A black and white image of a couple standing at opposite ends of a long, empty corridor, symbolizing the emotional and physical separation that can occur in a strained marriage.

What Does The Bible Say About Separation In Marriage?

Marriage is meant to be a lifelong union between a husband and wife. However, sometimes marital problems can seem insurmountable, leading spouses to consider separation or divorce. If you’re wondering what the Bible says about separation in marriage, this comprehensive article will provide biblical guidance.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The Bible acknowledges that separation may occur but emphasizes reconciliation and restoration of the marriage relationship. Separation should be viewed as a temporary step with the goal of healing the marriage.

Old Testament Teachings on Separation

Allowance for Divorce in Cases of Unfaithfulness

The Old Testament does make some allowances for divorce in cases of unfaithfulness. Deuteronomy 24:1-4 discusses situations where a husband may write a certificate of divorce if he finds “some indecency” in his wife.

This passage has been interpreted as allowing divorce in cases of adultery or other serious marital unfaithfulness.

However, while divorce was permitted in egregious situations, that does not mean it was encouraged. God designed marriage to be a lifelong covenant relationship. Even though divorce was allowed under certain circumstances, reconciliation and forgiveness were always the ideal outcomes.

Calls to Reconcile and Value Marriage

The Old Testament prophets often lamented the Israelites’ tendency to deal “treacherously” with their wives by divorcing them (Malachi 2:14-16). God made it clear through the prophet Malachi that He hates divorce and that unfaithfulness to one’s marriage covenant covers “the altar of the Lord with tears” (v.13).

So while divorce was permitted in extreme cases of unrepentant unfaithfulness, the overarching message of the Old Testament is that marriage is valuable and sacred. Spouses ought to do everything possible to reconcile before resorting to divorce. As God proclaimed in Malachi 2:16, “I hate divorce.”

His ideal is faithfulness, covenant keeping, and lifelong marriage.

New Testament Guidance from Jesus and Paul

Jesus’ Teaching on Divorce

In the New Testament, Jesus provides clear guidance on the issue of divorce in Matthew 19:3-9. When asked by the Pharisees if divorce was permissible, Jesus affirmed God’s original intention for marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman.

He emphasized that “what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matthew 19:6). However, Jesus permitted divorce only in the case of sexual immorality. This exception clause indicates that the breaking of the marriage covenant through sexual sin allows for divorce.

Jesus’ teaching shows that God takes marriage seriously. He seeks to protect and preserve marriages. However, Jesus makes an exception for sexual sin which attacks the foundation of marriage. His teaching reminds us that faithfulness and purity in marriage are essential.

Paul’s Instructions to Married Couples

The apostle Paul also provides important instructions about marriage and separation to believers. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul responds to questions from the Corinthian church regarding celibacy, marriage, divorce, and remarriage.

He emphasizes that marriage is a gift from God that should be honored and encourages married couples to remain together if at all possible (1 Corinthians 7:10-11). However, similar to Jesus’ teaching, Paul permits separation or divorce if one spouse abandons the faith.

He writes, “But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved” (1 Corinthians 7:15). This provides another exception for divorce in cases of desertion by an unbelieving spouse.

Furthermore, Paul instructs believers to remain in the life situation they were in when they came to faith in Christ. If married, they ought to stay married. He cautions against seeking divorce simply because one has become a Christian (1 Corinthians 7:17-24).

Paul wants to limit circumstances where divorce occurs, emphasizing reconciliation wherever possible. However, he maintains Jesus’ exception clause, allowing for divorce when initiated by an unbelieving spouse.

Purposes and Limits of Separation

Time for Evaluation and Repentance

A period of separation in marriage can provide spouses the opportunity for self-reflection and repentance (Focus on the Family). This pause in the relationship allows each person to prayerfully examine their own contributions to problems in the marriage and seek God’s wisdom on steps toward reconciliation and restoration.

According to research, trial separations have a 30% success rate in saving troubled marriages if the time apart is used properly for evaluation and change by both spouses (Regain). This reflects the potential value of temporary separation if sincerely approached as a season of growth.

Avoidance of Long-Term Separation

However, experts caution that separation longer than 3-6 months often leads to more permanent division. Studies show after 2 years of separation, divorce rates exceed 90% as spouses grow accustomed to independent lives apart (Regain).

