My Separation Thoughts

During our 16-month separation I had many opportunities to think about and make decisions for myself about separation, dissolution, or divorce from a theological aspect, a personal aspect and a legal aspect. For those of you who are facing similar decisions I want to lay out what my thoughts were during that time in more detail so it may help you to think through your situation very thoroughly and make some wise decisions. If adultery is involved in your situation or you have been abandoned by a non-believing spouse, you have even more issues to think about but this post is not primarily about those situations.

From the beginning of our separation Sharon was unwilling to promise absolutely that we would reconcile, but for awhile we did go to counseling to try. Eventually we came to a point where she said, for various reasons, “I am getting a divorce.” I then informed her that Jesus had said, “Let no man put asunder what God has joined together,” so I refused to give her a dissolution.

From a biblical standpoint the two reasons that are most commonly accepted in the Christian community for divorce are adultery or abandonment by an unbelieving spouse. Neither of those situations applied to us. Neither of us was committing adultery and both of us were actively attending church and involved in Bible studies. In the New Testament the Apostle Paul counsels against separation, but if it happens between two believers he makes clear that the goal is reconciliation. So from my understanding of scripture we had no Biblical justification for divorce or dissolution of our marriage.

From a personal standpoint I had made vows to Sharon “for better or worse till death do us part”. I decided that having a wife who said she had no feelings of love for me as a husband and who wanted a divorce must be part of the “worse” we talked about in our vows. However, I had promised “till death do us part”, so I was determined not to give up. I realized that I had not every day perfectly fulfilled my vow to love and cherish her, but just because I had failed on any given day, didn’t let me out of continuing to learn to fulfill those vows. Just because you miss one car payment doesn’t mean you get out of a car loan scott free.

From a legal standpoint I could sign a dissolution. However, that would violate my moral conviction as per Scripture above. I also realized that I had been in a court room in Ohio and witnessed a voluntary dissolution by two people I cared about. One of the questions the judge asked them was something like, “Do you want me to dissolve your marriage?”. I realized if I took an oath to “tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth” I could not truthfully tell a judge that I wanted my marriage dissolved.

At some point in time Sharon calmly mentioned to me, “If you really loved me you would give me what I want which is a dissolution.” I thought this through. I realized that if my child had made a commitment to a bank for a car loan and then came to me and said, “I don’t like my car. Maybe I should just not pay the loan. What do you think?” I would probably tell him or her, “You made a commitment. You need to keep your commitment. I know it maybe tough, but God will honor you for keeping your commitment.” I don’t think it would be the loving thing to tell them, “That’s okay. You don’t like your car so you don’t keep your commitment to the bank to pay off the loan.”

I felt like Sharon was asking me to sign a voluntary dissolution to let her out of her commitment to me to show her that I loved her. We had both been in agreement before marriage that marriage was for life, and we had both said vows that publicly affirmed that belief. With all of the negative statistics I know about how children fair with broken homes, and how couples fair individually after divorce I did not see how letting Sharon out of her commitment to me would be the loving thing to do for her or our kids.

Since I knew that Sharon was making plans for divorce, I begged her to try mediation before she filed any divorce paperwork. I wanted to mediate a reconciliation. Sharon absolutely would not mediate a reconciliation. She wanted to mediate a dissolution. I absolutely would not mediate a dissolution of our marriage. Our only option left to mediate was a legal separation. I did not want to do this but I felt like it was the best option in the situation. It would keep us from having a divorce or dissolution at least right then, and it would leave the window open for reconciliation down the road some day.

One legal issue of semantics that confused me at first is that regardless of whether you have a dissolution, a legal separation, or a divorce, the agreement of how everything gets split up – child issues and support, alimony, etc., at least in Ohio, is called a separation agreement.

We did in good faith mediate towards a legal separation. Eventually those talks broke down and we went into a time of mostly minimal communication with each other about the farm and the kids, until we went to a PAIRS workshop where we had a major breakthrough towards reconciliation.

Had Sharon filed for divorce my plan was to review whether I wanted to represent myself or to hire an attorney. I figured I would probably use whatever the maximum days were to file a response – since I didn’t want a divorce I couldn’t see why I should speed the process along. I would have reviewed the Ohio law more closely about asking the judge to order counseling. He might or might not have granted my request, but I figured it would be worth a try. I even thought: “We have had several Christian counselors who we have faithfully used but we have hit impasses. Maybe a good old secular counselor appointed by the court will someway, somehow help us get us unstuck.”

If we had gone through the whole court process and gotten divorced by order of the court, my plan was not to remarry but to continue to hold out hope for reconciliation. Sharon was very clear that she had no plans to remarry.

It so happened that we were also having financial problems at the time of our separation. I kept thinking of the U.S. and the Soviet Union’s nuclear policy from when I grew up that was referred to as MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). Our situation was fairly complex. We owned a farm business that was having major financial issues and there was a good amount of our property that was inherited before our marriage which added complexity to a divorce. Bottom line, if Sharon had decided to pursue divorce it could easily have been very expensive for both of us. Even our mediator said that we couldn’t afford to get divorced.

