Healing and restoring an ailing marriage require both husband and wife to put work in their relationship. Their work may include going to counseling either alone or together, reading books and articles about marriage, attending relationship seminars, and applying their learning and realizations in the relationship, among others.
But what if you’re the only one putting all the work and your spouse doesn’t seem to care and respond at all? What if your partner is emotionally abusive, narcissistic, and manipulative? Should you continue on saving the marriage and be the only functioning spouse? But at what cost?
Studies reveal the impact of a toxic marriage on the physical and psychological health of spouses who are holding on. These spouses experience depressive symptoms such as loneliness, poor or increased appetite, restless sleep, and deep sadness. These then could contribute to their low quality of life.
Stressed spouses are not the only ones suffering. The children are also another casualties of these long-standing conflicts, especially if they witness intense and heated arguments. It can give them the feeling that the home and the family is not a safe and warm place to be. Consequently, it can cause them anxiety, depressive symptoms, behavioral problems, low self-esteem, academic challenges, among others.
Apparently, it does no good to anyone involved when only one spouse is working on the marriage.
When holding on is causing too much pain and leaving physically is not (yet) a viable option, then emotional detachment is one way to protect yourself and your children from the detriment of a painful marriage. These are the ways on how you can detach emotionally:
1. Accept your spousal needs and begin to realize that your partner can’t meet them
As a spouse you have emotional needs from your partner and marriage. One of these is security and safety to be who you are and to express yourself in marriage.
It should be safe for you to share with your spouse that you are happy, sad, angry, stressed, scared, and vulnerable. You trust that your partner accepts and honors your feelings, and can provide you with the support and affection that you need.
In a toxic marriage, the basic exchange of sharing and receiving emotional support is almost impossible. It’s probably because your spouse is unable to emotionally attach, refuses to work on your marriage, or has some personality disorder that causes him/her to be emotionally unavailable.
As hard and as painful as it is, you need to realize and accept that you cannot depend on your partner to make you feel emotionally secured, loved, and important. Continuing to hope may prolong your agony and may make you fail to take the necessary steps in doing what is right for you.
2. Be grateful of the good times
You will not last this marriage if it’s all negative in your relationship. Yes, walking down the memory lane there beautiful moments between you and your spouse. But then, you have to ask yourself, “how many percent in your relationship was the positive and negative?” Was it 80-20, 70-30?
If your marriage is only comprised of 20% positive which happens far and between, can you live with those?
According to Dr. John Gottman healthy relationships have 5 is to 1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. This means that healthy spouses interact positively with eaxh other 5 times more than they interact negatively. So if emotional disconnection or verbal aggression dominate the life of your marriage, then think about it.
3. Beware of the breadcrumbings
Imagine yourself in perpetual state of thirst. Your spouse would only give you a sip of water every now and then. A sip will not quench your thirst, but for you, it is better than nothing. This will make you hold on for more, want for more. It will also make your desire for your spouse stronger.
Realize that there is more to life than this. It maybe hard to believe at times, but you deserve to have your emotional needs met.
4. Focus on yourself instead of your marriage
For years, your attention, efforts, and emotional energy have been focused on your spouse and your marriage. Now is the time to shift your focus inward — on yourself. The goal is to to take charge of your well-being by increasing your self-worth and self-esteem.
There are many ways on how you can do this. Emotionally, you may enlist the help of a therapist/counselor and explore personal issues that made you hold on to a toxic relationship. It can also pave a way for you to look into the future with hope for positive changes. Alternatively, you may join online support groups and write on a diary.
Intellectually, you may enroll yourself on courses that will improve your knowledge or skill in an area of your interest. Do you like to further your studies? Do you like to improve your coding or programming skills?
Financially, you may embark on creating an online business of your own or study how to invest in stock market. You may also explore on how to monetize your current hobby and skills.
Physically, you may register on that yoga or zumba class near you. You may also want to do a makeover to symbolize a new you.
