When you are in the middle of a separation that you never wanted in the first place, it can be tempting to want to remind your spouse that they are still married to someone who still loves them very much. I know first hand that there can be a real worry that if they are outside of your presence, they will begin to forget what they loved about you. Or they will find that the phrase “out of sight, out of mind” is actually true.
So it may be your normal inclination to tell your separated spouse that you love them every time you talk with or see them. And this is absolutely fine – so long as you are getting an enthusiastic response in reply. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
A wife might say: “I know that it sounds desperate and needy. But I can not help it. Every time I talk to my separated husband, I tell him that I love him right before we hang up. I have done this for all the years that I have known him and old habits die hard. At the beginning of our separation, this seemed OK. But the last couple of times, I’ve noticed that he has hesitated before he gives a response. Last night, he didn’t say anything in response. I don’t mean to be dense. Obviously, he probably thinks that I am doing something wrong or he doesn’t want to hear me tell him that I love him during the separation. But not saying it feels like a lie. It feels like playing games or holding back. Am I supposed to pretend that I don’t love him? Because I find that ridiculous. I do love him. And it seems silly to me that I am not supposed to say it every day in the same way that I have for many years. Do I have to stop?”
That is really up to you. I would never tell someone what to do during their marriage or during their separation. I can tell you what came to be my opinion as the result of a similar situation that I was in. But, I know that all situations are different. So I can’t say that what worked for me will work for you.
But, during my own separation, it eventually became very clear that my husband was not receptive to me acting in the same way that I did while we were still happily married. When I tried to act as if we were any other married couple or that nothing was wrong, he would act distant or he would start to avoid me. If I pushed, it would get even worse and I would have to work very hard to even get him to take my calls. Frankly, there were times when I could almost literally feel him wince when I told him I loved him.
As hard as it was to accept, I started to realize that if I didn’t change some things, I might be making this situation a whole lot worse. So I made a conscious decision to back off some. Did this mean I didn’t love my husband? No, if anything, I loved him just as much if not more. But I knew that if I was going to have a chance to maintain that love, I was going to have to find the strategy that brought him closer to me rather than pushing further away.
And when I tried to push my love on to him, this definitely made him pull further away. So, I toned down my demonstrations and declarations of love. I told myself that this was only temporary, but it was difficult. Still, I knew what was most important was my long term goal and not my declarations of love in the moment.
My backing off did eventually make things better because it eventually made my husband more receptive to me again. And his being receptive to me meant that we got to spend more time together – which never would have happened if I had continued on with my pushing.
I can’t tell you what will work in your own situation. I can only suggest that if you notice something not working, then it sometimes makes sense to test out something else – if only once. Perhaps next time you talk to your husband and it is time to sign off, you might try something like: “tonight, I’m not going to insist that I love you, even though I do. I sense that it makes you uncomfortable. But I didn’t want you to think that I was angry or anything. I’m just trying to respect your wishes and not push.”
At this point, your husband could reassure you that the loving phrases are fine. Or, he may not say anything – in which case his silence speaks volumes. If you do decide to back off and you find that the next time you talk, he seems more comfortable, then you may speculate that backing off a little has helped.
I know that it might seem weird and almost dishonest to hold back with your own spouse. But a separation can be a very fragile time in a relationship – especially when one spouse has asked for space or isn’t sure what he wants. It become my opinion that if backing off a little is what it took for my husband to eventually be available to me, I was willing to pay that price at the time. Because I knew that it was part of a long-term strategy that was going to mean that I wouldn’t have to hold back once we reconciled.
Today, I tell him that I love him all of the time, so holding off was worth it to me. And I believe it helped. But every situation is different. In some situations, both spouses are perfectly comfortable with still saying they love one another. And that’s wonderful. But it was not my reality. Still, if every one is happy, then I don’t see any reason to hold back.