It can be hard to set clear boundaries during a trial or marital separation. This can be especially true if the spouses differ in their opinion about the need for one in the first place. Often, there is one spouse who feels that a separation is the only way to save the marriage, while the other feels that the separation is really just unnecessary and painful. Because of this, people often don’t sit down and talk about their hopes and expectations for the separation. So when issues come up, the spouses can disagree about how much involvement they might have in one another’s lives. For example, a wife might expect for her husband to still be involved in household maintenance and family life. She might be very disappointed when the separated husband pulls back on any of these issues.
For example, she might say, “I am struggling with many issues during our separation. It seems that everything that can go wrong is in fact going wrong right now. About three weeks after my husband left, the roof started to leak. A few days later, I got a demotion at my job. Then a little bit after that, my mother had an accident and is now homebound and in need of care. I’ve had to go and stay with her on the weekends and hire a caregiver during the week. I have asked my husband to move back home in lieu of all of this and he says that I expect too much of him. He says that because we are separated, I can’t expect for him to be at my beck and call or to take care of my personal issues. I told him that this is not what I am asking of him. If we were only talking about the roof, then I would not make this request. But it is all of these things combined that makes me feel as if he should move back home to care for our children when I am caring for my mother. I would also think that he would want to be there for me emotionally while I am struggling through this. We are still married. And I would certainly want to be there for him if he was struggling like this. I’m not asking him to pretend that we are still madly in love. I am just asking him to be there for his wife. Is this really expecting too much?”
I don’t believe that it is, but I can tell you that what you are going through isn’t uncommon. Separated husbands who want space will often balk or push back in response to a request that makes them think that you are trying to take that space away. Your husband may well think that you are trying to trick him into coming home before he has had the time and space that he has requested. I am not at all saying that this is true. I am just saying that this may be his perception of the truth. And that may be why you are getting the accusations that you are expecting too much.
So as I see it, you have three choices. You can just retreat and continue on as things have been. You can try to change your husband’s mind by telling him that he’s being unfair (but you risk him being even more indignant, which would possibly make things worse.) Or you could try a compromise, which is what I would recommend. You could try a reply that is something like, “I am not expecting for us to reconcile. Can we try a compromise that might help us both? What if you stayed with the kids at our home during the weekends? That way, I could be with my mother without worrying about the wellbeing of the kids and you will have your space during the week. Most separated and divorced dads get their kids on the weekends, so this not asking you to go above and beyond. This will allow you to get lots of time with your kids and I won’t have to worry while I’m caring for my mother. Despite our separation, I know that you want for me to have one less worry right now. I know that you care about my wellbeing, just as I would still care for yours.”
This does a couple of things for you. It shows him that you are not asking for anything other than what most other separated dads would do. It stresses that he will still have his space. And it allows you to point out that you still care about his wellbeing and don’t think that it is asking too much that he still care about yours. At that point, he is free to agree or not. And his response should tell you a good deal about where he is in terms of his emotional investment with you and the kids.
Most men would agree to some compromise with this. Recently separated men can be especially protective of the space that they think that they have fought so hard to get. So you can be better off if you can convince him that you are not trying to take that away, only that you want his help with the kids during a difficult situation. Your coming together and compromising right now can ultimately have a positive impact on the separation if you play your cards right. This is the better alternative to trying to convince him that he is wrong, at least in my own experience.
My own separated husband retreated further away every time I tried to make demands of him. If I had played my cards right, I would have been accommodating from the start. Since I wasn’t, I had a lot of catching up to do and our separation took much longer than it should have. I eventually brought about a reconciliation, but not without a lot of pain first. You can read more on my blog at http://isavedmymarriage.com
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