TheRelationshipCafe 04/15/08

Abandoned in Marriage

God is relational and He has created us to be relational as well. We were created to be in relationship, and marriage is one of the highest means by which God has ordained the meeting of our relationship needs.

Given the way we were created, it is no wonder that one of the most excruciating pains we can feel is abandonment in marriage. Joined together physically and spiritually, drifting apart feels terrible. The person with whom you have shared your heart and soul no longer cares to communicate with you.

Sadly, this scenario is not unusual. Thousands of couples are married on paper, but live detached, loveless lives. These couples pass each other on their way to work and while performing duties with their children. While they may sit next to each other in church, appearing related, their home is filled with silence and rejection. These couples often don’t eat together, have stopped praying together long ago, and rarely share humor or future dreams. Their meals are filled with an awkward silence or perfunctory conversation. Physical intimacy is a thing of the past—and is never talked about!

Do you remember the story of the frog that boils to death after sitting in a pan with the heat slowly rising? Many couples are like that frog, sitting in water slowly heating up, telling themselves that things cannot be as bad as they seem. For most, the problem is insidious, occurring gradually over many years. They began drifting apart long ago and didn’t take precautions or remedial action. Perhaps one partner suggested counseling, and the other resisted. The drifting continued, until they reached a point of crisis.

Abandonment in marriage is a silent killer. Many sufferers don’t complain about the problem until it is too late. Many move ahead with their lives, acting as if nothing is wrong, tolerating the pain. This is called denial—denying the severity of the situation; denying the pain they are experiencing; denying the fact that the situation will not remedy itself; denying that this situation can lead to the complete collapse of their marriage.

Studies suggest that two out of three marriages which dissolve are initiated by women who are tired of feeling emotionally ignored and rejected. Filled with unexpressed anger and resentment, feeling that their complaints fall on deaf ears, they finally seek relief by leaving the marriage.

The problem, of course, is not exclusive to women. Many men are frustrated that their wives are working long hours, come home feeling irritable and distracted, and they, too, feel the love and passion draining out of their marriage. Abandonment in marriage has reached epidemic proportions!

Consider this recent letter I received on the subject.

Dear Dr. David. I have been married to my husband for twelve years and we have two children. My husband is a workaholic and puts his work above our marriage. We haven’t taken a vacation in years, and his children are growing up hardly knowing him. Our physical life is non-existent, and when I bring this up to him he gets defensive, telling me things will get better, which they never do.

I am tired of trying to get my husband to be emotionally involved in our marriage. I have tried confronting him, but he only gets defensive. It puzzles me that he seems content, when he must be feeling as empty as I am. Does he not feel the same rejection I feel?

I am ready to give up, but wanted to know if there was anything more I could do before leaving the marriage. Thanks for your help.

This woman voices the feelings of thousands of other men and women who are married on paper, but not connected to one another emotionally and spiritually. What can she do to get her husband’s attention?

First, it is critical that he know your feelings. While it may seem amazing to you, he truly may not know how serious things are. His capacity for denial and tunnel vision may be huge, especially given the fact that he is a workaholic. By definition, his primary energies and focus are on feeding his addiction—work.

So, it’s time for the most serious talk you’ve ever had with him. Arrange it at a time when you’re both likely to be tuned in to one another, without distractions. Then, lay it out for him. Things must change if the marriage is to survive!

Second, prepare what you want to say to him. Don’t enter into this conversation overly emotional, or unclear. You must know exactly what you’re asking for, and say it. Tell him specifically what it is you need. What must change look like? Again, be specific. If you want him to be home for dinners every night, say it. If you want to go away once every three months for a getaway, share that with him. If you want to sit down every night for at least fifteen minutes to “connect,” make that clear to him.

Third, let him know the urgency of the situation. He has been able to deny the severity of the situation up to now. It is critical that you make it clear that your marriage is in desperate trouble. Don’t mince words—say it clearly, calmly, but with urgency. This is his chance for a wake-up call. Let him know that his marriage is in jeopardy.

Fourth, you need professional help. Insist that he attend counseling with you. Make it clear that a little bit of help is not what the doctor ordered. Minor changes are a recipe for future frustration. No, it’s time for change. Your marriage is in trouble—he must hear that, and understand that you cannot fix things yourselves.

Fifth, consider the ways you’ve enabled things to stay the same. Please don’t hear me blaming you for the state of your marriage. However, my hunch is that you’ve found ways to anesthetize your pain, and now it’s time to expose your pain. You will need the energy of your sadness, rejection and anger to insist on change. Don’t keep settling for half-measures, empty promises and being pushed aside. No more excuses.

In my book, How to Get Your Husband’s Attention, I discuss the myriad ways women often reinforce men’s distancing behaviors without intending to. It is critical that you understand any behaviors you use to “keep the peace,” rather than insisting on change.

Sixth, get support for yourself, and ask your support group to hold you accountable for change. You need to make very difficult decisions and will need support as you lead your husband and marriage into restoration. It will be tempting to slip back into old patterns, settling for less than radical change. Ask your friends to help keep you on track. Choose your counselor/ psychologist carefully, finding one who will help you take significant action.

Finally, make it clear that you are telling him this because you care about him and your marriage. Assure him that your motives are for the restoration of your marriage. Let him know you are willing to work on your marriage, and will put energy into creating the missing passion. But, insist on change.

I would like to hear from others on this issue. Have you experienced detachment and abandonment in your marriage? What have you done to help the situation?

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