Tag Archives: Separation

How to Deal with the Silent Treatment

It seems that quite often in the process of working with an obstinate spouse, one encounters the “silent treatment.” This can manifest in many ways. The obstinate partner might stop talking to his or her spouse if they live together. If they are separated, he or she could stop answering the phone. In more severe cases, the obstinate spouse might attempt to block the phone number and/or email of the faithful spouse, or try to erect other barricades in the way of communication.

Fix Your MarriageThink of this as the last line of defense for an obstinate spouse. it is very much like a toddler sticking his fingers in his ears, pretending as if you aren’t really talking. It is very childish and highly immature behavior, and certainly not something befitting an adult.

The right approach here is not to give up and walk away. The right approach is to persevere and to continue to try to reach out to the obstinate spouse. The onus really is on the faithful spouse, for to walk away would be to assent to the obstinate spouse’s agenda, and the obstinate spouse’s agenda typically only has one goal: the destruction of the marriage.

You’ve got to be a bit creative when dealing with the silent treatment. It also helps if you’ve built up a store of goodwill through other acts of generosity and loving kindness.  Otherwise, if you were to start from absolutely nowhere and suddenly begin reaching out several times a day to a spouse who is giving you the silent treatment, that could come across as lacking in credibility and possibly even manipulative.

So what do you do? Well, if you are lucky enough to have built up some goodwill, and have established lines of communication with the spouse already, then you simply continue to reach out as you always have. (I’ve mentioned Marriage Fitness before, but if you want to learn how to do this in a practical way, please do visit their website.) This could be idle chitchat about something frivolous, if your spouse lives with you, and it does not matter at all if he or she responds. If you are separated, then you call to do the same. If you were doing this, say, two times a day before the silent treatment hit, then continue with that level of contact. Don’t ramp up suddenly.

If you had no pattern of communication, well, that likely could have been part of the problem. You will now need to establish these habits. Take it easy at first, and go slowly. One contact per day will likely be enough. Over time, you can escalate this to two, or three contacts per day. Your contacts should not be logistical, but should rather just be about frivolous, non-serious matters. Keep it brief, too — 30 to 60 seconds is usually enough.

You can expect pushback; that’s normal. If you’re not sure what to do about that, just read my post about pushback for some ideas. What’s most important is that you do not let the pushback derail you. You can tone it down and back off a bit, especially if you are new to the process of trying to reach out to an obstinate spouse. If, on the other hand, you’ve been at it for a while, then you really should not back off much, if at all. You are responsible for setting the tone, and that tone should be that you will establish and maintain open lines of communication.

I do think that attitude is one of the most important elements in dealing with the silent treatment, yet it is also one that is much harder to quantify. While it’s easy to describe the attitude an obstinate spouse might throw at his or her spouse, how does one describe the attitude one should take in return? I would say it is one of gentle, yet firm insistence. Your attitude simply has to be that you will communicate with your spouse, regardless of his or her behavior. You certainly can be sensitive to your spouses feelings and maintain this gentle-yet-firm insistence. You’re not looking for confrontation; you’re looking for positive connection.

Here’s what I did in this most recent round of silent treatment. As noted in an earlier post, this latest spate of silence began with a rather petulant request by my wife to stop calling her and to leave her along. Now, I already had some months of positive connection and regular phone contact with her — yes, I call her 3 times per day, even if it just goes to voice mail — and so my approach was simply to ignore her request and to continue to reach out as I had been doing for many months. She apparently did not like this very much, and shut off her cell phone, shunting everything straight to voice mail, even to the point of letting her voice mail box get totally full. This required a bit of creative thinking, so I found an iPad app that does voice recordings, and on occasion would make a recording that I’d send by email. Or, perhaps instead I’d send a short video I’d made of something or other. The whole point is that you do have to gently insist on there being no “space” between yourself and the obstinate spouse. This should make sense: if this is your husband or wife, you likely had a heart connection with him or her for many years, and it is exactly this connection you need to recreate. That connection knows no such thing as “space,” either physical or emotional.

