If you are thinking about leaving your partner, this page of information was designed for you. First, there are a couple of terms we will use to describe you in your marital crisis situation – you are called the decider or leaning out partner, and if that sounds right for how you are feeling, then you’re probably feeling like this:
You have reached a breaking point in what you are mentally and emotionally able to tolerate in your relationship. You are so full of anxiety and disgust when you are in your partner’s presence, that you have come to feel an urgent need to get away from them, but at the same time you probably don’t really trust yourself to make decisions right now, and you don’t want to do anything permanent that you might later regret … so mainly you need to time and space to get your wits together. At this point, you have either told your partner how you feel, or are contemplating doing so.
The first thing you need to know is, yes, if you are feeling so stressed that you can’t stand to be near your partner right now, it may very well be best to separate at this time, and I have a plan for how to do that called Managed Separation, which I designed for couples to separate with a plan and a purpose. I highly recommend that you implement that sort of plan if you separate, so that we don’t allow this situation to turn into a very unhealthy, chronic limbo recipe containing indecision, angst, and lack of action, and believe me, that happens all the time.
You will find more information about a managed separation plan on this web site on the Managed Separation page.
The other option you may find helpful before you decide whether or not to separate is a relatively new concept in family therapy called Discernment Counseling.
This intervention for couples on the brink was designed and perfected by Dr. Bill Doherty, a respected Marriage & Family Therapist and researcher at the University of Minnesota. Doherty recognized, as many of us have, that something completely different from traditional marriage counseling was needed for couples whose marriages are hanging by a thread – as those of us who work with couples in crisis know well that leaning out partners such as yourself are in no mood to work on the marriage– what they want and need, is space.
On this site you will find a page devoted to information on Discernment Counseling. This is a maximum 5-session plan where couples agree that at the end of the five sessions one of three paths will be chosen:
1. Stay together and keep the marriage as it is.
2. Separate and work toward inevitable divorce.
3. Spend a dedicated 6-month period to focus on marital repair, after which a decision will be made to end the marriage or reconcile.
Doctor Becky guides and manages both Managed Separations and is trained by the Doherty Institute in Discernment Counseling, so she is prepared to help you through your marital crisis whatever path you choose.
For now, you may just want to consult with Doctor Becky on your own so that you may weigh your options, but whatever you decide, we provide every intervention known to help you make a well-thought out plan for your marital crisis.
Please know that your feelings are likely to be all over the place in the next days, weeks, and months, and that is why we will be suggesting that you take time before making permanent plans at this time such as filing for divorce or even saying things to your partner that might do lethal damage. It is very important right now to slow yourself down as you go through this process because quite frankly, you are not in a mental state that what would allow you to make wise decisions.
So my immediate goal for you right now would be to
1. Design a plan to give you the space you need,
2. Get you in therapy to be working on your feelings and to clearly understand what has been going on in your life to cause you to feel this way,
3. Make sure that we don’t make a bigger mess than we already have.
4. Create a marriage crisis plan for you and your partner that will ensure you make the wisest decisions for your family.
Affairs and Infidelity
Doctor Becky has been doing marriage crisis work a long time and knows that the vast majority of people who feel like you do right now, making you a leaning out partner, either has someone in mind or is already engaged in some sort inappropriate relationship with someone else – unfortunately it is human nature to find a sort of stepping stone person to unhappily married people through the breaking apart process.
When DECIDERS come Doctor Becky’s office, she will tell them that she knows most people have a third person distracting them, and 100 percent of the time they will insist there is nothing or no one they are talking to or having a relationship with, AND 99.9 percent of the time we will all find out later that they were not telling us the truth. Just know that Doctor Becky knows that people who are having affairs lie about it 100 percent of the time, and they will not admit it unless presented with absolute proof. This truth completely hampers the entire process of effective marriage crisis management.
So know that if there is another relationship that you are keeping secret, you will be found out, and finding out later always does more damage than finding out in the present, especially if you have children. If you and your spouse came into Doctor Becky’s office for marriage crisis counseling, and she saw that you were leaning way out of the marriage, she would be asking your partner – the rejected person — if they had seen or noticed signs of an affair. She would also tell them to keep their eyes open for things like that.
Why? The reason is that sooner we get down to the truth and the full knowledge of what we are dealing with, the sooner she can truly help you.
