When I filed for a “fault” divorce (which, in retrospect, was a mistake), one of the reasons cited was “marital abandonment.” It was a clear call – he walked out of the house and out of my life, leaving everything behind in order to start a new life in a new state. It’s the textbook form of abandonment we’re all familiar with, a sudden and complete severing of the marital ties.
But it’s not the only way that a spouse can desert their marriage. These other forms of abandonment may be more subtle, but their impact is no less excruciating.
It’s important for us to be aware of the ways that we may be rejecting our spouses and if we’re on the receiving end, it’s helpful to understand what is happening.
Physical abandoment can occur even when the body remains in the shared home. It can take the form of reduced affection, touching less and less as the years progress. Sometimes it’s a literal turning away when one partner bids for attention, leaving the request for physical contact unfullfilled. Other times, physical abandonment occurs in a more subtle way, a slow decline over time.
This type of abandonment can also be sexual, where one parter desires sexual connection and the other continually rejects their advances. Even when this rejection originates from valid concerns (such as illness that makes sexual contact difficult or painful), the partner who desires the physical contact tends to feel abandoned.
For many of us, touch is an important part of feeling loved. Feeling desired. And so when that touch is removed from a relationship, we feel discarded and worthless.
We all want to be seen, especially by the person that we love. Attentional abandonment occurs when we feel invisible within our own home as our spouse’s focus is directed elsewhere for extended periods of time. This can often be seen after the birth of a child, when the infant becomes the sole focus and the spouse is moved to the periphery. It also happens when one – or both – partners are focused on work, ailing family members, other people or hobbies.
Every marriage goes through patches of attentional abandonment with outside responsibilities have to take priority for a time. The problem arises when it becomes habitual and energy is continually funneled outside the marriage.
Without attention, a marriage, like a lawn, will whither. Whatever you nurture, grows.
When one person shares their emotional state with the other, it is a time of vulnerability. And when the response is dismissive or lacking, it leaves the vulnerable person feeling stranded without support or validation. When this is a continual pattern, it often leads to withdrawal and a lack of trust.
A lack of emotional connection weakens a marriage and can lead to a situation here two people are living alongside each other instead of living with each other. Ideally, each person can feel like the other has their back – both physically AND emotionally.
This type of desertion 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 beneath the surface of the marriage. All relationships have certain key values and goals and that center – family, personal growth, financial success, etc. And when one person in the marriage no longer holds those same guiding values, it leaves the other feeling discarded.
Of course, each person has the right and the freedom to shift their values and driving principles over time. Regardless of how it is handled, one partner may feel abandoned by the other. However, when there is open communication, the feeling of personal rejection will be lessened.
No matter what the intentions of our partners, we all can feel rejected sometimes. But there are ways that we can limit this reaction. Overall, feelings of abandonment are increased when the changes are abrupt and there is no discussion of the situation. When we feel like we understand why the withdrawal is occurring, we are less likely to take it personally and less likely to view it as a desertion of the marriage.