Gary Chapman’s book “Hope for the Separated” crosses the line. Review by Avid Reader.
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Dr. Gary Chapman has extensive training in counseling and it shows throughout this book. Unlike many other Christian marriage books written by people with minimal training or experience, in this book Dr. Chapman draws upon his years of counseling experience to guide people experiencing the deep pain of marital separation. He makes many great points such as “we must acknowledge our feelings but we do not serve them.” (p63)
He makes another good point on pages 36-41: “After separation, an inferior feeling person will typically blame himself for the failure of the marriage, then he or she pleads with the spouse for a chance to start over. When that is spurned, he or she sinks into deep depression and entertains thoughts of suicide. . . One of the steps in turning your thinking around is to realize that God has not given up on you. . . In spite of all that has happened God still intends to bring you to wholeness. . . Accept God’s forgiveness, forgive yourself and concentrate on the future. . .”
The best chapter in this book is Chapter 4 — Developing Your Relationship with God. Here Dr. Chapman teaches on deepening our walk with God. We appreciate how he emphasizes the importance of strengthening our faith during the darkest times of life. This chapter is a pleasant surprise, which you do not often see in marriage books.
The rest of this book emphasizes seeking ways to restore broken marriages. Over and over Dr. Chapman emphasizes that the purpose of separation is reconciliation. “Your goal is reconciliation with your spouse. You want to keep all roads open in that direction.” (p93) But sometimes his advice sounds very cold. He writes, “You are separated but not divorced. Lonely and alone. Free to hurt but not to remarry. . .” (p95)
Then finally in the last chapter, Dr. Chapman recognizes that sometimes reconciliation is impossible. He writes, “God will not hold you responsible for the decision of your spouse. You are only responsible for your own attitudes and behavior. If reconciliation is not possible, do not think God’s purposes for you are over. . . If your spouse will not return, God will still lead you from the valley of despair to the mountain of joy. God is not through with you. . . in those hours when no one else can help. He will assure you of His presence. . .” (p127)
That is one of the best points in this book. But reading through the rest of the book leaves you wondering why Dr. Chapman keeps pressuring everyone to reconcile with their spouse when he knows that reconciliation will be clearly impossible in many situations. For example on page 113 he again recognizes that “reconciliation is not always possible. Your best efforts may meet with coldness, hostility and eventual failure. Even God was not always able to be reconciled to His people.”
Then Dr. Chapman quotes Jeremiah 3:8 where even God Almighty experienced divorce. That’s a really powerful Scripture warning us that when even God Himself reached a point where the only option left was divorce — that can happen to us as well. Dr. Chapman continues, “God would not force Israel to return. . . Many separated Christians have prayed and pleaded with God to ‘bring my spouse back.’ The spouse has not returned so the Christian becomes discouraged. . . God will not force your spouse to return.”
That is a really important point that has been lacking from several other popular Christian marriage books that we read. But the problem with this book is that even though Dr. Chapman recognizes the reality that you cannot force your spouse to return, he keeps pressuring people to wait endlessly, hoping and praying for reconciliation.
On page 67, he gives this advice to people who are separated: “Don’t set time limits for yourself or your spouse. When you set limits, you are trying to dominate the other person.”
How long is someone supposed to wait for their spouse to make a decision to return? Dr. Chapman just acknowledged that the other spouse may never return. Are you supposed to wait forever? This advice is missing the point that there are Biblical grounds for divorce which don’t require a trial separation or waiting period. That’s what Jesus said in Matthew 19:9 and the Apostle Paul confirmed in 1 Corinthians 7:15 by saying “let them depart.”
But when Dr. Chapman addresses the issue of infidelity, he gives this advice.
What if your spouse is having an affair and is now separated from you?. . . First realize that the third person is never the full reason for separation. . . your failures and those of your spouse brought about the demise of your marriage. Unresolved conflict, unmet needs, and stubborn selfishness eat away at the relationship. . . therefore each partner must work toward reconciliation.
Refuse to let the affair be the issue. . . Your spouse may not break off the affair immediately but the more you can do to resolve conflicts and communicate hope, the more attractive reconciliation becomes. When you are lashing out in anger or failing apart in self pity you do not make reconciliation very desirable. (pp27-28)
That is not what Jesus said! According to Jesus, if your spouse has an affair, you can choose to end the marriage and move on with your life. Not sit around, being held hostage until the other person makes the choice for you. Why is Dr. Chapman more concerned about the feelings of the cheating spouse than the victim?
In this book, Dr. Chapman doesn’t seem to recognize the deep pain caused by an affair when he writes that people need to just ignore the affair and “concentrate on restoring your own relationship. . . Obviously you cannot be reconciled until your spouse breaks off the affair but DO NOT SET TIME LIMITS or demand any particular action!”