The Bible emphasizes forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration in marriage with no provision for extended separation (1 Corinthians 7:10-11). Christians are called to faithfully nurture marriage bonds as a reflection of Christ’s love for the church (Ephesians 5:25).

Thus, while short separations may occasionally aid marital growth through self-examination, believers should prioritize reconciliation and limit separation durations to spur restoration.

Seeking Reconciliation and Healing

Role of the Church Community

When a Christian couple faces marital separation, the church community has an important role to play in promoting reconciliation and healing. The Bible encourages believers to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15), and speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Here are some specific ways the church can help couples seeking restoration:

  • Provide biblical counsel and perspective on God’s design for marriage.
  • Facilitate open, non-judgmental communication between the spouses.
  • Offer practical support like childcare to give the couple time to work on their relationship.
  • Pray fervently for God to soften hearts and bring unity.
  • Walk alongside the couple through the process of reconciliation.
  • Mature believers in the church should handle separating couples with wisdom and grace, calling them to repentance when needed but also offering hope and encouragement. They can come alongside the husband and wife to help identify root issues, set healthy boundaries, and recommit to the marriage covenant.

    With loving accountability and godly guidance, Christian couples can find healing through the power of Christ.

    Professional Christian Counseling

    In addition to support from the church community, Christian couples considering separation or divorce are wise to seek professional Christian counseling. Qualified Christian counselors can provide in-depth assistance to couples dealing with infidelity, lack of communication, financial stresses, or other marital troubles.

    Professional counselors have extensive training to help couples:

  • Discuss grievances in a healthy, productive manner.
  • Uncover root problems like unresolved childhood wounds or unhealthy relating patterns.
  • Establish skills for conflict resolution, listening, and restoring intimacy.
  • Access support for issues like depression, anxiety, or addiction.
  • Reconnect relationally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
  • Studies show that outcomes are often better when couples engage formal counseling services.[1] Christian counselors integrate biblically-based principles into proven therapeutic techniques for reconciliation and growth.

    Praying together, repenting of sin, learning to forgive, and restoring intimacy are key parts of the process.

    For Christian marriages facing turbulence, professional Christian counseling provides hope. Under the guidance of an experienced counselor and through the redemptive power of Christ, couples can repair brokenness and rekindle love.

    With hard work and willingness over time, reconciliation and restoration are possible.

    When Restoration is Not Possible

    Allowance for Divorce in Cases of Unrepentant Unfaithfulness

    The Bible makes an allowance for divorce in cases where one spouse has committed unfaithfulness and remains unrepentant. Marriage is a sacred covenant between spouses and God, in which fidelity is expected (Hebrews 13:4).

    According to Matthew 5:32, unrepentant unfaithfulness goes against God’s design for marriage and breaks the covenant, damaging the essential unity and trust the relationship is built on. In these grave situations, the faithful, innocent spouse may be allowed by God to pursue legal divorce as a last resort after forgiveness and reconciliation have been thoroughly attempted but rejected by the unfaithful spouse.

    Continuing a marriage with a perpetually unfaithful spouse can be incredibly destructive, as it repeatedly tramples on the sacred covenant and brings agony into the life of the faithful spouse. Rather than encouraging the innocent party to passive resignation, the church can offer counsel and support in prayerfully considering all options, including legal separation for self-protection.

    While God still desires lifelong marriage commitments (Malachi 2:16), Jesus acknowledges that the hardness of unrepentant hearts can fracture a union beyond repair.

    Caring for Children of Divorce

    When a marriage ends in divorce, special care must be taken to support any children involved, who often struggle deeply with guilt, anger, and grief. Studies show divorce takes a significant emotional toll on kids, putting them at higher risk for psychological issues, problems at school, and relationship troubles later in life.

    The church plays a vital role in stepping in to surround children of divorce with mentors, friendship, counseling or support groups to guide them through the healing process. Providing consistent love and care can give stability when everything at home feels chaotic.

    Ultimately, helping them grasp their worth and significance in Christ as adopted sons and daughters can be the difference between overcoming or succumbing to wounds from the past.


    In summary, the Bible acknowledges the reality of separation but always with the aim of ultimate reconciliation and restoration. Separation should spur self-examination and bring partners closer to God and each other.

    While divorced is permitted in grave circumstances, God’s desire is for marriage to reflect Christ’s love for the church.

    If separation occurs in your marriage, understand it as a temporary step and actively pursue healing. Seek support from your church and Christian counseling. Work to forgive, reconcile, and value your marriage just as God does.

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