Therapeutic Distancing


Earlier this month, I wrote a post entitled Truly Miserable?, in which I basically told some readers that they aren’t ready to follow my blog; after all, I said, it’s only when you are truly miserable in your marriage, when you recognize that you can’t take anymore, that you decide to NOT take anymore. Until then, you will take it. Readers of my blog know that this is no new revelation. After all, I’ve even created my own abbreviation to describe this, and wrote a post about it: IYADWYAD, YAGWYAG™.

A husband made a comment to that post saying that in 25 years of marriage, talking to his wife about their problems didn’t work because she always attacked him, turning his words back on him in anger. With tongue only half in cheek did I respond “If talking doesn’t work, try walking.” And then I promised him that I would write a post about Therapeutic Distancing.

This is that post.

Emotional Distance

First off, let me begin by saying that this post is not for newlyweds or even semi-newlyweds. I am addressing my ideas and suggestions to spouses who have been/are in long-term marriages in which sexual refusal and/or gatekeeping are the norm. If you have not worked through different stages and steps in trying to work on your relationship, go back and read my Addressing The Sexless Marriage series, and start working with less confrontational methods to change your marriage.

Now, to you guys who have been made Truly Miserable and truly need to heal from the emotional soul damage and emasculation that has been done to you by the constant refusal, let me say this:

Take a standing eight count.

It used to be that when a boxer was in trouble, a referee would separate the fighters, sending the aggressor to a neutral corner and doing a standing-eight count for the other, all the while trying to assess the boxer’s ability to continue to defend himself. (Why this was discontinued, I’ll never understand. After all, Benny “Kid” Paret. Amirite?)

Unlike boxing, marriage does not have a referee. When one spouse has taken so much damage that s/he can no longer function in a healthy manner, they need to step back and take care of themselves without the “threat” of continued damage, hurt, and pain. Therefore, you are going to have to give yourself the Standing-Eight Count. You are going to have to give yourself permission to disengage emotionally from your spouse, in order to back off to safe levels of interaction.

“That’s not Christ-like!”

Really? Why is it Christ-like to submit to emotional abuse, but not seen as unChrist-like to decamp a situation marked by physical abuse? After all, Jesus stayed and “took it,” on Calvary, didn’t He? And no, I’m not saying that wives need to stick around for more beatings. I’m just wondering at the theological foundations of the belief that marriage vows are “godly bonds” that bind a person to emotional destruction, to the point of wanting to die.

In what has become a must-read for many marriages, Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend explain the need for emotional distancing:

Emotional distance is a temporary boundary to give your heart the space it needs to be safe; it is never a permanent way of living. People who have been in abusive relationships need to find a safe place to begin to “fall out” emotionally. Sometimes in abusive marriages the abused spouse needs to keep emotional distance until the abusive partner begins to face his or her problems and become trustworthy.

You should not continue to set yourself up for hurt and disappointment if you’ve been in an abusive relationship, you should wait until it is safe and until real patterns of change have been demonstrated before you go back.
~ Boundaries, Cloud and Townsend

By the way, if anyone wants to niggle about defining emotional vs. physical abuse, I’m going to cut you off with a request that you read a recent post by Chris Taylor, at her Forgiven Wife website. The guy in the post is not unique; I know of others to whom dying has appeared as a preferable option.


This I can’t even begin to tell you, because I don’t know your exact situations, and each situation has its own gradation of emotional pain. What I can tell you is that you need to examine your situation and relationships, and identify triggers. Yes, sexual refusal is going to be high on the list, but there are other actions/inactions that are triggers, also.

I’ve read where guys are saying that they seek chemical castration because they can’t take any more rejection. I’ve read where guys say that they are lonely, as there are no signs of affection. I’ve read about guys who are drawn into their wives’ drama with, well, …the world, when you come down to it. I’ve read about guys who feel like they are their wives’ servants, and treated as lackeys.

