Pulling away from the Wayward Spouse is counter-intuitive. Typically, this approach feels like the last thing you would want to do. For this reason, convincing a betrayed or left-behind spouse to pull away from his/her wayward or walk-away spouse is often very difficult to do. The panic a Betrayed Spouse feels usually leads to doing the opposite – trying to win the Wayward Spouse over in various ways. The following post is a way to hopefully get the Betrayed Spouse to understand why pulling away is in the best interest of not only personal recovery, but possible marital recovery as well.
Pulling Away from the Wayward Spouse
I hope to explain and emphasize why pulling away from the wayward spouse does have a way of pulling them toward you, since most left-behind spouses have a hard time reasoning that stance. It doesn’t feel natural. This article is meant as a scientific/psychological overview. Plan B/Protection Phase/Going Dark/Letting Go are all different ways of moving the left-behind spouse from Dependence towards Independence. Each one of those methods have variances in which different people see different merits and reasonings. Having said that, they are all similar in nature. In determining the right course of action for a specific situation, it is important to view each aspect of the marriage and what has gone on before. Then, it is up to the individual to decide the specifics for themselves based on advice given, etc… (That choice should never be made based on fear, but that’s another story.) I hope this is written in a way that makes sense and helps. The info is a combination of what I learned from reading Dobson, and the model from what I learned at the New Beginnings marriage seminar weekend (which included Dr. Harley’s works). This information formed the foundation that allowed me to pull away from my husband during the times I wanted to hang on more tightly.
A Model of Romantic Relationships
First you have to think of a relationship – how one falls in love and out of love, in the following sense: On the far left side you have Independence. On the far right side, you have Dependence. In the middle is Inter-dependence all balanced on a fulcrum because our state of being is never static, it’s always changing. When two people in a couple are both in “Inter-Dependence” mode, the fulcrum (like a teeter totter) is evenly balanced. This balance is affected by various things (to be discussed momentarily.) It looks something like this:
In terms of the above relationship model, Dependence means you need a specific person in your life for you to continue your existence. You feel you would die without them. Conversely, Independence is having no need for the other person under consideration.
Dependence and Inter-Dependence
In our lives, we consider a person who lives in a state of dependence as being immature – like babies or toddlers. In adults we do not find that attractive at all! We pity people who are too needy or desperate. An independent person can exist without any one source or person. Ideally, we should all experience Independence as a single adult with the capacity to take care of ourselves. Then, we should go on to find someone to share our lives with. When we find a partner, we find that we move towards Interdependence (in a mutually exclusive relationship) because of Attraction, Acceptance, and Fulfillment. We are attracted to others based on physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual traits. We then seek acceptance, as we want the other person to “love us for who we are,” as we drop the masks we all tend to wear. Then, as the relationship grows, we fulfill each other’s most important emotional needs. (And live happily ever after, right?!) Inter-dependence is choosing to be dependent on the other person, not that you will die without him or her. In inter-dependence, if the other person ceases to exist or goes away, the other will grieve and mourn, but does not fear that s/he too will cease to exist. Inter-dependence requires emotional maturity, while dependence represents emotional immaturity. Sometimes, however, an unhealthy balance begins to set in. If one party becomes too dependent, several things happen: ISO: Isolation (focusing on that one person to exclusion of others; sole source of fulfillment – this person becomes your life); and Obsession (You believe you cannot exist without the other person). Once this dependence sets in, the fear of being unable to survive without the loved person causes the dependent person to do anything they can to keep the loved person. This usually happens with the left-behind spouse. The panic sets in and reactions to pulling away are based on fear.
Another unhealthy balance emerges when one spouse moves from Inter-dependence back towards Independence, such as the wayward spouse has done. Just as falling in love is a process, falling out of love is also a process. When a person moves backward through the stages from Inter-dependence to Independence (from Fulfillment, Acceptance, and then Attraction) love starts to diminish. Companion love may still exist, or may die out as well, but passionate love goes away as we lose AAF. This is the result of Love Busters committed and not meeting each other’s needs. The fulfillment wanes. The wayward spouse begins to feel unaccepted and then loses attraction. Sometimes this manifests in increased fighting, other times through distancing – living separate lives.
An Intuitive Reaction
Unfortunately, often the left-behind spouse, seeing the wayward move towards Independence, wishes to save the marriage and does the exact wrong thing. S/he moves more towards dependence: clinging, focusing on the wayward spouse, displaying grief and pain to the wayward spouse. These actions propel the wayward spouse faster in his or her departure towards Independence. They feel trapped and just want to get away! (Like puppies feel when you try to make them sit still in your lap!)
A Counter-intuitive Response
The more effective approach for a left-behind spouse to save the marriage is to move quickly towards Independence as well. Often, the left-behind spouse doesn’t move to Independence in emotions but must in actions. Of course the left-behind spouse still feels grief and pain, but s/he recognizes the difference between experiencing grief and displaying grief. Let grief out when loss is final. Control it when loss can still be turned into gain.
Does It Work? Why?
Why does the left-behind spouse moving towards Independence work to draw a wayward back? It’s simple if you remember the process of falling in love. First, you must renounce the immature behaviors of Dependence. Remember: people only pity dependent adults – they do not respect them. Without respect, they cannot fall back in love with that person. Second, you have to employ the things that start the process towards falling back in love: AAF: You start showing yourself as Attractive. This entails not only making yourself the most physically attractive you can be, but emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually as well. When the betrayed spouse demonstrates that s/he can function independently of the wayward spouse, s/he is VERY attractive. It shows the betrayed spouse knows his/her own worth. Most importantly, this will help the betrayed spouse heal, with or without the wayward spouse. You provide Acceptance - not of their bad behavior (infidelity or whatever else) but of their right to decide their own lives and accepting that they have chosen to walk away at that point. Then there is Fulfillment: as the person moves back through Attraction and Acceptance, he or she starts looking toward Fulfillment of getting needs met. At this point – the point of reconciliation – is when the left-behind spouse would start meeting the needs of the wayward spouse again (AND the wayward spouse reciprocates for the needs of the left-behind spouse).
It all goes back to the balance. Since a wayward spouse is moving from Inter-dependence to Independence, the left-behind spouse must move from Dependence towards Independence to adjust for the fulcrum.
Most struggle with the Acceptance part. How do you show the wayward spouse you accept the decisions made and him/her as a person without accepting his/her bad behavior? Well: you give him/her what he/she asked for, which is to be free. Yet, you also provide the consequences of that. The consequences of freedom include that you also have a right to move on. You DON’T allow cake-eating, for instance. You accept what the wayward spouse says and don’t minimize it. You act respectfully towards him/her (no longer showing anger or hurt) in interactions. Because you accept his/her feelings and decisions, you are “moving on,” and you have little to say, other than being polite and to the point. Discuss this article on our forum.