period of separation, is when it’s done to heal-

Jeff:
Yeah.

Jeremy:
… and is part of a strategy-

Jeff:
It’s for a purpose.

Jeremy:
… to come back together, right? And the reason for that, and the reason why you don’t immediately say, yeah, this marriage is over, is because it’s our job… And, in this situation, the guy who was writing on Five Minute Father, he was saying, as a friend, I don’t know how to advise this couple, who are close friends of mine. And what I told him is, hey, you have a really specific job when your friends have a struggling marriage. And we know what that job is biblically, and that is, our job is to fight for the covenants, not to fight for either individual.

Jeff:
Yeah. Be for them, as a team.

Jeremy:
We’re fighting for the covenant. We’re trying to help make sure the family can heal, and not just stay together to stay together, but really pursue healing so that that covenant-

Jeff:
Yes.

Jeremy:
… can be maintained lifelong.

Jeff:
Yeah, it’s for the team.

Jeremy:
So when you think about… And I say this a lot when I’m doing a wedding, is that when you look at, in a wedding party, all those bridesmaids and all those groomsmen, and you’re like, why are they up there? They’re not there to help you have awesome pictures, right? They’re standing for your covenant.

Jeff:
Yeah.

Jeremy:
Their job is that they’re saying, we’re listening to you guys make these vows, we’re close enough to hear them because we’re all the way up here on the stage. I’m hearing every word comes out of your mouth. I heard it come out of her mouth, I heard it come out of his mouth.

Jeff:
Yeah.

Jeremy:
Okay, they made a promise. Us five groomsmen and five bridesmaids, we’re going to spend the rest of our life fighting to help you maintain that covenant. That’s why you have bridesmaids, and that’s why you have groomsmen up there. And then the entire audience also is witnessing the covenant being made, and so we’re all saying as a community, and as friends, and as family, we’re all going to fight for the rest of our lives, or the rest of your life, for this covenant, and help you maintain this covenant. And so that’s your job all the time, is to fight for the covenant.

Like Jeff said, there are clear times where someone’s using that to abuse their spouse, and that’s horrible. And then, in that situation, it’s an exception where you have to step in, and really help that spouse in that situation. But I think, in general, our job is to try to find whatever tools, including separation for seasons, where there’s clear rules and boundaries during the period, and, like Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7, if there’s a season where there’s a separation, you need to also set a date for when you’re going to come back together.

Jeff:
Yeah.

Jeremy:
So those are all really important guidelines for making sure that this doesn’t lead down the path to divorce. And as long as we’re all fighting for the covenant together, and we all understand that that is our mandate, is to fight for the covenant, because they made that promise before God, and God’s going to hold them accountable, and we want to see their family thrive. We want to see them find that way to get back together. And so a lot of times our friends need us to fight for their covenant.

Jeremy:
I was actually in a situation once where the marriage looked totally hopeless, and there was a period of separation. And, honestly, I was in a fairly immature season of my life, and I’d given up hope, and I was just kind of consoling my friend with the rest of his friends. But then there was a mature couple that were older than I was, much more mature than I was spiritually, and they actually waded in and fought for the covenant. And after several months, the couple got back together, reconciled, and it was beautiful what happened. But it was super embarrassing for me, and those of us who were kind of consoling him and not fighting for his covenant. And it really helped me, I really repented. I was like, man, I am not taking this nearly seriously enough. Thank God for that older couple who really saw the biblical truth-

Jeff:
Yeah.

Jeremy:
… that needed to happen, and they saved that family. And so, I think, you don’t know what’s going to happen.

Jeff:
Yeah.

Jeremy:
Don’t give up hope for couples that are struggling. Fight for their covenant. That’s your job.

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