Remember, it takes two to play the silent treatment game. Just don’t buy into it. You can change the tone and set the agenda, such that the course is set for reconciliation. It takes time, effort, perseverance, and wisdom, but it is totally achievable if you put your mind and heart into it.

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Separation does not work

I’d like to thank a recent visitor to this blog for prompting me to write this post.

When a relationship crisis strikes, the marital environment can get pretty toxic. It can become difficult for the spouses to suffer each other’s company. There may be tension, arguments, the “silent” treatment, and even fights. I have personally experienced all of these things. None of them is pretty. Given such circumstances, it might seem logical for the spouses to separate from one another. It’s likely that most well-meaning family and friends would advise this, and indeed many so-called marriage “professionals” would advise this as well.

Many of you know that I am a Marriage Fitness practitioner. Core to the concepts and practices of this program is to avoid separation insofar as is possible. I feel so strongly about the benefit of what I’ve learned from the program and how to deal with my own unwilling separation from my wife that I feel compelled to duplicate the link to their website again, right here, in most clear (and perhaps obnoxious?) fashion. Please, please, please make this website your first stop if you are dealing with separation.

Click here to visit the official Marriage Fitness website.

Just do it. It will saver your marriage. So please, just do it: go there and check it out. Remember folks, I’m not a huckster. I just really believe in this program and will stand by it 100%. I personally know of situations involving separation — or worse — that have totally turned around because of the positive impact this program has had on the marital situation, despite obstinacy, affairs, separation, etc. But I digress…

Separation is a terrible, terrible idea. It accomplishes nothing. It puts physical distance and emotional space between yourself and your spouse, and all that distance and space will do is to further erode your connection with your spouse. Feel your relationship is distressed now? Well guess what — separation will make it worse. A lot worse. If your spouse wants to disconnect from you, then that will happen in a hurry if you separate. If your spouse wants to have an affair, then that will quickly follow the separation. If your spouse is having an affair, then that affair will almost certainly escalate if he or she leaves. (There is a silver lining to this, though: the affair could very likely blow up a lot sooner as a result.) If your spouse is thinking about divorce, it becomes a whole lot more likely that this will happen if you separate. If your intention is to reconcile your marriage, then separation complicates everything and achieves nothing.

Yes, you should ignore the well-meaning friends and the credentialed “marriage” counselors who would advise separation. They clearly do not have the best interests of your marriage in their hearts.

Now, don’t get me wrong: you cannot force your spouse to stay with you, but you should do everything within your power to try to prevent an impending separation. This does not mean that you should plead, threaten, or bargain. Words are useless at this point. You will need to show your spouse that you want him or her to stay through your actions. You will need to make positive changes in the marital environment, through both working on yourself — the aspects of your behavior and person that led to the marriage breakdown — and through learning and employing the best possible relationship skills and habits. This is really the only way to stop a separation.

The problem is that sometimes even this doesn’t work. You can do everything right, and still your spouse ends up determined to leave. In fact, it often appears that it is because of these changes that your spouse decides to separate. Please don’t let this confuse you if this happens. What you’re seeing is nothing other than a fairly potent form of pushback. It’s typically a sign that you are rewriting the story your spouse has been telling him- or herself, and that story could be months or even years old. It most certainly will be old enough for your spouse to thoroughly believe it. So it comes as quite a surprise to an obstinate spouse to see you suddenly change for the better. Your rewriting of that story challenges everything he or she believes to be true about your marriage, and that’s a difficult place to be. The human ego seeks desperately to preserve itself at all costs, and it doesn’t take well to existential shocks that truly and experientially define its boundaries and definitions.

So what do you do if you’ve done everything right and your spouse still wants to separate? Well, you might just have to accept that separation is a temporary station on the journey to reconciliation. It happens that way sometimes, and it has happened that way for me as well. You don’t want to participate in, encourage, or facilitate that separation in any way, if you can help it. Make it clear that it is not your desire that he or she separates, but that you have no control over your spouse’s choices and have done and are doing your best to understand your spouse’s feelings and concerns. You also absolutely must make it clear that your spouse will always be welcome in the marital house without any judgment or conditions whatsoever. This is very important, because your spouse will need to come home at some point. If there’s an affair, the affair will end. If it’s obstinacy, that ice will melt. If it’s divorce proceedings, your well-directed efforts will likely bring those proceedings to a halt.

