I’m still asking this question in my mind 16 months after the fact, and my husband is happily back home with me. This kind of thing has a very long tail, of that there is no doubt.
I’d like to share a bit of my experience with this overriding question as I’m sure I’m not the only one who has it running continuous loops around her brain and heart.
Mistake #1 – Getting out the photo albums! Yup, pretty much one of the first things I did in the wake of hearing about my husbands unhappiness. I even asked him to sit with me one evening and look at them. Surely if we visually reviewed the strong cords we’ve woven as a family over the years he would soften. Hard as nails – no interest shown or expressed. Felt like daggers going through my core. Did I stop there? NO, of course not, I started to place fun family photos in his way. Taped to the bathroom mirror, left on his nightstand, on his exercise gear . . . . . . . every day a new one somewhere. Often turned them over or took them down. Daggers going through my core. Where oh where was the man I knew and loved? Where was the man who poured himself into his family and loved so strongly?
Better way: Try not to look at the photo albums yourself and please don’t ask him to look at family pictures with you. His response will only hurt you further. You don’t need that.
Mistake #2 – Asking lots of questions. This simply is not the way to go when your spouse is in crisis. You are in shock and crisis yourself but your spouse has little appreciation for that because in their present state they are self focused. Sounds harsh, but anyone who has lived this knows it’s true. Your questions are natural and probably quite fair given the circumstance, but they will only serve to exacerbate your husbands determination to ‘take a break’. My husband would frequently say, “I’m confused” which lurches you into fear, also quite natural. It seems at times that he is going to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’ and that is downright scary stuff. I noticed that my husband would often answer my questions one day and contradict those answers another day.
Better way: This worked for me but only after irritating my husband for several weeks with voicing the questions. A question would form in my thinking. . . . often. I would count slowly to 5, then if I still wanted to ask it I would do another count to 5. I kept doing this in my mind until I could pray and ask God to help me deal with the question and the accompanying emotions. He would. Then as soon as I could, I’d write it in my journal. The questions are important and you can’t stuff them away, but right now they just can’t be answered.
Mistake #3 – Telling him how much you love him. What man wouldn’t want to know how much his wife loves him, right! Loving him by making his favorite foods, planning impromptu adventures, taking more interest in what interests him, making him meaningful cards, planning trips that you know he’ll love (with me – what was I thinking?!!), and telling him with spoken words just how much he means to you and how much you want to love him better and truly understand the hurt you have caused him. To be honest, I don’t think any of these things made a speck of positive difference. I would do many of them all over again because they kept my heart engaged, but here’s the thing I learned.
Better way: I went on a trip in February. Stayed with relatives I am close to. It was pretty raw at times and I was asking my male relative to help me understand what was going on. One of the most important things he told me was this, “Don’t tell him that you love him. He can’t reciprocate that love right now so you’re only making him feel guilty.” As soon as I heard it I knew that was true. From that point on I backed right off. My husband never heard “I love you” again until he actually said it to me several months later. The infrequent, brief email exchanges were informational only, but now I even refrained from signing off with Love, ______. This relieved a lot of pressure for him I believe.
You may notice some moments of what I’ll call benevolence. The MLC spouse doesn’t want to appear to be a jerk, truly they don’t want to be a jerk. Because they can’t muster any warm emotions for you they move into ‘benevolence mode’. Barely even that, but they try. My husband even told me to go buy a dog to keep me company. He was moving at the speed of light towards whatever it was he was looking for, but in that state of mind he also wanted to make sure I had as soft a landing as possible. I saw through it all and wasn’t buying, but all he heard from my lips was either “thank you”, or “no thank you”. My job was to keep a soft landing in my heart for him should he choose to change his mind. Even, or especially, in the moments when I wanted to call him a jerk.
As I tell you these things please filter them through your experience and what God is telling you. We have to remain vulnerable in order to keep our love alive, but it’s often very very painful. Finding your balance in this journey is one of the hardest things. I like this quote by C.S. Lewis from The Four Loves a lot.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”