I assume that you’re watching this video because you’re contemplating separating from your spouse. Maybe you’re even in the first stages of separation and trying to figure out, “Did we make the right decision? Should I leave my husband?” Sometimes, people will tell you to do that; people like family and friends, because they see you in pain. They want to help you get out of that pain. And if they think being away from that person will do that, then they’ll recommend it.
But understand that family and friends can sometimes be biased. They love you. There’s nothing wrong with that, but they may not be giving you the best advice. Or maybe even a therapist or a counselor is recommending that you try separation for a while. Well, if you’re still trying to make that decision, may I give you some suggestions to consider before you finally decide what you wish to do.
Hi, I’m Dr. Joe Beam with Marriage Helper International. Every year we work with thousands upon thousands of marriages from all over the world. And whatever the situation you’re facing, we have probably encountered something very similar to it, if not precisely the same with some other couple, because we’ve been doing this for decades. So based on our experience with thousands of couples, may I give you seven things to consider as you wonder, “Should I leave my husband?”
First, if you separate, you will feel some relief, but that may be a bad thing.
If you’re thinking, “What does that mean, Dr. Beam?” Think of it this way. You’re in conflict with each other and you’re thinking that separating can somehow smooth that out, and you go away. Whatever the situation might be, you’ll almost immediately feel some relief when the other person leaves, or you leave. Why? Because you’re not facing each other with that conflict every day.
And you might be thinking, “Well, isn’t that a good thing in the long run? Should I leave my husband so that we stop fighting so much?” Well, not necessarily. Understand that people who avoid conflict actually increase the likelihood of divorcing dramatically. Several research projects have indicated that people who do not argue or who don’t face conflict are people who will, in all likelihood, divorce each other. And so, while you might get some degree of peace, you decrease the likelihood of putting the marriage back together.
Now, if you’re thinking, “Well, I don’t want to put the marriage back together.” Then my question is, why are you doing a separation? I mean, are you going to do it because you think somehow it lets the other person down easier? Well, we’ll separate first, but my real intent is to get a divorce. If you do that, you’re just elongating the pain for your spouse and you because they’ll still have some hope, thinking, “We’ll figure this reconciliation out, or we’ll put it back together.” And if that’s not your intent, may I suggest that you have the integrity not to see the other person.
If your goal is to leave, then make it clear that you’re going to leave, not just for separation but also to end the marriage with a divorce. And if you are going to just separate wondering, “Should I leave my husband so we can solve the problems?”, it probably won’t because you’re not going to deal with the conflict.
You’ll increase your living expenses.
Now, some people separate by living in the same house, and that can actually not cost all that much extra money. But most people are going to go out and rent an apartment or buy a house. Even sometimes, they’ll go live with some friends out there. And you’ll think, “Well, if I live with my friend then I’m going to be okay because it’s not going to cost that much extra money.” Believe it or not, it will, because your friend’s probably going to expect you to help pay some of the expenses. Plus, your friend will want to do some things that maybe you’re not doing right now, like going out and having fun partying here or there. And that winds up costing money. And, if you wind up renting another place, that’s going to cost you money.
So the second thing to consider is, it’s going to cost you some money. Your living expenses will increase if you decide to separate. And if money’s already tight, that can create quite a problem. In America, a significant percentage of children, if their parents divorced, now live under the poverty level. Why? Well, you took an income and split it in half. And if you have any financial difficulties like that, don’t just think about how it will affect you, but how it will affect your children by doubling those expenses. So, it’s important to factor that into your question of, “Should I leave my husband?”
The third thing to consider is that you will lose some legal protections that you would have.
And by the way, I’m not encouraging separation at all. I’m just saying if you separate, don’t think that somehow it sets you free in some fashion. For example, if you were to win the lottery while you’re separated, it’s still community property. It belongs to both of you, not just to one. On the other hand, if, while you’re separated, one of you racks up a great deal of debt and you’re not legally separated or divorced, then that debt may be your onus, your problem as well. And so understand that by being separated, you’re not legally protected. Now you think, “Well, we’re not legally protected if we’re living together.” I agree. But sometimes people think because they’re living apart, that somehow changes that, and it does not.
By being separated, you increase the likelihood that one or both of you might be involved with someone else.
We hear it all the time at Marriage Helper. “Well, I got involved with that other person while we were separated; therefore, it’s not cheating. It’s not an affair. I mean, we were separated at the time.” As I said, we hear that all the time regularly from people.
You say, “Well, how could that happen if we’re just separated?” Remember, you’ve escaped some of the conflict, and maybe you’re now out kicking up your heels a little bit, and there are always other people in the world. What if you start spending some time with one of them, maybe just seeing them at a bar or talking to them across the cubicle at work or sitting next to them in a pew at church? And in those conversations, you begin to develop this relationship with each other, and you think, “I’m not really with my husband or wife anymore.” And if you think you would never do that, understand that when you think you’ll never do something, you may actually be more susceptible because you won’t put up the barriers you need to.
And even if you wouldn’t, maybe your spouse would. So what I’m trying to say is this, it increases the temptation. Therefore it increases the likelihood of somebody else being involved if you’re separated.
You’re going to have to figure out how to split up the parenting responsibilities.