If you unwillingly end up with a spouse that separates, don’t fret it too hard. It’s still possible to pursue reconciliation despite the separation. You can reach out to your spouse in virtually all the ways that you could if he or she were still at home. (See the Marriage Fitness website for resources on how to do this — they have a whole program that is oriented around this and other kinds of difficult situations!) It may likely take longer to get to reconciliation, but you can still get there nonetheless.

This perhaps another question open: what if you were the person to separate? Maybe life at home was too painful or too difficult, and you felt like you simply had to get out to make the situation more bearable. The answer is simple: if you really want to reconcile your marriage, then you have to return home. You have to move back in. And you’ve got to do it now. Not tomorrow or the next week, but now.

Separation hurts, it’s painful, and it’s ultimately pretty useless. If it’s happening to you, don’t despair, because you can turn things around. If it is looming over your situation, don’t freak out, because you can change the momentum. Please make sure that you check the resources page on this website for links to helpful, marriage-friendly sources of information, inspiration, and guidance.

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Someone reaches out

I received a phone call from a colleague today. I had been meeting with a client when he called, so I only saw his voice mail once the session had wrapped up. I checked the voice mail, and this colleague seemed very concerned about my well-being. Judging from the message he had left, it sounded as though he had heard some news about the situation between myself and my wife.

I have known this colleague for about 15 years. He is an older gentleman in his early 80s, and sharp as a tack. I have worked with him for much of the past 15 years, and consider him a trusted colleague. He also knows my wife, as the three of us have worked together; she met this colleague through me about 9 years ago, and eventually started working with him as well. As far as this colleague was concerned, my wife and I had been having a model marriage. Until recently, that is.

I wasn’t really in a space to call him back, and had about a half-hour drive to get home. On my way back, my mind went through all the gyrations as to how this colleague might have learned of our situation. The first culprit that came to mind was the “friend” my wife spent several months living with  — the one who lives about two blocks from us, and who has been, in my view, Adultery Enabler No. 1. My wife considers this woman a “true friend,” and I suppose this is because she is one of the few people who does not challenge her agenda, but rather actually appears to support it. My mental gyrations included hashing out the conversation I’d be having with this woman, telling her how her behavior had violated my privacy and how she had therefore stepped over a line of professional decorum that is, well, common sense. You just don’t talk about other people’s private matters with people in that person’s professional circle.

Once I arrived home, I had a few minutes to relax, and then decided to call this colleague. He was very concerned, and said he was sorry to hear about my situation. I told him I was fine, but was unsure what he’d heard, or whom he had heard it from. He said he hadn’t heard anything specific, but had pieced his assumption together from a variety of evidence; he had also recently had a meeting with the aforementioned Adultery Enabler No. 1, whom he had asked about this situation, and this woman basically protected my wife by saying she didn’t really have any information to share. (Neat, huh?)

I told my colleague that I meant no offense, but I considered this to be a very private situation that simply was not an appropriate topic of conversation. He has been divorced twice (and about this said, “and didn’t learn a damn thing from either one”) and understood and was respectful of my privacy. I told him that all he really needed to know was that I am married and intend to stay married, and that I really could not say more out of respect for my wife’s privacy. We then discussed business.

After that lengthy discussion, he just wanted to make clear with me that he had understood me correctly: I’m married and plan to stay that way. I assured him this was the case. He said he had not heard anything specific from anyone about our situation, but it sounded like there was a separation that was ongoing, and that he had seen all sorts of Facebook pictures that seemed to support this. He said there were “hundreds of them” (this could be a bit of an exaggeration), and that they were pictures of nature, jewelry, or other things that my wife found to be beautiful or interesting. He described this as a sort of “cry from the darkness” of a person who seemed to be desperately reaching out to others in a vain attempt to find happiness.

