Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David Hawkins, director of the Marriage Recovery Center, will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.
Sam, a thirty-five year old man, tearfully shared how he had watched his kids waving goodbye to him from the living room window as he left the family home and moved into the apartment he rented. He was entering a land completely unfamiliar to him.
“I really didn’t see it coming,” Sam shared in his sharp, educated voice. “Don’t know if I should have seen it, but I didn’t.”
“What happened?” I asked. “Tell me your story.”
“She told me a couple weeks ago she was thinking about a separation. She said she ‘d been trying to tell me how unhappy she was for years.”
“And you don’t remember those comments?” I asked.
“Oh sure,” he said angrily, “but it’s one thing to tell me she needs change. It’s something else to tell me to leave my home, my kids, my family.”
Sam’s bitterness began to show. As Sam told of events leading to his marital separation, he was flooded with emotion—anger, hurt, sadness, even feelings of betrayal.
“It just seems like there are so many other ways Shar could have dealt with this. Asking me—no telling me—to leave is harsh. Why shouldn’t she leave? Why do I have to leave my home?”
“You didn’t have to leave, Sam,” I said. “But to stay in a relationship where you are not wanted only creates more distrust and resentment. If you want a shot at saving this marriage, making things hard on her isn’t going to help your cause.”
“It still hurts,” Sam said.
“Yes,” I said. “I don’t think there is any nice way to ask for a separation. But I hear you. There’s no nice way to receive the news of an impending separation either.”
“There sure isn’t,” he said. “Now I have to figure out if there is anything I can do to save the marriage, or if I just move on with my life. That’s what my friends tell me. If she wants a life alone, let her feel the impact of her choices.”
“I suggest we move very slowly,” I said. “Let’s consider life from her perspective and then you can decide what you want to do. How does that sound?”
“Nothing sounds good to me now,” he said. “All it sounds like is a bunch of bad options. And I know I need to try to figure this out.”
With that we spent the next several months considering his choices while also helping him process the magnitude of the quake that had hit his life.
First, consider what has happened and the context in which it has happened. Women (or men) don’t simply wake up one morning and leave their marriages or ask their mates to leave. The tumult has usually been occurring for months leading up to the request for a mate to leave. Take some time to put the event into context. Step back and try to create a story that makes sense. This will probably require professional assistance.
Second, look critically for needs that have not been met. A request for a separation is usually a drastic action to find relief from ongoing pain. We either meet needs directly and efficiently or indirectly -- and often painfully. Sam’s wife, as it turns out, had been trying to get his attention for years but he had not heard the warning cries. She had felt abandoned, neglected and ignored. Her request for him to leave was a request for space so she could consider her next move. She needed to know if Sam would really look at his behaviors that played a role in her unhappiness.
Third, take responsibility for your part in this action. While tempting to play the victim, this won’t be helpful. Though tempting to slip into bitterness and anger, these emotions, while understandable, won’t help you work cooperatively with your mate in the days ahead. Blame simply doesn’t work. What is needed is cultivating the ability to be pragmatic, accepting your part in this separation and working on those issues that have come to light.
Fourth, pay attention to her feelings/ needs. While you are flooded with your needs, remember that she has feelings about this separation as well. Mates who request the separation often have feelings of anger, discouragement, distrust and sadness. They too face a life of uncertainty and the possibility of the end of a marriage. They wonder why their mate hasn’t listened and responded to their requests for change. They feel anger if now, after a separation, their mate finally agrees to counseling and change. They distrust promises to change.
Fifth, take things slowly. Don’t panic. Don’t rush off to an attorney’s office. Don’t rush in, making promises to change. Don’t send gifts, cards, lengthy letters or make other efforts that only serve to overwhelm your mate. Don’t feel that you have to change everything in a few, short weeks. Time can be your best ally. Surround yourself with trustworthy friends who will offer needed encouragement.
Finally, be sensitive and considerate. Consider what is now needed. Pray for wisdom to know how to act. Listen. Your faith will be invaluable as you develop trust in God as a source of wisdom and strength, seeking His comfort in these troubling times. Choose healthy, wise counsel, while rejecting hurtful, insensitive counsel. Develop faith that knows this is a marathon, not a sprint. Consider there are often opportunities to save marriages with healthy responses. Certainly this is an opportunity to enrich your faith and make painful but healthy changes.
We’d love to hear from you. Share your feedback or send a confidential note to me at TheRelationshipDoctor@Gmail.com.
Dr. David Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including 90 Days to a Fantastic Marriage, Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life, and Saying It So He'll Listen. 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.