Marriages don’t suddenly stop working, they untangle slowly. As author Judy Osborne says, divorce is a series of separations some of which are so subtle we don’t even notice when they happen.
My current guest, Elizabeth has talked about her own shift from being happy through pleasing others to pleasing herself and that created distance between her and her husband. At the same time, her husband was increasingly emotionally unavailable creating another separation. Here’s Elizabeth:
I could not get this man’s attention. I’d say, “Can I have five minutes of your time where we just sit down and have a conversation?” Towards the end of the relationship he was completely emotionally unavailable.
I know that I am an introvert so I need a lot of time by myself but I also need to be in communication with at least one person. I would say my husband was rarely that person. He just wasn’t available to it. So even though we had a long-term marriage, he wasn’t the person.
If you have intimacy, you can plug into intimacy any time you want. And it’s real, and it’s honest, and it’s available.
I knew I needed that and I wanted it in the form of somebody who was lying next to me to. I just know that I thrive in a relationship and I wanted that.
He eventually moved out. It was three years ago this past Thanksgiving he moved out. I said, “This is just not working for me.” He said, “Well, should I move out.”
What I’ve come to understand is that men don’t ever say that unless there’s somebody else. I was completely blind to that. We went into couples counseling and I would say it was four or five months later that he read me a letter saying that he was involved with somebody else and clearly had been for maybe six months or a year or two prior to that.
It was so much a pattern for him to be emotionally unavailable that I didn’t notice. It was worse, but I didn’t know why. It really didn’t occur to me.
So he’d said that he was in this relationship and then went to a program in Pennsylvania that I had gone to also, a relationship breakthrough program. He came back from that and he said, “I have to pursue this relationship” because we had been trying to work it out through counseling but he had omitted this big piece.
At that point I said, “Bless you for doing that. I need to get out of this. I want a divorce and I’m going to move on.”
That was June and we got divorced the following March.
All those gradual separations can add up and it gets to where either each spouse’s needs are now so different that there is no chance of reconciliation or where even the best couples counseling isn’t enough to reignite or reunite spouses. I guess the moral is to commit to being acutely aware of shifts and to react to them promptly, not to let things go. And I think that can be a lesson for all relationships, not just spousal but also with our friends and children.
The Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell movie, Hope Springs is on point here - excruciating, painful, sad, poignant and funny but perhaps a little too close to home for some to watch.
Recognizing that intimacy doesn’t have to include sex, can a person’s needs for intimacy be satisfied outside their romantic partnership? Is that possible or will it inevitably cause friction?
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