Marriage Missions International


A Healing Separation is a structured time apart in which can help a couple heal a relationship that isn’t working. It can also help revitalize and renew a relationship that’s working. The Healing Separation is designed to transform the basis of a love relationship —moving it from neediness to health. A successful Healing Separation requires that both partners be committed to personal growth, and to creating healthier relationships with themselves and each other. Such a framework will allow them to carve out a new and more fulfilling relationship than they’ve known in the past.

The Healing Separation, like the old-style “trial separation,” which involves living apart for a while, with the decision as to whether or not to end the relationship put off until some future time. Unlike unplanned and unstructured separations, however, the Healing Separation is a working separation, in which you and your partner dedicate yourselves to investing in your own personal growth. If you can create a better relationship with yourself, that can allow different and healthier relationships with others.

Sometimes your work during a Healing Separation may be on “the old relationship,” and sometimes it may be on “the old you.” The Healing Separation is a creative way to strengthen both partners and build a new relationship without dissolving the partnership.

Each partner agrees to the following goals for this separation:

1. To provide time and emotional space outside of the love relationship so I can enhance my personal, social, spiritual, and emotional growth.

2. To better identify my needs, wants, and expectations of the love relationship.

3. To help me explore my basic relationship needs, and to help me determine if these needs can be met in this love relationship.

4. To experience the social, sexual, economic, and parental stresses which can occur when I have separated from my partner.

5. To allow me to determine if I can work through my process better apart than I can in the relationship.

6. To experience enough emotional distance so I can separate out my issues, which have become convoluted and mixed up together with my partner’s issues in our relationship.

7. To provide an environment to help our relationship heal, transform, evolve into a more loving and healthy relationship.

Some structure and awareness can help improve the chances of success of the healing separation. Unplanned and unstructured separations will most likely contribute to the ending of the relationship. This healing separation agreement attempts to provide structure and guidelines to help make the separation a more constructive and creative experience, and to greatly enhance the growth of the relationship rather than contributing to its demise.

Key Elements of the Healing Separation Agreement:

1. Length of separation (Most couples have a sense of how long a separation they’ll need or want. It may vary from a few weeks to six months or longer.)

2. Time to Be Spent Together (A healing separation ideally should include some quality time together on a regular basis creating a new relationship.)

3. Personal Growth Experiences (Ideally a healing separation would include as many personal growth experiences as feasible, practical, and helpful.)

4. Relationships and Involvements Outside of the Relationship (Ideally a joint decision and compromise should be made concerning social involvement, and romantic relationships outside of this relationship.)

5. Living Arrangements (Experience has shown that the in-house separation, with both parties continuing to live in the family home, results in a less creative experience. It seems to dilute the separation experience and keeps both parties from experiencing as much personal growth as is possible with separate living arrangements. It may not give enough emotional space to the person who needs it.)

6. Financial Decisions (Some couples will decide to continue joint checking accounts, savings accounts, and payment of bills. Other couples will completely separate financial aspects of the relationship. If there’s any chance for [significant] disagreement, each person could take out half of the assets and open separate accounts.)

7. Motor Vehicles (It’s been suggested that ownership and titles not be changed until a decision has been made about the future of the love relationship.)

8. Children (It’s important when a couple does a Healing Separation to minimize the emotional trauma for the children involved.)

The above article contains excerpts from Rebuilding: When Your Relationship Ends, by Bruce Fisher, Ed.D. This positive relationship-healing concept was developed by the late marriage and family therapist, Bruce Fisher, Ed.D. of Boulder, Colorado. A complete description of the Healing Separation, along with a format for a couple’s agreement, appears as an appendix in the 1992 and 2000 editions of Bruce’s book, Rebuilding: When Your Relationship Ends. The original copy article of this was sent to us from: Smartmarriages® Subject: Time/Healing Separation/Way We Love/Village – 9/16/03


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72 Responses to “A HEALING SEPARATION With Goals”
  1. Donald from Colombia says:

    I quite like reading through articles that will make people think. Also, many thanks for allowing for me to comment!

  2. Sofie from United States says:

    My husband moved out and into our camping trailer in the back yard. My heart broke into a million pieces when this happened. He has major depression and says our relationship is making him physically sick. However, he is dealing with losing his job, major guilt about his adult children, and a number of other emotional issues, which have very little to do with US or our relationship. I’ve asked him to come back in the house; lets deal with this together. He says no, he doesn’t want his judgment clouded by the physical relationship.

    Personally, that sounds like a hurtful excuse to act like a single person and hide from his problems. I asked him to take the trailer and move off the property if he couldn’t move back in because it’s not fair to me for him to be right there but not there at the same time. We’re both in counseling over this now and our five year old seems to be the one paying the price as dad has shut him out. I’ve prayed my heart out… begged for wisdom and strength and just feel completely drained both physically and emotionally. Both my parents are passed and the friends I have are all married to his friends so I basically have NO one to talk to about this… any advice would be extremely appreciated.