We spoke briefly about spirituality, and he asked me if I thought it appropriate if he reached out to her. He feels himself guided by the principle that others should have the opportunity to attain happiness, and that he just wanted to reach out to her somehow. I asked him what he had in mind, and was pretty clear that there wasn’t much advice I could give that wouldn’t overstep the boundaries of privacy and decorum. He said he really intended nothing other than to reach out to her to say that she was loved and that others were concerned about her. I told him that, if this were the message of  his heart, I could see no harm in expressing that, since the intention seemed quite pure.

So, I find this all quite interesting. This man has been around the block many, many times, and he could clearly see from the pictures my wife has been posting that she just seems to be very unhappy. I consider him an ally in this situation, and am quite certain that he would not say or do anything inappropriate. I’m not sure that, if he were to reach out to her, that this would be the wake-up call that she needs, but it could be one little hole that needs to get poked into her story.

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It’s been a month

It was a day very much like today, a beautiful, clear, sunny day. It was the kind of day in which the air is so clear that the mountains, though some forty miles away, seem like they are right next to you. It was a day for picnics in the sun, walks through the park, or letting the dog splash around in the water. Except on that day she moved out.

It’s really hard to believe that it was 30 days ago. The pain of that day is still so fresh right now. There are other things that have happened recently that keep that pain fresh.

It’s also hard for me to believe that this marital crisis I have been enduring has been going on for over six months now. Six months. That’s crazy. A half a year already. It is really a testament to the childish egotism of the obstinate spouse that they can hold a position for so long, especially when it’s an unwinnable position like adultery. At least children give up faster. Adults, on the other hand, have much more elaborate ego narratives to maintain.

It’s frustrating at times, and infuriating at others. There are times when I feel peace and times when I feel unease. There is also a lot of pain that comes and goes. Yet I know that this situation is ultimately impermanent, and that at some point in the fairly near future all of this pain and frustration will be a thing of the past.

“An affair is like a bribe.” This was advice I received recently via my marriage reconciliation program. It’s like a bribe in that it clouds the adulterer’s judgment: they say and do things that would never have occurred to them otherwise. It’s as if the whole world is viewed through the tainted lenses of the affair. This is the so-called “affair fog.” It can be very thick and somewhat stubborn to burn off. But it does eventually burn off, and when it does, it is said that the adulterer begins to see the whole world through new eyes. I do not doubt that this is true, although I have no direct experience of this yet.

What I do have direct experience with is my wife’s stubbornness. She has always been like this. Stubborn, stubborn, stubborn. She will be the last person in the world to admit she is wrong. Honestly, although she has always been this way, the love that we had between us softened those hard edges and made it possible for her to open up to me, to admit defeat, and to feel vulnerable. However, over the past few years things have become more difficult between us, and the stubbornness became a kind of wedge. Now that I’m trying to get us to reconciliation, she is doing everything she can to keep that wedge there.

Why would she do this? It’s simple: when that wedge vanishes, she will be right back to square one, and will have to confront all of her issues head on. None of her issues has changed one iota, and in fact most of them have gotten worse. The wedge keeps her in the fairy-tale world she currently inhabits, where adultery really isn’t immoral, so she needn’t feel guilty about anything she has done, is currently doing, or plans on doing in the future.

Okay, okay, okay. I know I go on and on and on about adultery on this blog. In a way, it has defined too much of my life over the past six months. What I really need to go on about is reconciliation. But I’m not there yet. I’m trying my best to get there. The frustration arises from the knowledge that I’m doing all the right things, I’m staying the course, and I’m holding the vision, but despite all that (or probably more accurately, because of all that) my wife is still digging her heels in and trying to get her way.

What she’s beginning to see, I think, is something that is probably very disturbing to her: no matter what she tries to do to discourage me, I remain as determined as ever to get us to that point of reconcilation. I think this is hard for her to fathom. She is the the determined one, not me. I go with the flow. That was one of her biggest beefs with me, too, that I was not motivated enough to do things. She looks at herself and thinks, “when I have a goal, I just go for it.” So now there are two of us who are determined, but only one of us has the power of virtue on our side.

That’s what will help me be victorious.