Because these are all different, I can’t give a blanket one-size-fits-all suggestion. But I can say this: to help create emotional distance, re-learn two words: don’t and no.

This is the word you keep telling yourself. When you see yourself going down old ways that have always led to hurt, tell yourself Don’t! Don’t get involved with her drama with her family, the church, the choir, or whoever. Don’t try to protect her from the consequences of her sin, and don’t automatically support her in her sin. Don’t cover for her with others and don’t try to shield her from the consequences of her bad actions.

This is the word that you will use to distance yourself from your wife. If a roommate status has been imposed on you, live as an equal roommate. You’re not married to a Sheldon Cooper, so don’t tiptoe about your house and cater to each and every whim. If need be, you might even take the roommate idea to its logical conclusion, with separate bedrooms, etc.

Like I say, I can’t tell you how to go about distancing in your situation. But what I can say is this: whatever your “normal” is, whatever causes you pain and emotional distress, simply unplug from it. Take your figurative headphones, unplug your figurative phonejack, and, as I told the guy earlier this month, . . .

“If talking doesn’t work, try walking.”

I come back to this advice. Remove yourself to a neutral corner and take your standing eight count. Use your iPod and your Bible to retire to another room to carve out separation for your recuperation. If need be, visit a separate church; after all, if you see yourself in any of the situations I’ve described, you’re a patient and not a doctor. Find time and space to receive ministry.

Last of all, go to Amazon and read the first two chapters of Cloud and Townsend’s Boundaries (cited above). If you see yourself and your need in there, buy the book ASAP. As well, if you have not done so, register to participate on the Marriage Bed forum (link provided in the sidebar to the right), and ask the board veterans about Boundaries and setting boundaries.


1 Comment

Filed under Marriage & Sexuality

One response to “Therapeutic Distancing

  1. Object of Contempt

    When I started reading this blog, I had some difficulty accepting the kind of advice you are offering in this post. Over the last few months I haven’t commented much because of the turmoil at home. About 2-3 months ago I began to detach emotionally from my wife. It isn’t exactly what this post was written about here, but it is close. I don’t want it to go on permanently; I can’t live like this for a protracted amount of time. Nevertheless, I have finally begun to benefit from it.

    I wish I could say that I see some improvement in the marriage. I’m not dealing with the stereotypical contentious, nagging, belligerent wife. Mine is more of the quiet, martyr. There is a lot of covert emotional abuse that is hard to detect and harder to describe. Communication is disingenuous and evasive with lots of stonewalling. Improvement would really require her to give up on a life based on contempt. I don’t see it happening without an enormous miracle, especially since church and family contribute to the problem.

    Julie Siebert’s quote about “christian principles” resonates with me. Although, I don’t think of them as christian principles. I think of them as christian cultural corruption. The latest counsellors I’ve tried to work with seemed like they’d be helpful. They have have degrees from conservative seminaries and came across as being reasonable and sensible. The truth is they are willing to undermine husbands. They demanded that I forgive automatically without repentance (not okay especially in an abusive environment) and get rid of my “wrong emotions”. At the same meeting (5 elders in the room) my wife was caught flat-footed and admitted to one instance of humiliating and defying me blatantly, and none of them thought that was worthy to address. Not one word was said about that. I do not control my wife; I am sensitive. This is probably why she married me. She knew she would probably be able to control *me*.

    In the end, the detachment has helped mostly because the distance allowed me to regain a sense of dignity. Standing up for truth and respect in my marriage against my wife, her family, church members, has been difficult and painful. It was worth it, though. I have a sense of dignity because I didn’t give in to suicide, lies, cultural delusion.

    I don’t mean to say that I’m happy now. I have symptoms that are consistent with long-term emotional abuse. (Complex-PTSD) This hasn’t been treated and it is frustrating to say the least. The detachment, though, has given me a chance to breathe and rid myself of misperceptions (at least some of them).

    Liked by 1 person

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