The 6 Things That Led to Our Marriage Separation

Two years ago, my husband and I separated. The separation lasted only six months, but honestly, if it had begun when it should have, it would have lasted much longer. We remained in denial about the state of our marriage for a very long time, and we paid for it. When we separated, divorce seemed imminent. I’m pleased to say that we have been happily reconciled since then, and our marriage continues to grow and improve every day.

Now, from a place of healing, I can look back on our marriage before the separation and see very obvious things that could have been handled differently—things that might have helped us avoid getting separated if we had. For those who are in a rough season of marriage that’s plagued with uncertainty about the future, allow me to share with you the top six things I wish we had done differently in our own season. Maybe it’ll help you avoid making the same mistakes.

#1. We leaned too far into “oneness.”

We are Christians who were both raised hearing about the importance of “oneness” in marriage. This principle claims that when people get married, they become one person—both functionally and in the eyes of the Lord. I don’t wish to put down anyone’s religious beliefs; this isn’t about there being anything inherently wrong with oneness. What it is about is our personal approach toward the principle that was toxic and co-dependent. In trying to be “one,” we lost our individuality. Consequently, we began to resent each other and on two different fronts! On one hand, we resented each other for smothering and squelching our freedom. On the other, we resented any signal that either of us wanted more independence. It was wild.

#2. In our efforts to avoid conflict, we just stuffed our feelings.

I think this one is just a given in most struggling marriages, so I may not need to spend too much time here. Suffice it to say, we genuinely believed that keeping our complaints to ourselves would create a more peaceful marriage, and it totally blew up in our faces. Since reconciling, we’ve had to learn the difficult task of honest but respectful conflict resolution. It’s been a process—one that is still ongoing. We fail at it sometimes. But I have the firm belief that a marriage will always fare better when partners are talking than when they are locking everything away.

#3. We thought going to therapy would mean the marriage was already over.

If we had chosen to go to therapy way sooner than we did, we could have prevented so many of the wounds that ended up being very difficult to heal. Sadly, despite our culture currently being more accepting of therapy than ever, there is still a lot of stigma around those who decide to embrace it. Especially in marriages. Because we thought going to therapy meant that our relationship was doomed, we decided to do nothing and let it self-destruct on its own.

#4. We lived unilateral lives.

I know that sounds strange, given what I said above about leaning too far into oneness. But that’s the weird paradox of marriages that have gone wayward. Although we were heavily committed to the idea of oneness, we still managed to live relatively unilateral lives. We just sort of moved about in each other’s spaces—doing the same things, going to the same places. But we weren’t actually creating intimacy, fun, and joy. In fact, we weren’t even sharing our lives with each other. We were simply two people running a race side by side.

#5. I spoke to friends and family instead of my husband.

This one was purely on me. In seeking support and guidance, I did a lot of venting to friends and family. We all deserve to depend on our loved ones to help us through trying times, but the way I did it wasn’t productive, in the end. I spoke to them when I was triggered and angry, painting our real problems in a dramatic and embellished light. It was a great release in the moment, but over time, it changed the way my loved ones mentored me about my marriage. They became hardened toward my husband, no longer hearing me objectively but hearing everything through the lens of things I’d told them when I was triggered. When I tried to walk back some of the things I had said, admitting that it wasn’t as bad as I’d made it sound, they thought I was just trying to cover for my husband. These days, I’m much more careful how I speak about my marriage with others. I still rely on my loved ones to give me guidance when I’m upset, but I do it thoughtfully. At the very least, I wait until I’ve cooled off.

#6. We didn’t solve the solvable problems before they became persistent ones.

Looking back, there were so many small problems that could have been easily resolved if we weren’t doing all the other things I’ve just listed above. Every marriage has persistent problems—ones that stem from differences in values, parenting styles, etc. Those take time and effort to resolve, and it’s usually a recursive process. But every marriage also has solvable problems—ones that could be easily resolved with a little communication and creative thinking. When we chose not to solve the solvable problems, they snowballed into persistent ones that required much more effort to resolve. If we had chosen to solve them as they arose, instead of letting them fester, we would have been in a better position to address the persistent problems that eventually destroyed our marriage.

Every marriage is different, and you may not experience the same problems we did. But if any of these sound familiar to you, I encourage you to consider addressing them now. Marriage is hard enough without adding to our struggles by not addressing issues that make it harder.

Wherever you are on your journey, I wish you luck. The road is long and filled with potholes, but the work is worth it.


Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.

Check out her blog called Compassionate Feminism on Psychology Today to join a feminist conversation centered in openness, empathy, and equity.

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