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How To Deal With Involuntary Separation As A Christian

More and more American couples are finding it necessary to deal with involuntary separation due to career requirements.   It has long been one of the curses of the military, but now the civilian workforce is having to deal with this enemy of marriage and family life.   It is especially difficult for the Christian because he/she should be aspiring to live according to God's commands and Satan is quick to recognize the opportunities involuntary separation brings to tempt the Christian into sin.

First of all, it is critical to understand that the effects of involuntary separation on the marriage and family are rarely positive.   However, by learning what occurs during the entire process, being aware of problems when they arise, and taking positive, definitive steps to lessen their impact, we can prevent sin, damaged relationships and/or divorces that are the frequent result of such separations.

Ensure your personal affairs are in order.   Make sure your will is up to date, your spouse has any required powers of attorney to conduct business, access to checking and savings accounts as necessary, and lists of important telephone numbers for car or house repair, child care facilities, emergency medical   care, etc.   A general power of attorney is best, but requires faith both spouses will not abuse the privileges it offers.   Both spouses should know when and how bills are paid, regular house/car maintenance is due, and any other functions required to keep the family going.   In reality, these things should be done in any marriage, whether or not involuntary separation is in the future.   This will save precious time if notice of the separation comes without warning, reducing the stress of preparation significantly.   Husbands, you are to provide for your families and that includes providing for their welfare in case something should happen to you or your wife.

Develop a support network.   We all need help sometimes to get through life's problems.   Murphy's Law says anything that can go wrong, will.   This is usually true for separations.   That's always when the car breaks down, you need an emergency babysitter, or the house gets broken into.   If you have a solid network of friends, neighbors, or relatives who can assist during those times, the crisis will be much easier to handle and the absent spouse will rest more comfortably.   The top priority in developing a support network as a Christian must be asking God for help, guidance, and resistance against temptation.   You must make God a constant companion in your life, praying to Him, reading the Bible, and keeping His priorities in mind as you prepare to meet the challenges of a separation.   Know your neighbors and whether or not they can be trusted.   They can keep an eye out for dangers and provide moral support.   Christians can be the best possible support group if you have developed a relationship with them before the separation.   You can not expect them to be aware of your struggles or know your needs if you have not been in fellowship with them.   If, however, you have neglected to be in fellowship previously, do it now just as God has commanded in Hebrews 10:23-27.   Fellowship is not a one-way, receiving-only situation.   It requires you to be truly involved in their lives, looking out for their well-being, and may require you to minister to them.   Sometimes, ministering to others will be exactly what you need to make it through your separation and keep from being overwhelmed with sorrow or self-pity.     Relatives, whether local or long distance, can also fulfill some of the needs for support and assistance.   Other suggestions are civic groups, clubs, or community and volunteer service organizations.   A word of caution:   know who you can trust!   Some people will use the knowledge your spouse is away to target your family for selfish or even criminal reasons.   Only those you can trust should know one of you will be away.

Now you have laid the foundation to face this challenge. Next, you will learn the indicators of potential problems during the pre-separation phase and how to deal with them. The period between knowing the separation is to occur and actually leaving is a critical and stressful time. Usually there are some significant emotional and/or physical changes that occur in one or both spouses.   Some begin to withdraw, closing themselves off from their spouse emotionally and physically.   This is an attempt to lessen the mental pain and prepare for the role they are about to assume.   Others may become "clinging vines," starved for affection and attention.   If the period of separation is unknown or for a significant period of time (months or years), the negative reaction is usually more pronounced.   No matter what the reaction, there is always significant stress which usually leads to arguments, hurt feelings, and in some cases, extensive damage to the marriage relationship.   Physical illness or maladies such as an upset stomach, tense muscles, sleeplessness, sinus activation, or depression may also become evident.   Both spouses are usually riding an emotional roller coaster and may feel overwhelmed with the chain of events.   The spouse who is staying is usually quite jealous, feeling he/she is missing out on some adventure while having to remain at home and deal with the mundane things.   Take this situation one day at a time and trust in God.   He will help you with your anxiety and fears if you allow Him to be first priority in your life.   He promises us this in Matthew 6:33-34. "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things will be added to you.   Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will take care of itself.   Each day has enough trouble of its own."     For those couples with children, many of the same things will be happening in the parent-child relationship.   Younger children will have a difficult time understanding why one parent will be going away.   Older children may understand but might not be willing to accept the need for it.   Also, different children may react in totally different ways.   Needless to say, all this adds significantly to the already stressful situation.   Including them in your prayers and sharing your faith in God with them will reassure them and give them a source of strength.   They too must be developing a support network which includes going to church and praying to God.

