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Breaking Out of Marital Limbo

  • Dr. David B. Hawkins Contributing Writer
  • Updated Jul 31, 2007
Breaking Out of Marital Limbo

Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family?  Dr. David will address two questions from Crosswalk readers in each weekly column. Submit your question to him at

Dear Dr. David,

My husband and I are separated, but not divorced yet.  Much water has passed under the bridge between the two of us.  I originally asked him to leave and thought I wanted a divorce, but have since realized how stupid I was and how much I love him and want to make things work.  In the very beginning he wanted to stay together and go to counseling.  He has since decided he doesn't love me anymore and wants to divorce.  I have apologized for my part in all this and admitted to being too quick to decide to split up and asked if he would come back home and us go to counseling.  He said ‘no.’ Yet, he still calls from time to time and will ask me to go out with him, which I do.

When we’re together I find myself saying nothing. This is so confusing and hard.  I guess my question is ‘What do I do from here?’  It is so hard to act like nothing is wrong and we are kind of dating and that's all, while we are really married and on the verge of divorce.  I can see where it doesn't bother him if he doesn't have feelings for me anymore.....but makes it really hard on me.  But, I keep thinking maybe he does, just doesn't want to admit it? Why else would he still be calling and wanting to spend weekends together? HELP......I have no idea what to do.  I just know I can't keep on like this in limbo world.  It is exhausting.  ~ Living In Limbo

Dear Limbo,

I can see why you feel like you’re living in limbo—because you are. The key is to ‘get out of limbo,’ and it looks like you’re going to have to be the one to initiate that.

Let’s look at how you keep yourself in limbo.

First, stop beating yourself up for decisions made in the past. You’ve apologized for your actions and now you need to move on. You made the best decision you knew to make at the time, probably for very good reasons. Yet, in hindsight, you regret your choices. You are keep yourself in limbo by not forgiving yourself.

Second, have a ‘Determine The Relationship’ talk. Any of us would be confused by someone who said he didn’t love you, wanted a divorce, but still wanted to date and spend weekends with you. You need to have a frank discussion with him—“either work on the marriage or stop coming around.” His messages are not only confusing, but insensitive. It is quite possible that he is using you for his own emotional or physical gain, without considering how it’s impacting you. You keep yourself in limbo by accepting any or all of his confusing messages.

Third, stop exhausting yourself by wondering and guessing as to his motives and actions. Listen to your feelings and consider changing your actions. We don’t know why he’s doing what he’s doing, but you can change what you’re doing. You keep yourself in limbo by guessing what he’s thinking and why he does what he does.   

Fourth, stop enabling his contradictory messages by avoiding serious conversations. Every time you hear a contradictory message, and do not confront him, you enable this dysfunctional relationship. Every time you avoid making the unspoken, spoken, you enable the dysfunctional process. You keep yourself in limbo by not speaking out about the problems.

So, finally, take action, set healthy boundaries, and get out of limbo. It’s time to get out of limbo. Courageously talk to him, though you might not like what you hear. Make difficult decisions that will move you forward in your life. These actions will bring the problem to a head, and you’ll know soon enough if he’s willing to talk about serious matters, work on your marriage, or if you need to say a painful ‘good-bye.’ Please get my book Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage for more strategies on how to live beyond a broken marriage.

Dear Dr. David,

You receive so many emails from people who are frustrated by their marriage, and aren’t sure they can continue to cope, that I thought I’d write to offer encouragement.

After years on the roller coaster of “better and worse,” God told me to give it a year and if it didn't bear fruit to cut it down.  Well, it's been a year and, while the fruit isn't abundant, there is at least some, so we're still moving on.  I knew that I was just as guilty as she was and everything she'd done, I'd done.  If I was going to forgive myself, I had to forgive her as well. 

I've been praying that God will mold us to be different enough that we'll stop feeding off of each others weaknesses; that we'll come to a place where we can hold each other up and strengthen each other in our weaknesses.  Just as we all continue to grow in our relationships with God and none of us are ever perfect, my marriage will never be perfect and will always be growing.

I'm reminded of the movie, "The Last Samurai".  In one scene, the character of Katsumoto is standing looking at blossoms on a tree, and tells the character of Algren that you could spend your entire life looking for a perfect blossom and it would not be a wasted life.  In another scene, as Katsumoto lay dying, he sees a tree full of the same blossoms in much the same way as one's life flashes before one's eyes and says, "Perfect.  They are all perfect".  Visually, they may have brown spots or places where a bug has eaten a piece or be, from our perspective, imperfect, but they were made the way they were made.  My wife and I are, from a human perspective, imperfect, and are certainly not perfect in the sense that God is perfect. We can't look at the brown spots and decide that that blossom isn't perfectly made in the image of God. 

While we're certainly not done, we're in progress.  Healing is still coming for me as I will accept it.  We've overcome spousal abuse on the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual levels, adultery and drug abuse, have found forgiveness and love and are continuing to honor the commitment we made to God. I hope you can use my story of marital redemption to the benefit of some of the couples you see or some of the readers that write in to you.  Thanks for taking the time to read and reply.  God bless. ~ Committed

Dear Committed,

I’m sure many will be touched, as I was, by your note. Just when we feel like giving up on our marriage, God reaches in and reminds us that no one is perfect. We’re guilty of doing to our mate those very things we complain they’ve done to us. We must forgive him/ her as well as ourselves and allow God to strengthen our weaknesses and use us as instruments of peace for our mate.  

David Hawkins, Pd.D., has worked with couples and families to improve the quality of their lives by resolving personal issues for the last 30 years. He is the author of over 18 books, including Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage   Saying It So He'll Listen, and  When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You. His newest books are titled  The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Healing a Hurting Relationship and  The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Living Beyond Guilt.  Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.