When my love and I were going through the very early stages of recovery, separation wasn’t really on our radar. We were trying to give our marriage the best chance of survival, and everything we thought we knew said separation was the first step towards divorce. As we healed, though, we both realized those perceptions were not based in reality, and we were being driven by our fear more than an objective evaluation of what situation would truly give us the best chance at healing and restoration. Now, we honestly believe a period of separation is almost always a good idea in marriages attempting to recover from intimate betrayal and sexual addictions. But there are a lot of different types of separation, (some healthy, and some not) and different situations call for different solutions. Let’s cover several of the healthy options available to us and discuss when each is likely the best choice.
A Therapeutic Separation is the most ideal form of separation, but it is a very specific thing. In a Therapeutic Separation, everything has been agreed upon, and the objective is always restoration. It covers a very specifically set amount of time, has clearly defined objectives and parameters for both partners, and often even includes a contract that is signed by both parties. It offers the individual members of the marriage time to re-establish safety, focus completely on personal healing, and figure out his/her goals for the marriage moving forward. It offers perspective to both partners as they evaluate what life would be like without the other.
A Therapeutic Separation is only possible when both spouses are wholly committed to the healing process. It can only happen when there is mutual respect, determination, and commitment. When that is the case, though, it is one of the most valuable tools available to a successful restoration of the marriage. Both my love and I attribute a great deal of our quick success in recovery to our own Therapeutic Separation.A Therapeutic Separation is only possible when both spouses are wholly committed to the healing process. It can only happen when there is mutual respect, determination, and commitment Click To Tweet
An In-House Separation is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. It is a separation in which both parties continue to live in the same house, but in separate bedrooms. There is a great deal of variation in how this can be set up, and an In-House Separation can still be a Therapeutic Separation. Sometimes, while both parties are under the same roof, that’s where the connection ends. There is no contact or interaction at all, simply shared living space. Other times, life goes on almost completely unchanged and it is only at night that there is any difference to the relationship as the two partners head to separate beds and bedrooms.
An In-House Separation is often chosen for couples with small children as it offers the most stability for the kids while avoiding placing the full responsibility of their care on one parent or the other. Another reason to choose an In-House Separation is if there are very limited resources within the marriage. Finding a safe but separate place for one spouse to live can be difficult and pricey. If there isn’t a great deal of support available from friends or family, and money is tight, and In-House Separation might be the only option.
A period of sexual detox is vital to the recovery of anyone addicted to pornography, lust, or sex. Unfortunately, it won’t do any good unless the addict is ready and willing to take this step. If you’re the spouse of a sexual addict, this can’t be your call. It just won’t work.
When the addict IS serious about recovery though – like really really serious – a period of at least 60 days and preferably 90 days with absolutely no sexual stimulation or release of any kind will give him the chance to re-wire his very broken brain.
A Sexual-Detox Separation gives the addict (and the partner for that matter) the best chance available to discover what truly healthy, God-honoring sexuality looks like. It opens the door to intimacy. It proves to the addict that he doesn’t “need” sex. It breaks his dependency on it, and releases his brain from the toxic hold of the neurochemical concoction released when he acts out.
A Sexual –Detox Separation is the bolt cutter in the hands of anyone enslaved by the chains of sexual addiction!A Sexual –Detox Separation is the bolt cutter in the hands of anyone enslaved by the chains of sexual addiction! Click To Tweet
Separation Due to Boundary Violations
A Separation Due to Boundary Violations is not ideal, but it is often necessary. Unfortunately, not every sexual addict is ready to give up his addiction. Not everyone will choose healing. God has made His forgiveness, healing, and redemption available to all, but not all will receive them. If your spouse refuses these gifts, you have to make some really hard choices. I’m so sorry my friend!
But God does not call us to abide with sin. We’re not supposed to look the other way while our spouse continues to live immorally. Healthy, Biblical boundaries are our best option, and when these boundaries are violated separation might become necessary.
If you need to work through these issues and figure out what you need to do, the Biblical Boundaries Workbook is a great resource!
A Few Unhealthy Options
We’ve covered the healthy options available to us when it comes to separation. There are also quite a few terrible ones. Separations that happen as retribution or as a hasty reaction out of anger, for example, are never a good idea. Trial separations, in which both parties are sort of “testing the waters” of the single life to see if it’s something they would prefer to marriage, don’t line up with a Biblical approach to marriage either. Finally, when couples separate because they feel pressured from a counselor, or from friends and family, and not because it’s what they actually believe will help them, it’s not a good idea either. Separation has the potential to be a tool which helps achieve healing, but only if it is used appropriately.
What Does the Bible Say?
1 Corinthians 7:10-11 – But for those who are married, I have a command that comes not from me, but from the Lord. A wife must not leave her husband. But if she does leave him, let her remain single or else be reconciled to him. And the husband must not leave his wife.
Obviously, separation is not something we should just jump into. It’s very serious, and should be avoided whenever possible. There are times, though when it becomes needed, and these are the exception, not the rule. In these cases, we shouldn’t be looking to find a “better option” in someone else, but to find a way to reconcile the marriage if possible.
If a Therapeutic Separation is possible, it’s the best option! It’s agreed upon, according to this passage in 1 Corinthians, and if it can incorporate the 90-day detox, even better! If your spouse has no interest in healing though, and remains unrepentant, then I believe (as I’ve said many times before) that 1 Corinthians 5 gives us everything we need to know that separation is not only okay, but what God ask us to do. Here is another passage that communicates something similar:
2 Corinthians 6:14-18 – Don’t team up with unbelievers. How can a righteous person be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? What harmony can there be Christ and the devil? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever? And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God said: “I will live in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord. Don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you. And I will be your Father, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”
I was fortunate in my own marriage, that by the time I was dealing with the idea of separation, my love had reached the point in which he was ready and willing to fight alongside me to save the marriage. He was ready to do whatever it took. We chose a 90-Day Therapeutic Separation and incorporated a Sexual-Detox into it at the same time. God blessed our efforts greatly, and when we came back together things were very different than when we separated. Healing was well underway! I felt much safer to be able to explore the idea of rebuilding intimacy. It really helped us, and if you need help figuring out how to do something similar in your own relationship please check out our ministry page and consider allowing us to partner with you to help you through this time.
Amos 3: 3 – Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?
*How about you? Have you considered all the options when it comes to a period of separation? How might this help your marriage recover? How might it hurt?
***Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
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