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Posts tagged ‘discernment in relationships’

Marriage Q&A: How Do I Stay Distant Without Being Cold Hearted?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick/Kim Caloca

How Do I Stay Distant Without Being Cold Hearted?

by Kim Caloca

Question:  This is a follow up question from the blog two weeks ago on Four Ways To Create Emotional Distance in a Destructive Relationship.

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She asks:  How do you detach or distance without becoming cold or hard-hearted? It seems the more I pull away, the tighter my husband tries to hold on. It is so exhausting, playing this tug of war.

Also, how do I differentiate between acts of kindness that are the shaky beginnings of real change and being fooled by token acts of kindness that are deflections from working on the real issues? My husband has also told me that I don’t ever give him the benefit of the doubt or acknowledge his changes. I try but sometimes I just don’t see it or it doesn’t seem to last. Then it’s my fault because I wouldn’t give him a break. I also really liked the “Stay Well, not bitterly” advice. Very wise and encouraging but can you give me a few more tips on how to do it?

Answer:  First I want to take the pressure off.  Not everyone can stay well and that’s why we must not dictate an identical biblical path of change that every person in a destructive marriage must walk.  As I said in last weeks’ blog, living with a destructive and angry individual can take a huge toll on you physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally and spiritually.

I’ve worked with women who could barely get out of bed due to severe autoimmune disease like fibromyalgia  and when they finally had the opportunity , support, or resources to leave their spouse, their body began to heal.

Sometimes the price is too high to stay, or it is not possible for you or your children to stay well. Your body is breaking down. Your spirit feels depressed or suicidal. You are given no freedom to be separate, to grow, or to thrive on your own.  Perhaps you’re drinking too much or popping pills just to be able to live in the same house with a destructive person. In those situations for your own safety and sanity and that of your children, you may need to consider your other healthy option  — to leave well.

For many people in destructive marriages, how much they can handle and how bad is it are not easily discerned. Therefore most people’s first choice is to try to stay well, but your question is how to do it? You also asked how do you emotionally distance yourself from your spouse without becoming hard-hearted or cold?  That is the essential component of being able to stay well.

Many women do not use their words and body language effectively to communicate clear and consistent boundaries.  They’re uncomfortable using their voice or when they’ve tried, they’re dismissed, mocked, or overruled.  Sometimes when they speak up for themselves they’re told they’re being mean, selfish, or sinful.

When this happens again and again we feel angry and it’s tempting to stop talking, shut down and become resentful and bitter.  Our heart gets cold and hard. We no longer use words, but our body language communicates loud and clear, “Don’t’ mess with me!”

The other problem a woman experiences when she doesn’t express strong negative body language is that often her husband starts to think everything is better between them.  He tries to get affectionate, expects sex, and can’t understand what’s wrong? Why have you pulled away?

Therefore if you want to stay well, AND not get stuck in bitterness and hard heartedness yet you do want to emotionally distance yourself, you will need to practice living from your CORE – so that you are:

– Committed to honesty – no pretending

– Open to the Holy Spirit and wise others to help you grow

– Responsible for yourself and your own responses and respectful towards others without dishonoring yourself

– Empathetic and compassionate (where appropriate) without enabling destructive behavior to continue.

To do that successfully you will need to continue to use your words to communicate why things aren’t better between the two of you.  You will need to use your words when you don’t’ want to engage and why you have emotionally distanced yourself.  I know – this grows tiring because he’s used to ignoring your words or discounting them. It may feel easier just to look angry and get cold and resentful.

To not do that you will need to stay focused on your CORE, no pretending, responsible for yourself, respectful towards others, and empathetic and compassionate without enabling.  Here’s an example of what you might say with your words.

“I understand you are hurt that I don’t want to have sexual relations with you right now. That would be hurtful to anyone who is married (E- Empathetic without enabling). The reason I cannot return to our bedroom is because I feel distant from you. I talk and you don’t hear me. I tell you what hurts me and what bothers me and you don’t care and you don’t stop it. I am a person too.  Why would I want to be with a man who clearly shows he doesn’t care about me?  If I say yes to you, I dishonor myself and end up feeling like an object that is used rather than a wife that is loved.” (No pretending).”

You can deliver those words in a neutral voice tone with polite body language. That is emotionally and physically distancing yourself without having to be hard hearted or cold or bitter.

When he approaches you again for something wifely, you can say something similar, “I don’t know how to meet that need of yours without pretending and lying to myself and that is something I refuse to do anymore. Nothing has changed in our relationship and I am more than willing to do my part, but I cannot do your part.” 

Boundaries and consequences will show him much more clearly what the problem is between you instead of a cold and hard heart. 

The second part of your question is how do I handle it if he shows acts of kindness? Do I believe that these are small efforts toward real change or manipulative tactics to make me back down and dance to the same old dance?

Most of the time you won’t know for sure.  I would encourage you to give your spouse the benefit of the doubt and reciprocate to the measure of their effort.  So if your spouse brings you flowers, smile and say “thank you.”  That was nice of you to think of me.

Being kind towards him or even grateful he did something wonderful doesn’t mean everything is better or that there are no more problems in your marriage, or you don’t’ have to go to counseling anymore.  It just means you acknowledge that he is making an effort  to think of you and you acknowledge or appreciate that effort.  Only time will tell whether his efforts continue, especially if he expects his beginning efforts to be nicer to make huge differences in your relationship with him.  Flowers, dinner and a movie, or cleaning the toilets are wonderful gestures but they alone don’t heal years of deceit, abuse or infidelity.

