I sometimes hear from wives who are confused and upset by the way that their husband is acting during a marital or trial separation. Often, he is acting like an entirely different person and the wife can’t help but wonder what this means in terms of saving her marriage.
I heard from someone who said: “my husband represented the separation as just a short break from one another. He said at the end we would come back and regroup and then get to work on our marriage. Well, he’s not acting like a man who is thinking about his marriage at all. Suddenly, he’s acting like a frat boy again. He goes out with coworkers to bars. He got a ridiculous new hair cut. He doesn’t even attempt to see the kids all that much. It’s as if he wants to totally shed his dad and husband role and I’m not very happy about it. When I bring this to his attention, he says that I need to relax and that he is just blowing off some steam. I tell him that it seems as if the love and commitment is no longer there and he says that I am being overly dramatic. I just don’t understand why he is acting this way. It concerns me and he doesn’t even seem like the man I’ve married anymore. What does his behavior mean for my marriage?”
Men often act in foreign ways once the separation begins. Sometimes, there are troubling reasons behind this and sometimes there are not. It’s very important that you don’t panic or press him too hard. Because often, he is reacting to a stressful and new situation (although he may be reacting in a way that is completely the opposite of the way that you find appropriate.) Additionally, he may well change his mind and his behaviors in the coming weeks. I will discuss this more below.
Separated Husbands Often Exhibit Strange Behaviors That Change And Evolve Over Time: As I alluded to, this situation is entirely new and foreign to both of you. Some people actually cling more tightly to their spouse during the separation and others want more distance. The way that he is acting today may not be the way that he will act tomorrow.
Sometimes, men really do intend to come home fairly soon so they figure that they may as well enjoy themselves during their time away. They may want to experience less responsibilities and conflict. Sometimes, this is perfectly innocent. They aren’t intending to transition to seeing other people or divorcing their spouse. They are just trying to have new or different experiences, as unfair as this may seem.
I understand that seeing your husband completely change his behavior is troubling to you. I felt the same way. And I would never tell you that you should ignore what you are seeing. But I can reassure you that seeing troubling or confusing behavior during a separation is quite common and it doesn’t always mean that he’s trying to discard you or the marriage.
How To Act When You Find Your Husband’s Behavior Troubling Or Confusing During The Separation: I know that it’s very tempting to demand an explanation or to draw his attention to the fact that he’s not acting like himself. But it’s very challenging to talk about this and not have it sound accusatory or to not give off the impression that you are either fearful or insecure. Also, often he will feel the need to defend or justify his behavior, which means that you might start to see more of it.
If the real goal is for his behavior to pass, then you are much better off trying not to make a huge deal out of it. You can briefly question him or ask for clarification if you feel the need to, but don’t get into a huge debate about this or make him feel as if he needs to win an argument.
It’s better to pinpoint what is bothering you the most and to address those aspects of it. For example, the wife was bothered most by the fact that he wasn’t seeing the kids as often as the kids would have liked. This was worth addressing first (rather than the fact that she was bugged by the new hair cut that she thought was an attempt to be more youthful.)
So she might ignore the hair cut and say “the kids have been asking when they’re going to see you. They really miss you and want to spend some time with you. When can I tell them that you’re coming by?”
In this way, you aren’t belittling him or telling him that he’s being a bad father because he’s trying to shed his responsibilities. You are bringing his attention to the fact that his kids miss him and he may be overlooking that aspect of his life.
Above all, don’t make it appear that you are hanging on his every behavior. Know that he may be reacting to stress or loneliness or just confusion. A separation can bring about all sorts of feelings and fears. It’s common for both spouses to have some negative or even confusing reactions. All of this is normal. And if you don’t overreact, you may just see him acting more normally as more time passes and the novelty of the separation begins to wear off. But pushing or dwelling on the point often won’t make him return to his normal self any earlier. In fact, it might just make matters worse when he feels that he needs to defend himself.