I sometimes hear from people who want to pursue a separation – but only temporarily. These folks really don’t have any intention of ending their marriage or even of doing much soul searching during the separation. They merely want to scare their spouse and teach him or her a lesson.
So I might hear a comment like: “my husband has taken me for granted for the past five years. I have tried to talk to him about this, but he wasn’t interested in what I had to say. He told me that I was overreacting and that my expectations were unrealistic. So, I tried to tell myself that if I changed my expectations, then I would be happier. It didn’t work but I kept quiet about it. Until I saw a text that my husband had sent to his brother. His family wanted him to go to a reunion and my husband said that he wasn’t going to go because I was so high maintenance. I was so furious by this that I decided to leave the kids with my husband and spend a weekend to myself. I wanted my husband to see how much work I do and how the house could not run without me. Needless to say, as soon as I got home, my husband was as sweet as could be because he wanted for me to resume my duties. Actually, for about two months after this incident, my husband was more sweet and affectionate. He even helped out a lot because he saw how much work I actually do. But this only lasted for a short while. Now, he is back to his old ways, taking me for granted again and treating me as if I’m not important. So I decided that I need to teach him a longer lesson this time. I am going to tell him that I want a separation. I figure if he’s without me for much longer than a weekend, he might straighten up and see how valuable I really am. Will this work?”
It’s hard for me to predict if it will work. But, I have to tell you that it’s my opinion that there are flaws and risks in this plan. I will tell you why in the following article and offer what I think might be a better plan.
Why This Strategy Is Risky: This wife was assuming that the husband was going to act as expected. She assumed that he would act like he did after his weekend alone – only he would be more affectionate for a longer period of time. I suppose this is a reasonable assumption, but there are never any guarantees. In fact, the husband could be angry, annoyed, or frustrated. Instead of responding like the wife had hoped by moving closer to her, he might actually become distant because of the resentment he felt at being manipulated. Very few people (particularly men) like the feel that they are being manipulated like a child.
But even worse, not all separations end with the spouses moving back in together. Some separations end in divorce. Is this really a risk that you are willing to take? I understand that you need for your spouse to change his behavior, but what if there was a way to do this without the need for all this risk? Because if something went terribly wrong, you wouldn’t have an ungrateful spouse, you would instead have no spouse at all.
Getting Him To Show More Of The Behaviors That You Really Want: First of all, it really helps to accept that this is likely to be a gradual process. Marital behaviors and habits are like any other. In order to be broken, you have to repeat the desired behaviors for more than 30 days until they become a new habit. That means, a weekend isn’t going to do it. And it also means that your husband isn’t likely to repeat the desired behaviors for this long unless he is getting positive feedback out of it. So, you need to make the process one that isn’t too painful for either of you and one that he can easily obtain and then maintain.
That is why it helps to build up to this. Start small. Think of one easy thing that he could easily do to make you happy. Perhaps it’s noticing that you made his favorite dinner. If he doesn’t mention it, ask him if he noticed. When he acknowledges this, tell him how happy it makes you when he notices and then give him physical confirmation in the form of a hug or other positive reinforcement. I know that this might seem backward. After all, you wanted more from him and now you are giving him more. But stay with me for a second. By giving him positive reinforcement instead of complaining, do you know what’s going to happen? The next time, he may not need any prompting. He may give you the desired behavior on his own. And when this happens, then once again tell him how happy it makes you when he notices and shows you appreciation. Brag about this to others in front of him. Give him positive reinforcement. The idea is that you only need to do this enough times until this becomes a habit.
Is this easy? No, not always. But it still gives you the same result. And it is likely to be more lasting than manipulating him. (He’s already shown that he will go back to his same behaviors without positive reinforcement.) And if you separate, he may not give you the desired behaviors and he just shut down.