Number five: if you’re wondering, “Should I leave my husband?” and you have children, you’re going to have to figure out how to split up the parenting responsibilities. It’s not fair to leave it with just one or the other. So you need to figure out how to do that together. And you realize that’s challenging to do because if you’re living in different places, where do the children sleep each night? How does it affect them going to school or getting to school on time? As always, how does it affect the kids if one of us is expected to show up and spend some time with them and gets caught up doing something else? How does it affect the child? Who makes the decisions about whether the child has the surgery or not or talks to the school teachers?
And so, if you’re going to separate and you have children, you need to think all those things through in advance.
If you have children, who’s going to explain to them what’s going on?
You can’t just move out and expect your children not to worry and wonder about that. You really should sit down with them, the two of you together, and have a conversation. Based on their age, it determines what you tell them and what you don’t, but don’t lie to them. Don’t be dishonest; be open in every way with your children, so they don’t worry about what they don’t know. In your life, because it happens to all of us, sometimes the scariest things are the things we’re not really sure about or the things that we don’t know. Like, oh, I’ve got something going on. It may be cancer. It’s terrifying to even go to the doctor because I wonder what might be about to happen. Your kids go through that as well.
And then the seventh thing is this: If you actually separate, you will increase the likelihood that you’re going to divorce.
Now I realize some counselors and therapists tell people they need to separate. Sometimes they’ll even do this thing called a directed separation. “Well, you live over there, and you live over there for at least six months. I’ll talk to each of you in between and do therapy with you, and I’ll tell you when it’s time for you to come back together.” I think there are some excellent therapists and counselors out there, people who are worth their weight in gold. But in my mind, somebody making those decisions for you has overstepped the boundaries by far. What gives them the right to tell you when it’s time to come back together, where you should live, where you should be, what you should do?
You see, it’s easy for people to make decisions for you because they don’t have to live with the consequences of those decisions. And so, if you’re asking, “Should I leave my husband?”, and some professional is telling you to split up, understand this; it will increase the likelihood that you actually will divorce.
Let me refer you to a study, for example. This study was published in 2015 in the Journal of Marriage and Family, Volume 77, if you want to find it. It’s a study done by PhDs at Ohio State University, and they were looking at some data that other people had collected. It’s called the National Survey of Family Growth. Sometimes we abbreviate that to N.S.F.G. And this particular study covered 2,216 people. And by the way, if you want to go look up the scholarly article, feel free. You’ll see that they refer to two different studies, but this is the one that’s easier to understand.
And they followed these people. Now, not the people from Ohio State, but the people doing the original survey, the National Survey of Family Growth. So these PhDs at Ohio State get information and look at how it tracks over time. They look to see how many people actually separated. And among those who separated, how many of those wound up divorced rather than putting things back together. The N.S.F.G. found that 53.6% of separations ended in divorce after one year. 80.3% ended in divorce within three years, and 86.9% ended in divorce within five years. And you say, what do you mean? One thing there is that the longer they were separated, the more likely they were to divorce. But they found on average that people, more than half by far, and up to 86% or 87% of people who separated never put the marriage back together.
Why? Because of all of the things I’ve been saying. The fact that you are apart and you’re now spending the money in different ways. You’re not parenting together anymore if you have children. Other people are coming into your world. You’re avoiding the conflict, and if you don’t resolve the conflict, there’s no way to put it back together.
Sometimes people say, “Well, Dr. Beam, it sounds like you’re against separation.”
Typically, we would advise against it. Now it’s your decision. Just as I said, no counselor should be able to tell you what to do. Or no family member or friend should tell you what to do; then, neither should I. But I wanted to get these seven points in front of you to think about as you make that decision.
And if you say, “Dr. Beam, have you ever advised anybody to separate?” It’s been pretty rare, but I’ve done it. Because of what reason? If someone is in danger, like this person has a temper and keeps causing pain to the other people by hitting that person, I mean, physically hitting that person. A woman several years ago told me, “He tries to kill me every time he gets drunk, and he gets drunk every Friday night.” My suggestion to her was, “You’ll only be safe if you’re not with him until he learns how to handle those problems.” And so yes, we would even advise or recommend to people that they separate if someone is in danger, you or your spouse or children.
In our experience, the thousands upon thousands of couples we work with show that separation most often leads to divorce rather than reconciliation. I don’t have the numbers right in front of me, but if you decide to read that research, you’ll find that in their study, they also found that a significant percentage of people who had separated for a while and then got back together, wound up divorced anyway. So rather than running from your problems, if you still think there might be a chance, why not see if you can work through those problems?
And if you’re thinking, “Oh my goodness, we’ve been doing that already, and it’s not working.” May I recommend this? We have a three-day intensive workshop, and you can learn as much in three days there as you will in several months of going through just counseling or therapy. That’s what the counselors tell us: “You move our clients forward six months when we send them to you.” And you can make a better decision about whether this marriage has any hope or not. And if you want to know about that, you can call us at (866) 903-0990.
Now, you won’t be talking to a counselor or a therapist if you call that number at (866) 903-0902 or schedule a marriage strategy call here. You’ll speak with one of our client representatives. And these are people who help you by listening to you to find out exactly what your problem is and then guiding you to whatever resources we have that can best help you with that situation. Or, if we are not the ones, we will tell you that we aren’t the ones. We don’t want to take your money to help you when we know we can’t. So should you try the separation? It’s your decision. But think through your motives; what are you really trying to do? Think through these seven points. And if we can help, we’d love to talk to you about this.
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