A Toxic Relationship and a Therapeutic Separation


Today’s Toxic Tuesday refers mainly to intervention within a marriage.

Last week’s “Toxic Tuesday” post mentioned a therapeutic legal separation. I recommend this only as a last resort to help the person in crisis.

Your goal is to bring the person to repentance, restore the relationship and provide emotional healing. Last week I recommended you make a list of behaviors which must stop immediately. This included the requirement of seeking godly professional help immediately. Stick to it! You can do it but you cannot do it on your own. Ask for assistance from the helpers who were present during the intervention.

Maybe your spouse went to a few therapy or doctor appointments and declared they were better, healed or simply—done. If after two to four weeks (or your stated goal and time) you realize nothing has changed, your spouse does not acknowledge he or she needs help and they refuse professional counsel you could prayerfully consider meeting with an attorney for help with a therapeutic separation. Always keep your safety in mind. Your lawyer will most likely recommend that you not tell of your actions but rather allow your spouse to find out when the papers are served. There can be a shock value added to the seriousness of legal proceedings. You are serious about saving your marriage and saving your family. There will be a financial cost involved and either you or your spouse will need to make alternative living arrangements. Your legal representative will most likely suggest you, and the children if you have them, stay in the home and have your spouse make arrangements for their own needs. Again, they need to be the one inconvenienced so they will hopefully have more reason to work on seeking help and healing.

I do not suggest this as the last effort before divorcing your spouse. I truly believe divorce is avoidable in most circumstances. Our society is using divorce as an easy out. Our marriage vows are not, “I’ll stay with you as long as I feel loved, secure, happy and fulfilled,” but rather, “To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” This includes, to name a few: Being out of work, in a coma, suffering from mental illness, the death of a child, being imprisoned, or having an addiction. It does not include being abused due to untreated or denied emotional issues, mental illness or addiction.

Most mental illnesses are manageable or treatable with medications, counseling and a diet of healthy foods and supplements. Addictions can be overcome. The only catch is—the person has to want help, seek help and work hard; most likely for the rest of their life, daily making good choices for themselves and for those around them.

If you are in danger or you have a child being abused, please leave immediately and seek help. Instances of children making up stories of child abuse are rare. Always believe the child. In the right margin of my blog you will find links to articles on abusive relationships, resources for counseling services and referrals, a link for those who are victims of domestic abuse, and a link for Christian survivors.

I want to clear up what I believe is a misnomer regarding divorce. I often hear the phrase, “Kids are resilient.” I do not know where this saying originated but I have not found it true. Do kids find a way to cope just like the adults? Sure. But divorce changes the way they function, interact, trust, view life, and it hurts their chance for marriage when they become adults. Divorce can change the personality and even the character of a child. I do not consider any of these changes resilient, positive outcomes. Unless there is abuse taking place; finding a way to stay together is usually in the best interest of the children.

I personally know many women who can testify that after their divorce from their Christian husband, the man acted dishonorably against the children for the purpose of hurting his ex-wife’s heart. Safety became a concern. Some divorced fathers introduced their kids to alcohol, drugs, pornography, violent films, and extreme sports. Why? Because it drove the former wife almost insane with concern for the children. I know this cannot be a blanket statement but I have seen and heard of shocking behavior from former husbands too many times. I am not male bashing. I know this could be reversed and said about some women too. I want couples to be aware of how quickly spiritual, emotional and psychological manipulations operate within a divorce.

Back to the therapeutic separation.

I believe it has the potential to strengthen the marriage when done well, done for the right reasons which are clearly stated, and when bathed in prayer. And lots of it!

The trickiest part of a legal separation can be child visitation if child abuse is suspected. Family court frowns heavily against spousal testimony. In fact, your testimony is usable against you if you do not have physical evidence to back it up, or an outside person’s eyewitness account. Be careful and seek guidance. (I will address childhood victimization accusations/evidence on next week’s Toxic Tuesday blog.)

If there has been infidelity in the relationship the separation can be more challenging and will require that a third party knows about the betrayal. A godly professional can help you navigate the muddy waters. Remember, unfaithfulness is forgivable. Your relationship is reconcilable. Mental illness is treatable. With God all things are possible. The bottom line is you want a healed heart, a healed spouse, a healed marriage and a healed family unit.

Set clear and reasonable expectations such as days and times you will talk on the phone. This is a ‘time out’ and both sides need to treat it as such. Verbal communication may still be important. Allow your counselor’s input for this decision.

Most importantly you will need Jesus Christ to make it through such circumstances. Only He can minister to your heart, soul, mind and strength. You have emotional, spiritual and physical needs which He wants to meet; not only spiritually, but practically. Invite Him. Read His word, the Bible. Pray the word to Him. “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12 (NIV)

I find Mark 14:17-21 to be applicable, “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

‘Bring them here to me,’ he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.”

Here is an excerpt from Jesus the One and Only by Beth Moore: “Christ can perform astounding wonders when we bring Him all we have. Beloved, I want you to hear something loud and clear: no matter what your ‘only’ is, when you bring all of your ‘only’ to Jesus, it’s huge! When we bring Him everything we have, He multiplies it beyond our wildest imagination.”

In John 6:5-8 we find that Philip was very practical and factual; working from a financial viewpoint of supply and demand which perhaps led to pessimism, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Andrew, on the other hand, listed every physical resource they had; a measly fives loaves of bread and two fish. I wonder if he asked optimistically, “but how far will they go among so many?” He at least looked for an opportunity. He had an idea and he offered it to Jesus. Whatever Philip and Andrew’s reasoning’s; Jesus knew He was about to perform a miracle of huge proportions with the small offering of a young child.

The multitude needed fed. Jesus multiplied five loaves of bread and two fish to feed each person to full. Each of the twelve disciples picked up a basket full of bread after everyone had eaten.

Offer Jesus your all. What is your all? A broken marriage, a broken heart, a mentally ill spouse, emotionally fragile children, you fill in the blank. Offer it to Jesus; along with, a daily quiet time with Him and ask Him to multiply it beyond anything you can imagine.

Published by Carolyn Deevers

Resiliency...it's my spiritual superpower for surviving crises and complicated relationships. Here is where I share stories...or at least the ones I can tell you about. ;-)

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