That is a real problem when even God Himself sets limits with us. God said, “My spirit will not always strive with man.” (Genesis 6:3) We appreciate how Dr. Chapman mentions this on pages 82-83 when he writes, “Some Christians define love as totally placating the mate’s desires without regard to his or her behavior. This is something that God Himself does not do. . . He has established boundaries. . . when we violate or rebel, God loves us too much to be silent.”
Since God sets boundaries with us, why can’t we also set boundaries in our personal lives? This book doesn’t seem to understand the concept of boundaries when it keeps pressuring people to wait year after year until their spouse makes the choice for them. However, we appreciated that Dr. Chapman does recommend the book, Boundaries, for further reading — that book has a much better Scriptural study on how God expects us to set boundaries.
Speaking of which, we appreciate how Dr. Chapman includes an entire chapter in this book on tough love. That advice is really needed. But when he begins addressing separations caused by physical and sexual abuse, once again Dr. Chapman continues pressing for reconciliation instead of recognizing that sending an abused wife back to an abuser is unthinkable!
On page 80 Dr. Chapman describes an emotionally distraught lady approaching him for advice on her marriage. She says, “My husband physically and emotionally abused me for eight years. He refused to work. I supported the family for seven years. Then I got sick. Even then he refused to get a job.”
Dr. Chapman advises her to separate from her husband and tell him that refusing to work is a sin (2 Thess 3:10). That’s more than you’ll find in many popular Christian marriage books that tell wives to stay in bad situations. But the problem is that Dr. Chapman feels that her husband just needs some counseling from a pastor. Once he finds a job and attends some counseling sessions, then she should let him move back into the home if there is “some evidence that things can be different.” Then Dr. Chapman tells her, “Your attitude is not to be one of abandonment but of love!”
How could Dr. Chapman send her right back to an abuser? Can a few counseling sessions really change the eight year pattern of abuse? Even Dr. Chapman acknowledges in his book, Desperate Marriages, that “my observation is that a highly controlling person who has dominated a spouse for many years does NOT change quickly.” (p98)
This book gets even worse when Dr. Chapman deals with the issue of sexual abuse of children. When spouses separate for that reason, he recommends “working closely with a pastor or Christian counselor” and not allowing the abuser to “visit the house” until “there has been considerable counseling and the counselor agrees that such a visit would be safe. A promise to change is not enough in these cases.” (pp83-84)
But then once again he emphasizes “remember, our goal is reconciliation.” Reconciliation with a child molester? NO WAY! Jesus clearly said that it would be better for someone to have a millstone tied around them and thrown into the deepest sea than for them to hurt one of the littlest ones. (Matthew 18:6) Jesus also said that “when you did it to the least of them you did it to Me.” (Matthew 25:40)
How could Dr. Chapman even consider the thought of pressuring someone to reconcile with a child molester? If reconciliation is so important, why did Jesus say that “I didn’t come to bring peace but division.” (Matthew 10:34) Besides, we all know the verse where the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthian church to kick out the guy sleeping with his father’s wife. Would the Apostle Paul have pressured a wife to reconcile with a child abuser?
Just when we want to give Dr. Chapman the benefit of the doubt, he repeats this horrific advice in his book, Difficult Marriages. On pages 163-165 he gives a real life example of counseling a wife after she had discovered that her husband was molesting their daughters ages sixteen and eighteen. She wants to divorce the husband and protect her daughters by never seeing him again.
Dr. Chapman advises her to separate but not divorce. He tells her to move out of the house and ask her husband to seek counseling. Then after “six to nine months” of counseling for the husband “when the counselor assures you that he has thoroughly worked through this problem then the two of you can begin to go for marriage counseling” which Dr. Chapman expects will last another “six to nine months.”
Reading that leaves us shaking our heads in horror, unable to believe that a Christian leader like Dr. Chapman would actually keep a wife trapped in that kind of relationship.
Maybe one reason Dr. Chapman said that is because he believes that God hates divorce. That’s not in the Bible! What Malachi 2:16 (NIV) actually says is “The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect.” Additionally the Bible says that God HATES “a proud look, lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood. . .” (Proverbs 6:17) That’s the key elements in domestic violence.
Even Dr. Chapman begins to realize that as he concludes his discussion on child abuse by suggesting that “getting back together without dealing with real problems is almost certain disaster.” (p84) But that advice is too little too late when he has spent the majority of the book pressuring wives to get back together.
The Bible clearly commands us “not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive or is a drunkard or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people.” (1 Cor 5:11 NLT) Why does the church require wives not just to eat with these types of husbands, but also to live and sleep with them too?
Maybe that is why Jesus warned us about how religious leaders will “reject God’s commands in order to keep their own tradition.” (Mark 7:9) What has gone wrong with Christian counseling that they would even consider pressuring a wife to reconcile with a child abuser? Even the most hardcore heathen counselor wouldn’t do that! This kind of thinking has no place in the body of Christ. That is why I cannot recommend this book. Even though this book has some really good points, we cannot take the risk that it would lead to hurting one of the little ones. Remember what Jesus said about the millstone before you consider following this type of advice.