And spiritually, you may deepen your relationship with God and join religious organizations in your church. Meet different people who have desire to serve God and lead Christ-centered lives.
These can add meaning to your life, increase your self-confidence, and have a more positive outlook in life.
5. Avoid talking to your spouse about the status of your marriage.
Thinking about other ways to improve your marriage and discussing these with your spouse means that you’re still emotionally invested in your marriage. And when you do this you’re taking your attention and energy away from your efforts of personal healing and development.
Another is, it could mean that you’re still hoping for the better days to come. Maybe it will happen or maybe it won’t. That better day will happen when your spouse has the initiative to come to you, make you feel secure, communicate with you openly, and make behavioral changes. All these, without you pursuing him/her. Until that day comes, there is no marriage to work on, there is only YOU to work on.
6. Confine your conversation on responsibilities regarding the children and the house.
Limit the content of your conversations to superficial matters only. For instance, only discuss about the activities of your children, the maintenance of the house, and other household matters. Sharing your internal life such as your thoughts and feelings can make you vulnerable to your partner.
Also, avoid requesting or responding for any bids of connection. Bids of connections mean calling your partner’s attention. You do this by sharing how your day was, asking if they have eaten, showing an interesting video, opening up about your stress. When you do this, you want and hope to be known, heard, and supported. Thereby, being vulnerable to a likely rejection.
7. Do not have sex with your spouse
Being physically intimate with your spouse will just stir those longings within you. Thus, avoiding intimacy is one way to guard your heart.
8. Look for a new primary attachment figure.
Our attachment figures are people whom we give and receive emotional support and safety. Think of the role of a mother to a child. The mother here is the primary attachment figure of the child.
She listens when the child has something to say, she comforts when the child is distressed, she praises when the child did something well, and she provides support when the child has goals to achieve.
When we marry, our spouses become our primary attachment figures. But in a toxic marriage, they are unable to provide a listening ear, comfort, praise, and support. As human, you are wired for attachment and connection, and you will look for this. That is why you need to look for healthy and supportive relationship that will somehow fill the attachment void left by your spouse.
You could look to friends who you regularly meet or converse with you. These friends know you inside-out and can give you the feeling that you’re in this together. Alternatively, you can join spiritual organization who can act as your spiritual family.
Another primary attachment figure is having an intimate and daily conversation with God, being aware that He walks and listens to you every minute and every hour. You can have a diary with Him, tell Him everything that happens to your day, the thoughts and feelings that swept you. He is loving, steadfast, loyal, and will never leave you nor abandon you. You can always count on Him.
Having an attachment figure can give you the feeling that you are not alone and that someone is holding you in their hearts. This also helps you emotionally safe and secure.
As a warning though, never have an attachment figure with a friend of opposite gender. This can likely lead to emotional affairs, which will surely complicate your life further.
Effects on your children
A journey to personal growth may make you feel more content, happier, and fulfilled. This can spill over to your relationship with your children. You can then create a stronger bond with them.
According to a study, a supportive relationship with at least one parent or adult can protect the child from the negative effects of marital conflict.
There are instances when you’re only resort is emotional detachment. Your marriage is not healthy for your well-being anymore, yet separation is not a viable option for some reasons. Emotional detachment can also lessen the fights and shouting matches with your partner, which can be witnessed by your children.
There is a big possibility, that emotional detachment is just your first step to freedom. With proper self-care, healing, and personal development you will have the empowerment, happiness, and independence to decide what is right and healthy for you and your children.
This has confirmed and given examples of what’s consistent, in a typical toxic marriage.
Thanks for sharing,
Thank you so much for this. I have been in an empty marriage where my partner is unwilling/unable to emotionally connect or stand up for me. We’ve been married for 22 years and have 2 wonderful children. I have battled this for over two decades but have finally accepted it will not change. I read your article regularly to remind myself how to stay detached as I know now that there is no hope for change. I want to develop and take care of myself now instead of focusing on this situation and a man who does not and cannot change. I look to God and Jesus for all my needs. Thank you again.