Of course, no matter how horrible your marriage is, there is no justification for cheating, nothing good ever comes from it, and the relationship you formed on lies and secrets almost never works out over the long term.
We also want people who are having an affair to really think about what they are doing, and the pain they are causing others, not just to your partner, but to your children, your family, and friends.
So without judgment, we need you to know it is much healthier to just be honest and forthright, even if the truth is very unpleasant, so please, please seriously consider ending your extramarital relationship if you are having one, and if you choose not to, we urge you to lay the truth out on a table for your therapist and your partner so we can know what we are dealing with.
Understanding Your Rejected Partner
Now, back to your relationship with your partner, and how to handle him or her as you pull away to find some space for yourself during these very important days in your relationship.
When you pull away, your partner is going to freak out — There is no way around it, it always happens, so prepare yourself for it.
When you pull away, either by becoming distant or by making an announcement that you think you may want to separate or that you don’t think you love your spouse anymore, it is going to set off panic alarms in their brain that will almost immediately cause them to go into a state of fight or flight – their brain is going to be telling them they are in immediate danger.
That panicky feeling is caused by adrenaline and norepinephrine being released into their system … this causes immediate physical reactions –– their heart will race, their breathing will increase, their blood vessels will constrict, their muscles will tighten, and the result will be that their body will experience a stress response all over.
Once any person experiences the horrible feeling of fight or flight, they will hate it and want it to be over right away. Remember, in a car wreck, that feeling usually goes away relatively quickly, but in a marriage crisis, it can last a very long time. So I am hoping you can find some caring and empathy for the person you are pulling away from, your spouse, even though I am sure that person has done plenty to earn their way into you wanting to get away from them.
This phenomenon I’m talking about – when we receive shocking relationship news or awareness – is referred to as Attachment Panic, because the thing that is causing the fight or flight reaction is that you –– that person’s significant other, are someone they are deeply attached to, even though the relationship has plenty of issues.
You are pulling away, and they can sense it, feel it, and maybe even see it. So in my office, when I am talking to people who are experiencing this, Attachment Panic, they nod their head yes – confirming that these are exactly the sort of feelings they are having, so I am sure if you are in a relationship crisis your partner is feeling much the same thing, or will soon be feeling it when you reveal the extent of your unhappiness and tell them that you are making plans to take action to step away from the relationship.
Know that when you do that your partner will experience the Attachment Panic, and it will trigger obsessive thinking about the situation you are in. Whereas the day before your partner might not have been thinking that much about you and what were doing, now that’s all they can think about.
Even worse, self-control will become extremely difficult for your partner. They may feel the urge to be near you as much as humanly possible, or now they may want to do all the nice things for them that they have not done in a long time, they may want to write letters, call, text or keep track of your every move, and I know that from your perspective, right now that is the LAST thing you want or need.
So now we have one spouse who wants to smother, and another spouse who wants to get away and have breathing space.
We want you to treat your partner with compassion and caring during their Attachment Panic phase, but we also do not want you to mislead them or give them false hope at this time. In fact, this is a time for you to be kind, but firm, so you will be saying something like, “I am so sorry you are hurting, but I need time and space right now, so we are going to go through Discernment Counseling or separate right now, and we will do it with a plan and purpose, and that is non-negotiable. I promise that we will take the time and make the effort to make a thoughtful and wise decision about our relationship moving forward, but right now I am asking for you to please allow me to have the space and peace that I desperately need.”
Doctor Becky knows what you’re going though and that is why she created the Marriage Crisis Manager web site, because it is during moments like these that your Marriage Crisis Manager, also known as, Doctor Becky, becomes invaluable … she is available to coach and consult with you and your partner about how to make it through this process in the best way possible, while making the best choices and decisions for you and your family.
As you get your space in the coming days or weeks, it is absolutely imperative that you be in counseling and do some soul searching about yourself, who you are, what you want, and also do a complete an honest inventory of what has happened to your relationship from both sides of the coin – yours and your partner’s.
I am sure you know you have made mistakes, and it is time to look at yourself about what you have done to contribute to the mess you are now facing.
So this is great information that we have given you, the person who is The Decider, in your marriage crisis. Please let us know if we may help you through these uncertain days, weeks, and months.