Since I didn’t hire a family law attorney I really didn’t know all the twists and turns a divorce case could take. I just had a general overview from reading and from informal conversations with our mediator. I figured we would either reconcile, we would eventually legally separate, or if we did divorce, we would financially be worse off than we already were.

I had determined in my heart that I was not going to sign a dissolution. I kept thinking of this sentence from the Declaration of Independence, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” I thought that if our Founding Fathers were willing to risk all their fortune for freedom from a king, I should be willing to risk everything I had to save my marriage.

One reason I did not hire a family law attorney, even though I knew Sharon had one, was that I suspected they would read me the riot act and think that I was crazy to still have Sharon as an authorized signer on all of our joint bank accounts, to have her paying all of our bills, and having my power of attorney allowing her to buy and sell land, mortgage property – basically do anything with my financial affairs – and I was not living in our home, which happened to be on the farm that had been in my family for generations.

I suspected that any lawyer would push me hard to start protecting myself by separating finances and canceling any of Sharon’s authority I had given her. That would be the exact opposite of the message that I wanted to send her which was: “We are still married, you are still my wife, and I still trust you with everything I have, and I am planning for us to be together for the rest of our lives.”

Because I absolutely would not sign a dissolution and because a divorce would be so expensive I was hoping that Sharon at some point in time would eventually be open to going to a marriage intensive in an effort to reconcile, or that we would do a legal separation which would mean the door to reconciliation would be open long term since neither of us could remarry.

From the little I understood about property division in Ohio, even if a judge did order a divorce, most likely our property would be split where we each would get about half unless it got complicated by property inherited before marriage. Who knows what he would have ordered on child support. Child support usually is calculated off of income so how that would have worked when my income was from the farm and it had been negative for several years I am not sure.

The ultimate long term goal for our property is to have something to pass on to our children so we actually had that as a common goal to someday help us think straight and draw us together so it didn’t all go to lawyer’s fees.

I know my strategy or stance of saying absolutely no to a dissolution even though a determined spouse can eventually at some price get a divorce may seem very risky or unusual but I truly did not see how I ever could swear truthfully to a judge that I wanted my marriage dissolved.

I guess that is partly why our ministry is called Stubborn Pursuits. Sometimes to save a marriage, you just have to get stubborn about that objective and never waiver.

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Rekindling An Almost Dead Marriage

One Friday morning I started a fire in a brush pile. Just like the start of many marriages it was roaring pretty good. Blazing Fire - edited Then on Monday, after two or three inches of rain and cold weather, the fire looked pretty dead. When I walked up to it all I saw was the black and grey ashes. This is like many marriages after 10, 20 or 30 years of married life, relationship challenges, and maybe a separation or just a hard season of marriage. From the outside looking in the marriage looks dead. Embers - Edited After I stirred up some of the dead-looking embers, notice the blaze (in the center of the picture) that was rekindled. I did not strike any match; this rekindled by itself. Even though your marriage may look dead, if there are just a few of the tiniest embers of love left, your marriage can be rekindled if you stir what is left. If I had added some dry paper and wood do you think I could have had a roaring fire again? What fuel do you need to add to the embers of your marriage to have a roaring fire of a marriage again?

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Inspiring Couples To Use What They’re Taught

One of the hardest things for us about helping crisis couples, or even one person of the crisis couple, is inspiring them to use and practice what they are taught. Sharon and I can teach many communication and conflict resolution skills and reference many resources – all of which can be very helpful to a spouse or couple in marital crisis – but they somehow have to be inspired to use at home what we have taught them.

It gets so disappointing at times that we will share our testimony of what Jesus has done in our own marriage, teach them practical skills, and reference testimonies of healed marriages, and yet so often they seem to give up hope for their own marriage so quickly and often make very little consistent effort to try to apply what we teach them. Many couples want a “quick fix”, but we remind them they didn’t get into a crisis overnight and they won’t get out of it overnight.

If you are a couple in crisis, I implore to start pursuing a relationship with Jesus with your whole heart and continue to look for even the smallest ray of hope in your marriage. We’ve learned that God can and will do a miracle in your marriage if you give Him a chance. If you humble yourself before Him, allow Him to work in your heart and attitude while trusting Him to be working in your spouse’s at the same time, God can do amazing things.

What is so sad in our culture is that we will get so excited about a movie star or singer who got rejected hundreds of times, but then hit it big, or the athlete or team that held on to hope and kept trying to win in the face of incredible odds and became champions. But, when it comes to marriage, so many couples quickly give up hope and go the divorce route. Our culture also cheers when two unlikely people overcome incredible odds and fall in love and get married. The idea of having that same never-give-up attitude towards their spouse when they are in a crisis just seems to fall on deaf ears.

I love this quote by Theodore Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

 

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Using Facebook Positively In Marriage and Life

One way Sharon and I use Facebook to build our marriage is to share what we have learned from various friends and family members, especially if we do not both have the same person as a friend. For instance, there are many of her high school classmates or my high school classmates that we have not both listed as friends. However, sometimes she will see something important like an honor, or a death in the family, or an accident on one of her friends feeds and she will share the news with me and what that friend meant in her life.