    • David from Vietnam says:

      I am a 48 year old male, married for 20 years, together with my wife for 25 years. We separated about 14 months ago. We have two children, 12 and 14. The separation was her choice, and I have been going along with it, painfully, as I am honouring her need for space and our marriage. The separation was not due to infidelity or fighting or bickering, but growing apart. Luckily, we live just about 1 km from each other, both in 3 bedroom apartments, so our kids can spend equal time with each parent.

      I want so desparately to reunite, but just a week ago she said that she’s happier living without me. That was painful for me to hear. So very painful. The cause, she says, is that I wasn’t in tune with her needs over the past 4-5 years. She, admitedly would always put me and the kids first, and consider her needs last. That was a habit of hers her entire life, not “putting herself in the equation” when it came to family and friends. She discovered this habit of hers about a year and a half ago and prompted her decision to separate as a couple.

      I have spent a good many hours, many, many hours crying and trying to figure out what happened. I’ve been devastated and she has been living somewhat relieved. We have never talked about divorce, but living together doesn’t seem like an option at this point. In the first 6 months there was much resentment on both of our parts. Mine towards her for “leaving me”, and hers for me not being the supportive husband I should have been. I admit to that.

      This past year, as hard as it has been for me, I haven’t given up on life or my wife, and have made special effort to keep growing as a person and stay healthy, even in the lowest of times. It’s hard, so hard to keep up the motivation, but I’ve been doing it for 14 months now. Every day is a struggle for me, some more than others. I’m proud of myself for getting myself in the best shape I’ve been in probably 20 years, working toward my masters degree and continuing to be a great dad, which I always have been, I think. She and I both agree that we each are great parents to our kids.

      We’ve been seeing a therapist together off and on over the past 14 months and we are understanding each other better and better. We each have our own personal therapists as well, which has helped. And the way we interact together now is more positive than it has been in a couple of years. There’s still no love in her eyes coming from her though, which hurts. I see the indifference in her eyes toward me. She says she wishes she could push a button and feel in love with me again. She says she doesn’t know what the future holds for us. She says she doesn’t want to take off her wedding ring, even when I ask her to. (I guess I feel that would allow her to feel free and unfettered).

      She has said that she felt shackled by me when we were together. I believe that comes from me not supporting her and her dreams and wants like I should have been. I get it, and I have changed. I’m far from a shackle to her now, as I have spent so many hours, days, months reflecting on how I could have been a better husband and am so ready to be. I would give anything to have the chance to be that supportive husband again whom she talks about. I was for so many years, but in the last 4-5 years I wasn’t so much.

      I still don’t know where we’re going as a married couple. I’m being as patient as a human can be, I believe. When we see each other we often hug, and when we part she usually hugs and kisses me on the cheek. She hasn’t said she loves me since we separated, except for one time on the phone about a month ago. That really confused me. Mixed signals! I have many friends, I go out, don’t date, I work on myself, spend tons of time with my kids, which is good. She seems very content living in her own place. I’m happy to see her happy. I just wish more than anything that I could be a part of her happy life as a united couple.

      Most of our contact is a once or twice a week family get together, but I recon that’s mainly for the kids in her eyes. I look for glimmers of hope that she might miss me, but I don’t see it. Welcome to limbo land! That’s where I live. I heard once that a couple having difficulties should give it at least two years before even talking about giving up. I’m not sure what this means to any of you readers out there, but this is my story. Can anyone make sense of it? I’d sure love some insights from anyone. It’s not easy at all. I’m keeping the faith.

      • Sofie from United States says:

        Wow you must be a very strong individual. My separation has only been a week so far but is so very very painful as he has not shown up for the first couples counseling session and has refused to communicate with me in any way. Feel fortunate. I suppose that she is willing to communicate and at least share the parenting as it could be so much worse. Healing takes time and sometimes time is something we don’t want to give; sometimes it’s just not meant to be and no amount of time will “fix” things but the fact that you are working to get her, talking, and sharing children is a hopeful sign in my eyes, it’s more than what I have at this point.

        • David from Vietnam says:

          How long have you been married? I’m an American, by the way, living in Saigon. I’m not Vietnamese. I feel we are far from having a healed marriage. Maybe it will never happen, but I’m fighting the good fight. As you said, as hard as it is, you have to give him time. I’m not a religious person, but I have over the past year found great comfort in listening to Joel Olsteen podcasts. He has been integral in helping me stay strong for both myself and my marriage.

          May I ask too, do you know why your husband is feeling the way he is? I may be able to provide some insight on the way a male thinks.

  3. Alex from Europe says:

    My depression triggered during engagement. I wanted to cancel the wedding because of the anxiety but the time was too short. I went ahead with the wedding. But since the wedding till date, I still struggle with depression. It has been the most painful challenge I have ever faced in life. The worst thing is that I have never enjoyed the marriage for one day and any time I remember that my depression started because of my marriage, it projects all the pain to my wife. She has been helpful and patient, but things have not been getting any better at all.

    This is a really challenging time of my life. Depression is a monster; its ruining my career, my social and spiritual life, and the worst thing is that it’s making me regret my marriage.

    I’ve suggested to my wife that we will need a healing separation so that I can work on my emotions and we can have a new beginning. Please, any advice out there will help.

