Every kind of committed relationship has its own set of ups and downs, and marriage is certainly not an exception. All couples go through challenging times, and some may even be tempted to part ways when the going gets too tough for them.
If you or anyone you know find yourself in a situation where you are considering separation, here are questions you should ask yourself:
1. "Can we still work it out?" Certified family counselor Joseph Montecristo "Monty" L. Mendigoria believes that “not all differences are irreconcilable,” thus separation should not be considered an automatic “way out” for couples who are having relationship problems.
“Couples can patch things up if they want to,” he expounds. “Marriage is an agreement between two people, and it was their choice to marry each other.”
2. "How will the separation affect us?" Ma. Rebecca "Bicbic" Medez, a registered guidance counselor (RGC) and psycho-spiritual family counselor with an MA in pastoral counseling, says that couples should be aware of the “possible effect it will have in their level of functioning as a result of the process that the individual goes through.” For example, their functioning level at work could be negatively affected due to stress.
According to Medez, separation is a “major decision in one's life and it will affect not only the people concerned, but also the people around them — like their children, their families, and even their friends.”
3. "How will it affect our children?" “There is a big impact on the children because they look up to their parents as role models,” Mendigoria explains. “Children should always see the love between their parents.”
Furthermore, the separation of a child’s parents can cause “deep wounds” on the child that, in turn, can lead to the child's “negative way of living.”
“Many children with separated parents experience depression, which can lead them to having vices and friends who may be bad influences on them,” Mendigoria adds. “It may also lead to trauma or the fear of having relationships with the opposite sex.”
Medez also hopes that parents will consider their children’s welfare before choosing separation as it can cause “unnecessary stress that can lead to unhealthy disruption in the developmental growth of the child, which can also lead to possible developmental trauma.”
“These developmental traumas can continue to manifest in one's adult behaviors; thus, they can also affect the person and his/her relationships and level of functionality,” she explains.
If separating from your spouse is something you are thinking about, here are some important things you can do as you think things through:
1. Dialogue, seek help, and discern. Medez advises, “Talk about it. Ask for help if your conversation as a couple alone is not productive.”
Couples should also explore their options when it comes to getting the help they need for their relationship, which leads us to the second thing to consider:
2. Don’t tolerate abuse. If abuse — in whatever form — is your reason for considering separation, here are a few important reminders from Medez: “The law preserves the dignity of each person. Abusive relationships are not encouraged, and the parties involved must seek help.”
Medez emphasizes, “Most of the abusive situations in marriage are not a marriage problem per se. The abusive individual already has a pre-existing problem, which was triggered by the dynamics of his/her partner or the marriage. Seek help.”
3. Go for counseling. Mendigoria says couples should consider attending counseling before they decide to separate because he believes that “all things can be settled if both parties are willing to change for the better.”
It is important to remember, too, that getting help from counselors does not necessarily entail a lot of expenses.
Medez explains, “There are counseling centers that adjust their professional fees for those who express that they have financial constraints. There are even centers that simply accept donations.
“Moreover, there are good-hearted people who do counseling services for free,” she adds. “The only concern I have with free services is the level of commitment and investment (psychologically, emotionally, physically) the couple would have.”
“Some people take free services for granted,” Medez clarifies. “Some people would spend for something temporary but tangible, like expensive food or things, versus long-term investment on the self.”
For those who really cannot afford even donations, Medez advises the following:
a. “Seek a counseling priest, pastor, or church leader. They could be willing to help without any specific professional fees.”
b. “Talk to a trusted adult like your parents, wedding godparents, or respected seniors whose married lives you value and respect.”
c. “Browse through and read books and the Internet, get help from online free counseling, or read magazines online.”
4. Consider temporary separation. Related to the previous point, Mendigoria says that when it comes to abusive situations, temporary separation is “needed to prevent a more serious matter. If there is already physical or verbal abuse, legal steps should be done already.”
“There are situations that require temporary separation, especially if there's already a threat to lives,” he emphasizes.
“Temporary separation is also needed if we are talking about morality,” Mendigoria adds. “For example, in the case of a third party.”
“If a third party is involved and the children are already affected by it, the couple should consider temporary separation, which will serve as their ‘personal retreat.’ This should not be considered as a doorway to permanent separation or divorce.”
Medez gives her insights as well: “It is helpful for a couple to temporarily separate if being together is not anymore helpful for them, and for the children and the people around them.”
“But the separation should have a structure, depending on the direction the couple would like to bring the marriage to,” she explains. “Separation for the sake of separation — without a guide — may not be helpful; rather, it may just further alienate the couple from each other.”