Since Facebook in all of it’s many wonderful news feed algorithms seems to show posts differently on different devices there are times one or the other of us miss significant events in mutual friends lives, so it is nice to make sure that each of us has seen those things. The other day Sharon realized that several of my own status updates had never showed in her news feed and was glad that I told her the things she had missed.

One way I have tried to build my spiritual life is to subscribe to ministry pages that share Scriptures or devotional thoughts. I try to slow down and read and ponder those Scriptures. God’s Word is powerful and effective and does not return void even if it is on Facebook mixed in with all sorts of other things.

Every once in a while when we are on a long drive or totally bored we will go through each others friends lists and just share with each other how we know various people and then we may each add them to our own list.

One thing that has really surprised me, but that I have found helpful, is that often when there are bad roads, or highway accidents, or emergencies like tornado warnings, I will learn about it faster and often in more detail on Facebook or Twitter than if I check our local TV stations or newspaper.

Sharon and I will also from time to time reference each other in a humorous way in a status update. The other day there was a funny post about a husband’s snoring that I linked making reference to Sharon but poking fun at myself.

Another thing I have seen very helpful for people is when they post a problem that needs an answer. Maybe they post about a cooking problem, or a minor medical issue, or a mechanical problem with a tractor or a vehicle. Often they have a helpful answer within minutes.

It has also been very comforting to myself and others in a crisis to post a prayer concern and realize that there are friends and family all across the country and the world who care enough to say a prayer or to share an encouraging word. We experienced that just recently with Sharon’s medical issues.

So, yes, there is a lot of negative garbage and excessive ads and crazy changes from Facebook corporate that drive me nuts, but so far for me, the negatives have not outweighed the positive aspects when used wisely.

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When You Are Down – Part 2

When I got emotionally down during our separation and did not seem to have energy or hope for much of anything, one thing I learned was that if I put on Scripture-based worship music, in awhile my mood would improve. Also, any worship music that lifted up the name of Jesus helped very much.

I think the reason that worship based on the Word of God is so effective is, “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) Scripture changes our hearts and attitudes. It makes a difference in our spirits and souls.

Lots of nights I fell asleep listening to worship. Some of my favorite artists at the time were John G. Elliott and Twila Paris. I also enjoy Chris Tomlin, Jesus Culture, Natalie Grant, Misty Edwards, Passion Band and many others. Music is such a personal thing. I encourage you to search until you find some that speaks deeply to your soul and spirit.

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When You Are Down – Part 1

During our separation, I learned the power of speaking scripture aloud. Jesus overcame his temptations in the desert by speaking very short scriptures in answer to satan (Matthew 4:1-11).

There are times in life when it is great to memorize long passages of scripture or dig in deeply to study a theme or a doctrine. However, when I was so down and discouraged from being separated and so scared about the future, my mind didn’t have the capacity for a deep and complex study of scripture. But, after speaking aloud short scriptures such as, For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7 NASB) or Psalm 23, I would realize in a little while that my whole mood and attitude had changed for the better. I also found that at times just speaking the name of Jesus aloud would bring new hope and energy because Jesus’ name is, “. . . the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9 NIV).

I encourage you to find the scriptures that minister to you most deeply and begin saying them aloud.

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Jay and Laura Laffoon

Jay and Laura Laffoon are marriage and relationship edu-tainers. They teach about those topics by using humor. We first saw them at an AMFM Conference years ago. If you ever get to see them in person with their Ultimate Date Night you will really enjoy them not only because they are funny, but because they interweave a serious message for couples throughout the humor. They make videos about marriage and relationships on a regular basis at Jay and Laura TV. Check out the rest of their website for their blog and resources.

 

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Love and Respect Now

I am very encouraged about how much the younger generation of 20- and 30-somethings seem to really want to learn how to do marriage well.

One great resource for them is Love and Respect Now.

This blog is written by Joy Eggerichs the daughter of Dr. Emerson Eggerichs who wrote the popular book, “Love and Respect” and holds Love and Respect conferences around the country.

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New from Choosing Wisely Before You Divorce

I found great encouragement, hope and inspiration to fight for our marriage when I watched the video series “Choosing Wisely Before You Divorce”.

The video series is now on the web. About halfway down the page under “View and Download the Resources” click on the “I Agree…” box and you can watch the videos online for free.

If you need a quick dose of hope, watch Section 5: Reconciliation first. It has some incredible testimonies. Then go back and watch the rest of the series.

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Pre-Engagement Mentoring

We have recently been mentoring a couple who asked for mentoring when they were thinking of getting engaged. We thought it was tremendously mature on their part to ask and we were honored to mentor them. We used the mentoring book “Before ‘I Do'” by Jason Krafsky.

Eventually, they jointly decided that they were not going to pursue an engagement and marriage. It was a sad thing but based on all they prayerfully discovered about themselves, it was the wisest decision for them to make. I hope more couples really think through their future marriage before getting caught up in all of the emotions of getting engaged.

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