The most important key to dealing with the stress is to communicate, both with God and with your spouse.   The problem will not go away if you ignore it, and you will not be able to alleviate some of the stress unless you talk about what you are feeling and work toward solutions.   Some of the items you will want to talk about will be how to communicate during the separation, where you will be staying, reviewing why the separation is necessary, what will be accomplished by it, etc.   Pictures of or information about the area where the traveler will be staying can be helpful.   Communication will require setting aside time with God, each other, and with the children.   If the separation is imminent, this time may be measured in minutes but it must be done, even if it means cancelling other activities.   All activities must also be prioritized if time is limited.   Everyone, but especially the spouses, must try to remain as positive as possible.   This will be especially difficult for wartime, undetermined or extended separations.   Children and spouses will pick up on extreme negativism no matter how hard you try to conceal it.

Be aware it is normal for there to be more disagreements and tense situations during the time between learning the separation is coming and when it actually occurs.   We tend to withdraw from our spouse emotionally right before a separation.   It is likely a coping mechanism where we are preparing ourselves for the emotional pain we know we are about to experience.   Everyone, including the children, must control the tendency to lash out in anger or frustration.   A failure to control one's emotions and actions can make a difficult situation far worse and result in long-term or permanent damage to relationships.   Harsh words hurt deeply.   Do not underestimate how damaging they can be in this situation.   Be constantly aware everyone's nerves are on edge and avoid any confrontations or arguments that are unnecessary.

Both spouses and children may want to trade special reminders with the traveler such as a photograph, card, drawing, or other personal item.   This will help create a sense of closeness despite the separation and will be a frequent reminder of the other part of the family.   The traveler will need to pack a Bible, study materials/concordance and maybe even grape juice and communion bread if traveling where they are not readily available.   If possible, find out if there will be a congregation of the Lord's Church where you will be going and make plans to join them.   If there is no local Church, prepare to worship God alone if necessary, but don't neglect this aspect of putting God first and dwelling on spiritual things.   "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.   And the peace that surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.   Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.   The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things; and the God of peace shall be with you."   (Philippians 4:6-9)

 

Don't forget to make a list of important telephone numbers, financial expenses and suspenses, and items that were impossible to complete before the separation begins.   Lastly, spend as much quality time together as a couple and as a family when time will allow.   This should include time for intimacy.   The beginning of the separation phase usually brings some gradual relief to the initial stress, as everyone assimilates their new roles.   There may be other stressors that replace the original ones, however, and care should be taken to avoid them if at all possible.   You must remember to put on the whole armor of God and use it every day because you are about to be engaged in all-out war with Satan and you can not resist him without God's help. "Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might.   Put on the full armor of God, that you might be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.   For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.   Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm."   (Ephesians 6:10-13)

There will always be some degree of loneliness, depression, and/or sleeplessness during any separation phase.   The key to dealing with these stressors is to become more involved in constructive activities which leave little time for self-pity.   If the spouse remaining at home does not hold a steady job, he/she can perform volunteer work, start a new project or hobby or anything that will keep him/her interactive with others, provide a positive result, and occupy free time.   The dislocated spouse may want to devote free time to letter writing, reading, or sightseeing and will certainly want to read and study the Bible and pray.   Physical activity is another excellent way for anyone to relieve stress, stay in good physical condition and make it easier to sleep.

Be careful not to adopt destructive ways of dealing with the stress.   Overeating, under-eating, or eating mostly non-nutritious foods will only exacerbate the stress.   Some people begin to rely on drugs or alcohol in an attempt to alleviate some of the negative effects.   While this may bring temporary relief, it will certainly become a much greater problem and can lead to serious, prolonged effects on the person and the marriage and family, not to mention causing the Christian to sin.   Since others may be looking to you as an example, it can also cause others to sin.   There may be a temptation to find intimacy or sexual release with someone else during this phase.   It may become necessary to avoid certain situations or settings which would make infidelity a likely outcome.   I Corinthians 6:18-19 exhorts us to flee immorality.   The price to be paid for gratification of these desires will inevitably be higher than either of you would want to pay.   Since you are apart, and possibly away from others who might hold you accountable, the temptation to sin will be strong.   You must be especially careful of the company you keep as a Christian.   Bad company does corrupt good morals (I Corinthians 15:33), and you may be pressured to join in with bad company.       Men will need to be aware of the temptation to become involved with pornography as the opportunity to purchase and/or view it may be present.   It will take great resistance to overcome the temptations placed before you but you can do it with God's help.   Again, take this one day at a time and ask God for assistance.   It may help to remember that even Paul was tormented by his "thorn in the flesh" but it kept him humble and made him depend on God for strength (II Corinthians 12:7-10).   It is certainly important to remember God's promise that we can accomplish all through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13) and that there is no temptation that you will be faced with that cannot be overcome with God's help (I Corinthians 10:13).   In some cases, you may even become angry because you cannot see any good that could come from this separation.   You must have faith God will cause all things to work together for good if you place your priority with Him, even if it is not visible to you at this time.   "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those called according to His purpose"   (Romans 8:28).

