As a wife who has been very reluctantly separated, I would argue that there is a natural and undeniable inclination to cling tightly to what you are afraid of losing. And when you are a wife who does not want to lose your marriage or your husband, then it’s very natural to cling a little more tightly. In some instances and with some husbands, this doesn’t matter. Some husbands do not mind the clinging.
But when you are dealing with a husband who was demanding space and who seems to be distancing himself from his wife, it can matter – quite a bit, in fact. Many husbands push back against this type of clinging and distance themselves even more. They may use phrases like: “smothering,” “holding on too tight,” or “coming on too strong.”
The wives hear what the husband is saying, but they also point out that their husband is expecting something that just isn’t natural. She might say: “last night, my husband told me something that I never ever expected him to say. He told me that I was smothering him. We have been separated for about three weeks – at his insistence. If I had my way, he would still be living at home. But as it is, he is staying with a male friend. He has been restless and unhappy for months. He finally told me that he needed some time away from our marriage. I immediately panicked and assumed that he wanted a divorce. He swore that he didn’t. But I am still not sure that I believe him. I just don’t understand why a middle aged man should need space from his marriage unless he is planning to end the marriage or break his vows. And that is why I feel that I need to be in touch with him every day and know what he is doing. But when I try to do this, he tells me that I am “smothering” him. I believe his exact words were something like: ‘I felt like I was being smothered at home and now I feel like I can’t escape even now that I am here. You have got to stop smothering me. I have got to be my own person.’ It’s almost like he is accusing me of acting like his parent – and I absolutely am not. I just care about him and I think that I have the right to know what is going on with him and with my marriage. I don’t think that our talking a couple of times per day is too much to ask. I don’t call that ‘smothering.’ Do you?”
I am going to be honest because I honestly want to help you. And I want to help you because I have been in your shoes and, because I made so many similar mistakes that almost costs me my marriage, I learned a hard truth. And it is this: It really doesn’t matter if you or I wouldn’t call checking in “smothering.” Because if he perceives it as such, then he is going to react to that perception. And his reaction may be detrimental to what you really want. And isn’t that all that matters?
Understand That Ideal End Game: I suspect that you what you really want is both for him to come back and for him to come back willingly – and not with his tail between his legs because you have worn him down. Believe me, I understand the strategy. I never consciously thought about it. But looking back now, I think I figured that if I could bug my husband enough or remind him of our marriage enough, he’d eventually get sick of the back and forth and come back home.
Instead, he distanced himself from me even more. We’ve reconciled now. But he’s confided in me that there were times when he considered divorce because he felt that might be necessary to “escape” my constant contact.
I’m not here to debate whether or not my husband legitimately needed space from me. He and I will probably never agree on that. But what does matter is that he thought that he did. And frankly, that is all that matters. Because these thoughts formed his actions. Whether his thinking was faulty or not, he was going to act on it. And this thought process made a huge difference in what happened in our marriage.
I know that we wives like to think that if we just do or say the right thing, he will change his mind and not want space from us anymore. But frankly, this isn’t as likely as him just getting frustrated that you are not listening.
If What You’ve Done Isn’t Working, Consider Trying Something New: For me, the better call was backing away. I tried initially just telling my husband that I was going to let him call me next time. This did work – some, at least. But there were times when he would not call and I would panic and then come on too strong. So I took some time off by putting literal miles between us by returning to my hometown for a while. This forced me to back away – because I didn’t have much of a choice.
This didn’t feel ideal at the time. Honestly, it felt like giving up at that particular moment in time. But it did eventually make a positive difference. Eventually, my husband started reaching out to me. And as this started to work, I didn’t have to force myself quite as much anymore. I literally saw that it was working, so the struggle became much less because finally I was starting to see the tide turn. For this reason, I was more than willing to go along because I knew it was the better alternative.
I am not suggesting that you need to do the same thing. That may not work for you. But I am suggesting that you ask yourself if backing away – even for just a little while – might be worth a try. You can always reverse course if it doesn’t work for you. But once you know for sure that what you’re doing isn’t working – and once your husband has literally told you in harsh words that he’s getting frustrated – then these are both good indications that you may want to change course, even if only for a little while. At the very least, maybe try a form of communication that he doesn’t find “smothering.” You may not technically be smothering, but if he thinks you are, then that is what matters.