Summer is well underway but it feels different this year doesn’t it? We’re in the midst of history-changing moments and my hope is that it's creating change for the better. My granddaughters left to go back home this weekend. We had fun painting and horseback riding. My prayer is that they grow up to be strong women of God who can be confident in who God has made them to be so that they can navigate forward with strength and dignity smiling at the future unafraid.
|I am separated from my husband as a result of indifference and apathy towards my kids and my needs as well as major addiction and unwillingness to change and not really understanding a need for him to change. He comes to drop things off in the evening and I'm wondering if it's okay to sit by the fire with him or will it send him mixed messages?
I'm definitely not ok with the way he has treated us and I'm finding it difficult to discern what's best to protect myself. I don’t want to pretend everything is fine but the reality is we have 3 children together so I will have to have some sort of relationship with him. He says he has been listening to lots of podcasts including the ones I have sent him from your website and he says “it's not looking good” for him. It seems he’s just starting to understand there are major changes needed and understands the separation is long term and we won't be having any physical contact. I message him regularly with things about the kids. Not sure how to proceed.
Answer: Separation can be a confusing and murky time in a marriage because the boundaries of what’s okay and what’s not okay aren’t always clear both in our own heads, as well as in the relationship.
So perhaps a good step to clarify things for you is to redefine why you felt it was important for you to separate from him, to begin with. Was it for safety reasons? Was it for your own healing and sanity? Was it in the hopes he would wake up and want his family back? Some of each?
Once you’ve clarified why you separated, ask yourself the next question. Do I want reconciliation? If so, then define what is needed for that to happen? What is your work to do? What is his work to do? What is marriage work to do? Write all those things out in as much detail as you can for your own benefit (not necessarily his).
The reason I ask if you want reconciliation is that sometimes the destruction and damage is so great that trust and safety can never be completely repaired. If or when you move back together and attempt to do marriage and you still live afraid of danger or harm, this is NOT how God wants you to live or to be married.
Let’s assume that reconciliation is your desired outcome. Therefore, your other questions can now be looked at. First, you say that he comes over frequently to drop things off. So since he is there and you have three kids together, would it be okay to invite him to sit by the fire? Or, you wonder if that will send a mixed message to him?
Some of my answers depend on why you separated in the first place. If it was for safety and/or sanity reasons for you or the kids, then I think it’s confusing both to him, to you, and to your kids, for you to initiate fun family times. Is anything different now from when you separated? Why would you invite him in for a family fire, if you asked him to leave the home? It does sound confusing. I understand him wanting to see the kids for visitation time and you working together to make that happen, but as you described, that’s not what’s happening.
You indicated one of the reasons you separated was his apathy and indifference towards you and the kids. When you invite him into “family time” aren’t you still initiating his work to do and enabling his own apathy and indifference to continue? If he’s not taken steps to repair or rebuild a relationship with you or the kids, what’s any different than before he left? What’s going to change? As long as you continue to over-function, he will under-function. Yes, the warmth of the family fire time can make it appear that things are better when in reality things are just the same as they were before you got upset and asked him to leave. If he can depend on you to make “family time” happen, why should he have to do any of his own work to talk with his kids, visit with them, initiate a phone call, or take them somewhere?
The second reason you said you separated was his addiction that he sees as no big deal. I don’t know if this is a substance addiction which makes allowing him to drive the kids someplace else more dangerous or a sexual addiction he acts out in private but perhaps you feel safer with him as a parent when you can supervise some of his contact with the kids. Many women get into this situation where their husband “drops” to see the kids instead of taking them to his place or doing something with them alone. This is an easier way for him to have contact with his children, especially if he doesn’t have a separate residence. However, here is how you can make it less confusing for him, for you, and for the kids.
If he wants to come over to see the kids (and you’re okay with that), then let him spend this time with the kids, not you. You do something else. Go read a book, fold wash, call a friend, play solitaire, or hearts on the computer, do ANYTHING but family time with him. His visits will quickly fade if his main purpose was to come to be with you in a lazy man’s kind of way. When he can enjoy family time, even a home-cooked meal and then go drink, drug, or watch porn, be as indifferent and apathetic as he’s always been, he’s still living the same life he’s always lived, only now with more freedom and less responsibility. That isn’t helping him or your marriage. Don’t enable that.
Your work is to continue to get clear on what is okay with you and not okay with you. As he’s listening to some podcasts you say he’s becoming more aware that “It’s not looking good for him.” I’m curious what that means to him…and if I were you, I’d probably ask him. “What does that mean?” Not in a snarky way but in a curious way. Does it mean he’s being convicted that he can’t have an amazing family life and live recklessly and indifferently towards those he says he loves? Or does it mean “I resent you for holding me accountable to change?” You’re not really sure, and maybe he’s not even sure and won’t dig deep to ask himself unless you invite him to.
Your last question, “How do I protect myself?” I’m not sure what you need to protect yourself from, but my sense is you might need to protect yourself from yourself. Your own wishful thinking, unrealistic hope, or believing he’s changing when he’s not. I’d encourage you to join a support group of other women who are also in this journey of growth and greater healing. You can get on the waitlist for CONQUER which will open again early September. To be reminded when conquer registration is open, click here. Or contact your local DV shelter as they often have support groups for women, although, with the COVID-19 virus, I’m not sure how they are meeting with the women these days. But you can call and find out. Also, get an accountability partner who can help you “Guard your heart above all else for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:23). Your heart (Biblically) is not just your emotions, it’s your mind, your energy, your thoughts, and your will. You need to stay focused on the changes you wanted to make, and the changes you need to see in him for reconciliation instead of getting enticed by the lure of a warm fire and a friendly moment.
Friends, if you have separated, how did you guard your heart against wishful thinking or actions that would confuse the situation?