Communication is once again the primary key to a successful relationship.     As with any Christian, God should be thanked immediately for your safe arrival.   If possible, the displaced spouse should call immediately after arrival to inform the family he/she is safe and provide telephone numbers and/or addresses at the new location.   The cheapest and best way to communicate used to be mail, but that has been replaced with e-mail and other electronic means.   Be aware of the pitfalls of e-mail.   E-mail can convey facts well but is poor at providing tone, intent, etc.   Also, e-mail tends to be written hurriedly and easily allows us to say something that can be misinterpreted or hurtful at times.   Letters usually allow us time to proofread what we are saying and analyze it for such mistakes.   Letters can be reread by the recipient and the writer is usually more selective in what appears on paper than in an e-mail or a conversation.   If you have children, occasionally write each one their own personal letter or card.   This makes them feel wanted and special.   Exchange pictures, news, and information on each other's area.   "CARE" packages of favorite goodies or mementos are always welcomed.   You can exchange Bible verses and stories of inspiration to help one another.   Cut out interesting local news stories, comic strips, jokes, etc.     It may help to set up a Bible study program both of you are participating in and share your individual discoveries.   Ask other Christians to write.   They can be an invaluable source of encouragement. Telephone contact provides immediate personal gratification and answers any questions but also gets rather expensive.   A significant phone bill will only hurt the couple on a budget and   causes financial and credit problems if not controlled.

Plan your homecoming.   There will probably be a tendency to exceed what time and/or budget will allow.   Keep your expectations within reason and plan for jetlag.   If possible, take some time off if you want to be alone with the spouse/family or take a vacation.   You will have to make a decision about who will be invited to the homecoming.   Obviously, if you invite relatives or friends immediately you will be sacrificing time together.   Both of you should agree on the final plan.   Remember, you owe it to your marriage and family relationship to reserve time for yourselves and your immediate family during the homecoming.   All others should be a lower priority and not interfere with the homecoming.   The time you have been waiting and longing for is finally here.   This can be a wonderful feeling and a great time for the family - if you sidestep some common pitfalls.   Once again, don't forget to thank God for reuniting you safely!

Plan your time and prioritize your activities.   Everyone will be clamoring for attention now that the family is reunited.   All will have stories to tell and hugs and kisses will need to be distributed unceasingly.   Children will not have the patience to wait, so be prepared for their crushing, but magnificent onslaught!   Even the family pets will probably participate because they will have sensed the impending homecoming for several days.   Try to spend a little time with each and every child both initially and after reaching home.   Don't forget your spouse and don't let the children keep you from showing her/him your joy at being reunited.   They will feel more secure if they see you both ecstatic at being back together again.   After arriving back home, follow through on your plan as much as possible, making sure there is plenty of time for personal attention for everyone.   This may include praying, reading the Bible and bedtime stories, playing ball together, talking about events that transpired during the separation, and sharing pictures.   The returning spouse can especially endear himself/herself by handing out small gifts purchased especially for each member of the family.   But remember, if you buy one child a gift, get everyone a gift and try to make them of similar value.   Make sure you have purchased a gift for your spouse, too.   They will probably be feeling like they missed out on an adventure and you will want them to know you remembered them while you were gone.   Finally, when all the children are in bed, spend some intimate time together.

Carefully and slowly reassume your original roles.   The spouse who remained at home may initially resent the traveler's interruption of the family's status quo.   They have probably been handling most of the major decisions and will not appreciate losing their independence or having those decisions criticized or questioned immediately.   There will be some events the returning spouse will need to be made aware of before re-assuming his/her normal role.   The spouse who stayed can assist in this by keeping a box or collection of news articles, letters, mail, notes, etc. that the returning spouse can read when time allows.   Don't forget to keep a copy of church bulletins to bring them up to date on what has happened.

If possible, show your appreciation for the job your spouse did in maintaining their portion of the relationship during the separation.   Compliments and thank-you's will reap great rewards and build up your spouse's self-esteem.     Make it a point to find things to compliment them on and thank them for.   If mistakes were made, try to learn from them without damaging your relationship.   This is a delicate time - be careful of what you say and how you say it.   Angry words said in haste can cause great harm and take weeks or months to overcome.   Don't be quick to judge one another.   Your spouse may have faced more obstacles than you are aware of at this time.   Both of you need to be especially careful to be on your best behavior and choose your words, tone, and body language carefully.   Read I Corinthians 13:4-8 and see if you have lived up to God's standards of love toward your spouse.

Learn from your mistakes and strive to do better.   Hopefully, you will not have to endure other involuntary separations but if you do, remember the things you disliked and the mistakes you made and take steps to improve them.   Your marriage is a precious gift and you have promised before God to be faithful to your spouse!   Work at keeping it strong and loving even when faced with adversities and obstacles. Keep God first and He will watch over you no matter what the obstacle!

 

"Do not urge me to leave you or to turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go,

and where you lodge, I will lodge.   Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.

Where you die, I will die and there will I be buried.   Thus may the Lord do to me, and worse,

if anything but death parts you and me."

Ruth 1:16-17

 

Dedicated to my wife, Debbie  whose love, perseverance, and dedication to God  and our marriage helped us to survive those many long  involuntary separations

Dwight Eppler