    • Jenny from United States says:

      Alex, I would encourage you, and your wife if possible, to find a good Christian counselor. There is hope, but you must seek help. I believe that with a counselor’s help, you two can learn to work together on emotions, talk about feelings and grow closer. I also suggest you get a copy of How We Love by Milan and Kay Yerkovich. They are Christian therapists who explore how our childhood shapes our relationships and what we can all learn to do about it. It’s very practical and very helpful.

      It is encouraging that your wife is supportive of you. I think it would be possible for you to learn to work with her on this problem, without a separation. You are married now; problems will always arise and we must learn to deal with them in relationship if we are in a relationship. Please don’t push your wife away.

  4. Ranjith from India says:

    My wife and me are living separated for last 8 months. There is no communication at all. I am living in different country. 2 years ago, we got separated for 3 months and I went back to her as I wasn’t able to live alone. But this time I don’t want to initiate as it will be a repeat of what I did earlier. I have a child and I have not seen her for this long. I may not deserve my wife (as she says it), but as a biological father to my child I want to see and live wiith my daughter. My question is… what does it mean if my wife did not even attempt to communicate with me for this long? I am confused. Why did she then not initiating a legal separation process? I want some one’s advice here. I am living a stupid and horrible life.

  5. Derek from United States says:

    Need advice. My wife separated from me last week for reconciliation for a year. All contact has been cut off with her. She wants us to work on ourselves during this time. She’s a counselor herself and has advised other married couples to do the same and they were successful in having a strong marriage.

    Now, she also wants us to go on dates with each other at some point. However, I work 700 miles away so from my readings I don’t see how this is feasible –how not having any contact will work. I looked into looking for jobs closer but haven’t found any. What should I do or should I accept that this is the end after 31 years?

  6. Tumi from South Africa says:

    My husband of 15 yrs decided to move out to “find himself.” No plan, no commitment nor timeline for the separation. When I try to ask anything he fights me. I found out he was cheating days before that. I am so torn apart and when I ask him to give me his plan it falls on deaf ears.

    I am so frustrated. Though I am not much of a social person I went out tonight by myself, but it’s not easy.

    What do I do? We have a 13 year old son together who is currently living with me.

    • Cindy Wright from United States says:

      Tumi, As I read what you wrote, I said to myself, “of course she’s ‘torn apart’ and ‘frustrated.'” Who wouldn’t be? How my heart goes out to you! I’m so very sorry you are suffering as you are. You ask what to do. Honestly, Tumi, that is very difficult to say. When your spouse is cheating, they are also lying, and evasive. They want to do what they want to do, and get away with it. Tragically, their deceit victimizes spouses and families like yourself and your son. Obviously, he is not considering that (or he doesn’t care). How I wish it weren’t so! I can only imagine how much more so, you wish the same.

      All you can do is what you can do. Your husband doesn’t want to be involved in a healing separation with goals, because right now the only goal he cares about is what pleases his desires. It’s so horrible that he views life this way and dumps these life style choices upon you. It’s so very wrong.

      So what you do is look up to God to be your husband right now and to eventually make right, that which is wrong –to redeem this mess somehow. Lean into the Lord to help you be the person and the mother that you are born to be. Help your son to see that he has one parent that will do all she can to live a life of integrity and do what she can to be there for him. He is at a very vulnerable age to go in a bad direction. Prayerfully, he will not choose to rebel because of the added confusing circumstances he is now having to handle.

      I encourage you not to date, because even though your husband is not acting like it, you are still married. Don’t add another wrong on top of what your husband is doing. And be careful not to bad mouth your husband to your son, because that will only cause more pain in his heart. He will feel conflicted because no matter how terrible your husband is acting, this guy (I don’t even want to call him a man, because a true “man” doesn’t do this) is still his earthly father. He sees the wrong your husband is doing, and prayerfully, he will not follow his example some day. Pray for him, live a life of love and integrity, and you will eventually reap seeds of reward.

      Also, work on your own issues. Grow as a person, to be a healthy woman in all ways, despite all that is happening. Put your eyes upon your own path (not envying others), and that of your son –to raise him to be a good man. Determine that this will not take you down. Find legitimate ways to laugh, work, and love your God and your son. And then as time goes on, you will be able to watch how God will bring you hope and help as you look to Him. May God help you in this mission.

  7. Patricia from United States says:

    Just starting a separation. Any advice?

    • Cindy Wright from United States says:

      Read this article and the other ones concerning separation. Prayerfully, very prayerfully, glean from them what you can use.

  8. Mabel from United States says:

    I’ve been married for 28 years to an emotionally abusive man. I’ve been working on myself and am stronger now, but I don’t want to live the rest of my life dodging his arrows of condescension, humiliation, and mind games. Would a healing separation help me? I’ve been speaking up to him about how hurt I am by what he says and how he says it. But it seems he will never change. I have not felt any romantic love for him for about 15 years, but I treat him kindly and never reject physical intimacy. I want to do God’s will and I believe God’s desire is NOT for me to be oppressed in my marriage.

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