by Mark & Debbie Laaser
Redemptive separation is a time out from focusing on your marriage for the purpose of focusing on individual growth and self-reflection. We use the term redemptive separation because it is intended to strengthen the individuals within the relationship so that they have more to bring back to the marriage. Other terms we use are “intentional” or “therapeutic” separation as they all describe doing something on purpose for the sake of creating something better. We are very aware that a marital relationship will only be as healthy as the least healthy person in it. One person alone is not able to carry the emotional and spiritual intimacy of a relationship. A healthy marriage takes two individuals who are both contributing to the vibrancy and safety of the relationship.
Many people do not think about taking an intentional break from marriage once a couple has said “I do”. We believe it is much more common for couples to fight through difficult times or just keep doing more of what they are doing in hopes that something will change. We also know that this strategy will not change the quality of marriage. So what if it would be good to take a time out from things that are not working? Many people fear that in doing so, spouses will grow accustomed to the new status quo of being alone, not needing to deal with marital conflict—and that the peace and quiet will lead to the next step, divorce.
The ultimate goal of a redemptive separation is for two healthier individuals to come back together to experience a healthier relationship. We believe there can be a longer-term vision to transform the relationship, and sometimes, that requires some repair first.
We see several reasons why a couple might want to consider a redemptive separation:
- There is so much ‘toxicity’ (hurtful communication or behavior) that a time apart can help to create peace and safety. This detoxifies the situation and allows time for the two individuals to work on themselves. This work includes how to be a safer partner in the relationship, and how to ask for needs or establish boundaries if there is not safety. Lack of ‘safety’ may be caused by abuse or abandonment emotionally, physically, sexually, spiritually, or financially either in the current marriage or in earlier life experiences. The pain of abuse leaves scars and makes intimate connection difficult if not impossible. A time out provides an opportunity for one or both spouses to heal their trauma
- One spouse is not willing to tolerate a behavior of the other and yet, is not wanting a divorce.
- One or both spouses need a ‘break’ from the intensity of pain in the marriage.
We reflect on the fact that Jesus frequently took time for himself. He often went off to pray. He went out into the wilderness and was tempted (Matt. 4:1). He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. He went up on mountaintops. Time alone can be very challenging and it can be very healing and produce a great deal of personal growth. We often draw closer to God during these times. This is the hope of redemptive separation that both spouses grow personally and grow closer to God.
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