The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has conceded the row over gay bishops has caused serious "fractures" within the Anglican church.
Dr Williams has warned the divisions could become permanent
The church's US and Canadian branches have been told to leave a key council for supporting gay bishops and blessing same-sex relationships.
In a BBC interview, Dr Williams called on them to repent.
But he said the church was "more in marriage counselling than in the divorce courts".
Dr Williams said the position of the North American churches had come at a "very high" cost.
Some members at a church conference in Ireland last week refused to take communion with the head of the US branch.
"I think we are more in marriage counselling, than in the divorce courts," he told BBC Radio 4's Sunday programme.
"Though I don't want to second guess what the official bodies of the North American churches might do, what has been said to them is that the cost of carrying on with this particular sort of unilateral development is very high."
He added: "I think that there was expressed quite clearly a sense that these actions would fracture the communion.
"I don't think that all those who took these actions in North America fully realised how deep that hurt and fracture might be."
On Friday he warned that the divisions within the church could become permanent.
"We still face the possibility of division, of course we do... Any lasting solution will require people somewhere along the line to say, 'Yes, we were wrong'."
Anglican Church primates, or leaders, from all over the world spent last week debating the issue when they met in Newry, Northern Ireland.
The North American branches were asked to leave from the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) until 2008.
The point, Dr Williams said, was to "make some space" for all parties to consider their positions.
Anglicans have been divided since Gene Robinson was ordained as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003, while the Anglican Church of Canada upset traditionalists by blessing same-sex unions.
Gene Robinson's election as bishop angered many traditionalists
Frank Griswold, Presiding Bishop of the American Church, told the BBC last week that the ordination had been "right and proper".
"I continue to feel that way about the decision and the action - recognising that it is extremely problematic and difficult in many parts of the world," he said.
On Sunday's comments by the archbishop, gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, from the group OutRage, said: "Dr Williams appears prepared to maintain church unity at any price. Even at the price of betraying gay people and liberal humanitarian values."