My wife and I have been married almost 11 years and we have two children, ages 8 and 5. She recently told me she wanted a divorce. After pleading with her and meeting with our pastor, she agreed to a two-month separation and will not seek a divorce until at least the end of the two months. What she is asking for is some space to sort out her feelings. I am trying so hard to give it to her since thatís what she wants, but it seems impossible not to go to her and want to hug her, kiss her or just tell her how sorry I am for neglecting her emotions and that I will never do it again. I want to give her space, ask her to come to church with me, seek counseling and profess my feelings for her, but when I show her my love and commitment it only seems to push her away. I donít want to get to the end of two months and feel like I didnít do enough. So, Iím asking:
1. Do I give her complete and total space or ask her to work with me instead of separately?
2. If I try to give her space, what are some ways I can try to keep myself from 'pushing' her into our marriage and commitment to each other, children and God?
I am totally confused and I'm sure you can tell I absolutely do not want the divorce or the separation. Please help me!
Dr. Sherman's Reply:
Thanks for writing in with this issue. Though many times itís the guy who wants space, regardless of gender when this type of concern arises, it certainly can be a difficult and frightening one.
Clearly, I can hear your desperation. Itís understandable that you feel that by giving your spouse her space, youíre doing nothing. It may seem that by allowing her to have a chance to sort some things out, you havenít done all you can. However, what you are doing is respecting her wishes.
Though you do not spell out the conditions that may have led up to your wifeís apparent dissatisfaction, you do state that you will not neglect her emotions again. That is why itís imperative you respond to her need now, even though it is so difficult for you. To not do so will merely send the same message of neglecting her emotions.
There is hope in the fact that she has agreed to not seek a divorce and wait for two months. During this time period, I would suggest the two of you go for marital counseling. When you suggest it, do so by accepting responsibility for wanting to learn how to make the marriage work. Admit that you are open to learning the necessary skills to have a better partnership. I would recommend presenting this not in a demanding, pushy way, but as something for her to consider.
As hard as it might be, refrain from the behaviors you mention, like hugging and kissing and even telling her how sorry you are. Additionally, donít even tell her you wish you could hug or kiss her. When someone needs space, these will come across as needy and not meeting the request.
I know that when someone is in the position you are in, the advice I am offering might seem unbearable. But, if you can back off, thereís a really good chance she will come forward. Itís almost like a dance. When she does come back toward you, be careful not to jump in too quickly; rather, follow her lead and move at her pace.
Other couples have been down this road and have gotten back together again. Hopefully, you will too!
Karen Sherman, Ph.D., (www.drkarensherman.com) is a practicing psychologist in relationships and lifestyle issues for over 20 years. She offers teleseminars and is the author of "Mindfulness and the Art of Choice: Transform Your Life" and co-author of "Marriage Magic! Find It, Keep It, and Make it Last." You can sign up for her free monthly newsletter with relationship tips at www.ChoiceRelationships.com