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In Chapter 11 of my book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, I talk more about how to stay well or leave well.  You may also want to view my short videos Why Consequences Are an Important Wake Up Call for Destructive Spouses and What to Do when There is No Change.

[After Divorce] Do’s and Don’ts in Your New Relationship

SOURCE:   Kathy Leonard/www.divorcecare.org

If you are confident that you are spiritually and emotionally ready for a new relationship (and your pastor and other mature Christian friends agree), these practical suggestions could help you avoid some problems that often lead to remarriage failures.

 Don’t date people whose divorces are not final

Gary Richmond, author of The Divorce Decision, advises: “Your very first question for the other person should be, ‘Is your divorce final?’ If the answer is no, then avoid that person like you would avoid the plague because anything could happen. That person could go back to his or her first mate and reconcile (this happens more often than you would think). You could also get enmeshed in their legal problems, which sometimes never find an end. You have no idea as to how long you will have to be dating a married person, and until the divorce is final, you are dating a married person, and it’s not appropriate.

“Also, this person is not healed. The reality is that a person whose divorce is not final is not going to need anything but nurses and doctors for a while, and you, if you’re wise or well, don’t need to be dating someone who is sick. You’ll catch it again.”

You may be tempted to date a person who is still in the divorce process. That person may seem strong and well. Perhaps he or she has been in the divorce process for over a year. Every reason stated above by Gary Richmond is an excellent reason to avoid that relationship or to put it on hold. Remember how easy it is in the divorce process to push down hurts and losses and to try and put a Band-Aid over wounds instead of facing them and feeling them. True healing is difficult; it takes a relationship with Jesus Christ, and it takes time.

Now, more than ever, you need to be completely in touch with God. Spend extra amounts of time sitting quietly and listening to Him. Pay attention to wisdom from God’s Word, mature Christian friends and Christian books. Surrender completely to Him: “Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field” (James 4:8 The Message Bible).

You may feel that this relationship is right. Be sure that your feelings line up with God’s plan for both of you. Your relationship will be better, stronger and deeper if you both follow God’s plan and pursue it in His timing.

Do make a list of character qualities that you require

The next suggestion to help you develop a successful new relationship is to make a list of character qualities that you require in a person you want to develop a relationship with. You are worth every good quality that you list, and God wants the best for you. If the new person falls short of some of these characteristics, then you need to prayerfully consider if God is leading this relationship.

After you have listed good characteristics, then list the qualities of your former spouse that drove you crazy in the first marriage or that were just plain wrong. The person you date or marry should be mostly free of these qualities. Do not fool yourself into thinking you will feel different this time because it is a different person.

Gary Richmond says, “It’s a fact that we are drawn to the same type of person over and over again, which means you have to make an effort to say, ‘I will not be drawn to this kind of person again. There is going to have to be more substance of character, and I’m going to have to view that.'”

It is easy to fall back into old patterns of thinking and behaviors when seeking a new relationship. Think carefully about Gary Richmond’s statement that says, “There is going to have to be more substance of character, and I’m going to have to view that.” Be certain that the new person has demonstrated time and time again the strong character traits that you have listed as prerequisites for a relationship with you. For instance, if honesty, dependability and no abusive language are character traits you feel are crucial in a mate, then give the relationship ample time for you to discover if the person is honest, if he or she can be counted on and if he or she uses encouraging and supportive words. Don’t ever compromise your beliefs when you choose to be in a new relationship.

Follow the advice of Matthew 5:37 when it comes to standing by your beliefs: “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” If God wants you to have a new relationship, He has a person planned for you who is kind, godly and true.

 Do pay attention to the parental relationship

When you are considering a new relationship, be sure to examine how the person you are interested in relates to his or her parents. “Honor your father and your mother as the LORD your God has commanded you,” says Deuteronomy 5:16, “so that you may live long and that it may go well with you.”

Gary Richmond suggests that you “take a close look at that person’s relationship with his or her parents. It will be a reflection, not only of the parents’ relationship with each other, but also of that person’s respect for elders and for the opposite sex. If you see an emptiness or loneliness in the parental relationship or if you see disrespect, then you’ll know the person you are dating may not have the skills to relate to you the way you want to be related to.”

And you, in turn, may need to consider how you relate to your own parents.

 Don’t marry a person in debt

If you are seeking a new relationship, make sure you know how well the other person manages money. You should not marry a person who is deeply in debt. Wait until the bills are paid off.

“If you are really wise, you will look carefully at the financial practices of the person that you are getting intimately involved with,” admonishes Gary Richmond.

Financial management can be a difficult subject in any relationship, but it is important to discuss money and not be naïve in a new relationship. Especially if you are considering remarriage, your new partner should be open with you about his or her financial practices, debts and investments.

God’s Word on debt is, “Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another” (Romans 13:7-8).

 Do understand your differences

You should also examine the similarities and differences between you and the other person.

“You need to look closely at having some things in common. If all you can base your relationship on is physical attraction, it just will wear thin in the same way that a roller coaster gets increasingly less exciting the more you ride it,” says Gary Richmond.

Some things in a marriage are extremely important to have in common; for instance, your beliefs about God, ideas about raising children and convictions about honesty, commitment and faithfulness. It is also important that you share interests, hobbies and ideas about how to spend free time. You do not need to or necessarily want to share every activity with your mate—you are a unique individual with special talents and tastes—but you do want to be able to have meaningful and stimulating conversations about more than just your relationship. The person you are interested in should not only be a romantic interest, but also a friend, someone you have things in common with.

 “A sweet friendship refreshes the soul” (Proverbs 27:9).

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