When I filed for a divorce, one of the reasons I cited was "marital abandonment." That sounds like a clear-cut case, right? He walked out the door and never looked back. But that's not the only way a spouse can abandon their marriage.
There are other, more subtle forms of abandonment that can be just as devastating. Physical abandonment, attentional abandonment, emotional abandonment, and spiritual abandonment can all erode a marriage and leave one partner feeling alone and unsupported.
Physical abandonment can happen even when two people are still living in the same house. It can take the form of reduced affection, touching less and less over time. Sometimes it's a literal turning away when one partner seeks attention, leaving the other feeling rejected. Other times, physical abandonment occurs in a more subtle way, a slow decline over time.
Physical abandonment can also be sexual, where one partner desires sexual intimacy and the other continually rejects their advances. Even when this rejection is due to valid concerns (such as illness), the partner who desires physical contact can feel abandoned.
For many of us, touch is an important part of feeling loved and desired. When that touch is removed from a relationship, it can be a devastating blow to our self-esteem.
We all want to be seen and heard, especially by the person we love. Attentional abandonment occurs when we feel invisible in our own home, when our spouse's focus is directed elsewhere for extended periods of time. This can happen after the birth of a child, when the infant becomes the sole focus and the spouse is moved to the periphery. It can also happen when one or both partners are focused on work, ailing family members, other people, or hobbies.
Every marriage goes through patches of attentional abandonment, especially when outside responsibilities take priority. But when it becomes habitual and energy is continually funneled outside the marriage, it can be a serious problem.
Without attention, a marriage, like a lawn, will wither. Whatever you nurture, grows.
When we share our emotional state with our partner, we're making ourselves vulnerable. When the response is dismissive or lacking, it can leave us feeling stranded and unsupported. When this is a continual pattern, it can lead to withdrawal and a lack of trust.
A lack of emotional connection weakens a marriage and can lead to a situation where two people are living alongside each other instead of living with each other. In a healthy marriage, each person should feel like they can count on the other for support, both physically and emotionally.
This type of abandonment can be as clear as one partner renouncing the faith that was a cornerstone of the relationship from the beginning. But it can also be more subtle. All relationships have certain key values and goals, and when one person in the marriage no longer holds those same guiding principles, it can leave the other feeling discarded.
Of course, everyone has the right to shift their values and priorities over time. But if this is done without open communication, it can lead to feelings of abandonment in the other partner.
No matter what the intentions of our partners, we all can feel rejected sometimes. But there are ways to limit our reaction. When changes happen abruptly and there is no discussion of the situation, our feelings of abandonment are more likely to be intense. If we feel like we understand why the withdrawal is occurring, we are less likely to take it personally and view it as a desertion of the marriage.
How to Deal with Marital Abandonment
Dealing with marital abandonment is undoubtedly an incredibly challenging experience, but it's crucial to recognize that you're not alone in this struggle. Here are some human-like suggestions to help you cope during this difficult time:
1. Allow Yourself to Grieve: It's completely normal to feel a whirlwind of emotions – sadness, anger, confusion, and betrayal. Give yourself the permission and space to process these feelings. Take time to mourn the loss of your relationship; it's a vital step in the healing process.
2. Seek Support: Don't hesitate to reach out to your support network. Talking to friends, family, a therapist, or joining a support group can provide you with emotional solace. They not only offer a listening ear but can also assist practically, whether it's with childcare or household chores.
3. Take Care of Your Well-being: Pay attention to your physical and mental health. Ensure you're eating nutritiously, getting enough rest, and engaging in regular exercise. Discover activities that bring you joy and help you relax – taking care of yourself is paramount during this period.
4. Focus on Your Healing: Use this time as an opportunity for self-reflection and personal growth. What do you need to feel better? Maybe it's the right moment to start therapy, connect with a support group, or make positive changes in your lifestyle.
5. Be Patient with Yourself: Don't rush into any major decisions, like divorce, until you're ready. Take your time to understand your own feelings and what you truly want for your future.
6. Seek Understanding: If possible, try to understand the reasons behind your spouse's actions. While it may not always be clear, gaining insight can aid in your acceptance and healing process.
7. Embrace Forgiveness: Forgiving doesn't mean accepting or justifying what happened. It means releasing the anger and resentment that might be weighing you down, providing space for your own emotional recovery.
8. Discover New Meaning: Look for fresh meaning and purpose in your life. Explore new hobbies, interests, or relationships that bring you happiness and fulfillment. Redirect your focus toward things that genuinely enrich your life.
Always remember, you possess an innate strength and resilience. With time, support, and self-care, you will navigate through this challenging period and emerge stronger on the other side.