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Avoiding emotional separation in your marriage

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by Christie Browning

I have a superpower… well, maybe it’s more like a coping mechanism. When someone’s got me upset or if they’ve hurt me, I can channel those emotions into a whirlwind of focused activity that blows through to-do lists in a mad dash. I can scrub the house down, pound out a new blog post and even declutter the garage if I am angry or hurt enough.

Sometimes it’s helpful to “work out” some of my emotions, but let’s face it… choosing to stay on this path is not healthy. Eventually, I need to come out of my “zone” and address the pain. Let me give you an example…

It was about a year ago and Mat and I had just moved into our new home just a few months prior. We were preparing for my step-son to move in with us on a full-time basis. In the weeks leading up to the move, I had asked Mat to be proactive and make specific plans for the various details of moving in my step-son. We were combining stuff we already had for my step-son, new stuff he might need and the stuff he was bringing from his mom’s house. There were a lot of moving parts and I pushed for a plan of action. In my life, I tend to be the over-planner and it’s frustrating for me when other people aren’t as “planned” as I am. In this situation, even though Mat was being a little laid-back about the move, I was trying to be patient but at the same time, impress on him all the stars that needed to align for this move to happen seamlessly and without a lot of headache.

I don’t remember exactly what all happened… all I remember is that the wheels came off the wagon and the plan did NOT unfold because there was NO plan to begin with!!! I was so angry and frustrated. I went into my coping mechanism like a super pro- cape and all. I was only “in the zone” for a few hours before I was able to cool down and talk things through with Mat. To be fair, there were equal sides of blame in this situation. Sometimes scenarios like this may mean talking to the one who caused it, but it could also mean dealing with it in my own heart… you know, that whole forgiveness thing.

Couples have disagreements. We don’t see eye-to-eye at times. Hurtful words can be said and sometimes we do things to disappoint the one we love. We’re human.

“I’m just so mad, so hurt—again. I’m not going to share my heart with him anymore. He doesn’t understand. It is too painful. We’ll live in the same house but he can do his thing and I’ll do mine.” 

Most of us, if we are really honest, have felt this way about our spouse from time to time. We can make moves to protect ourselves that may lead us to create distance between our hearts and the heart of our spouse. It’s what I call an emotional divorce… an emotional separation that can create a hard-line division in our marriages.

I love this visual picture of emotional divorce…it sums it up well:

Imagine a solid glass patio door. Emotional divorce is a bit like slamming that patio door shut on our hearts. We still see the person on the other side, but there’s a strong, sealed panel between us. We are closed off and our hearts are shut off from our spouse. We control the door, deciding when and if we are going to open it again.

But as quickly as emotional divorce can happen in a hurtful instance, wrapped in pain and unforgiveness, it can also happen slowly over time. Stressful transitions in our lives-a move, a job loss, financial pressures, a new baby, caring for elderly parents, a child in crisis, etc., can cause emotional detachment. Day-to-day routines and hours that are packed to the brim with to-dos and appointments can create a slow division where we merely share an address and no longer share a life.

We are stressed.

We are too exhausted to communicate.

We are afraid, and we unintentionally take it out on one another.

The reality is we can all find ourselves in this trap. The good news is we don’t have to stay there. The hope is we learn to spot this trap before we fall into it.

  1. Take time to honestly evaluate what is happening when you start to see the door close on your heart. Vocalize this reality to your spouse and refuse to let yourself shut down

  2. Take steps to tear down the barrier that separates your heart from his. Begin by sharing how you feel. Make a special time to talk through these emotions and be intentional at opening yourself up again.

  3. Take it to the pros. If you feel like your communication is on life-support, go get some help from a marriage counselor, seasoned couple, from a good book or even a marriage conference. Make the health of your relationship a priority and get fierce about taking steps to bring it back to life - don’t give up.

  4. Take a moment to pray. God is for you and your marriage. He wants to see you succeed. With honest, genuine prayer solely as well as a couple, you can begin to have wisdom, perspective and revelation on ways to better things.

No matter what the scenario or circumstances, marriage and relationships are hard. You are taking two people, sometimes very different, and smashing together communication styles, fears and concerns, human behavior and insecurities, egos and pride, and so much more… no wonder this can get messy. However, when it comes to those moments when you’ve been stung, hurt or pricked… push to heal those hurts with deeper connection, not emotional isolation.

Christie BrowningComment